On October 1 online retailer Very dropped its Christmas campaign – 85 days early. Mixed reviews to the festive spot have re-opened the age-old debate on when it's appropriate to launch a Christmas campaign.
Very justified the early roll out of a Christmas campaign by pointing to search data on its site that suggested people were eager to start their shopping early this year. Chief marketing officer Carly O’Brien said that after a "pared back" Christmas for many last year by last-minute lockdowns, the retailer "wanted to get into the spirit early and unashamedly embrace the season as soon as the leaves start to fall."
The 30-second advert played on its earliness, with confused trick-or-treaters turning up at a house decked out for Christmas and a mum giving her kids chores as they try to stay on Santa’s nice list.
But the feedback from the general public wasn't as overwhelmingly positive. Audience data from social listening platform Synthesio found 30% of responses to the ad were negative and half were positive, with the remaining 20% being neutral.
Damon Collins is founder of creative agency Joint, the agency behind Amazon’s 2016 Christmas commercial that featured an imam and a priest exchanging knee pads. He said the ad may have backfired because it was “out of touch with the reality of the way people are feeling right now" and failed to acknowledge that Christmas 2021 will be different. According to Collins, this year people are looking forward to being reunited with their loved ones and are not looking for a commercial Christmas. Starting a campaign earlier this year is acceptable, he said, if the brand acknowledges how tough the past 18 months have been.
“There are lot of good marketers out there who will promote their brands this year using empathy and understanding, and the ones that don’t will lose the hearts and minds,” Collins continues.
He says the brands that have done well in the past 18 months has been the likes of Uber offering free rides to NHS staff and Vodafone giving discounts to frontline workers, and encourages brands to maintain that mentality into Christmas.
“Help people through the tough times and they will love you when they come out the other side, instead of trying to make a load of money out of them, because they will remember you for that.”
Collins adds that “the more oblique you can make a Christmas ad, the more people love it.” He says: “Stories about the human condition do better at Christmas as opposed to a brand flogging their stock.”
Research from AI analysis group HypeAuditor showed that Very isn’t the only retailer getting ahead this Christmas.
Since Very dropped its ad 677 influencer accounts published 1,034 Instagram posts with Christmas-related hashtags with a reach of 4.6 million, over half of which were published by brand accounts, with BM Stores and Marks & Spencer among them.
Meanwhile, Synthesio identified 30,000 posts related to Christmas marked as ‘ads’ between Friday and Sunday across the platforms. Synthesio also registered a 38% uplift in Christmas-related online conversations compared with the previous weekend.
The data from Synthesio and HypeAuditor shows the Christmas period is already under way for brands.
However, Victoria Day, managing director of ad agency Ogilvy, advises brands to embrace other seasonal occasions and not to skip ahead to Christmas.
“People have missed out on so many occasions due to Covid,” Day says. She adds Very misjudged trying to “rush people into Christmas when the public mood is wanting to savor every moment and not crush the end of the year into one big Christmas.”
Day says Halloween is one event brands should be capitalizing on this year. She drew reference to internal research that revealed 65% of 16–34-year-olds bought at least one Halloween product in 2020.
Day, who has worked on Christmas campaigns from the likes of Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, says November 11 is her sweet spot for dropping a Christmas campaign.
Elsewhere, Day advises brands to recognize the finical hardship of the pandemic and avoid making people feel pressured to spend money this Christmas.