Christmas in July: making marketing plans for an uncertain future

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Despite being in the middle of a heatwave right now in the UK, in the world of marketing and particularly FMCG marketing, thoughts have already begun to turn to Christmas. ‘Christmas in July’ is a well- known phenomenon in the industry, with lavish media tasting sessions held by leading retailers and suppliers during the summer months to showcase the best of their Christmas offering in plenty of time to hit long-lead copy deadlines.

But this year things are likely to be very different. Lockdown restrictions have meant many media tasting events have had to be cancelled, with some offering virtual tasting sessions in their place, and others abandoning them all together for now. At the same time marketing teams are faced with the considerable challenge of planning communications campaigns, including the traditional big budget Christmas TV advert, amid huge social and economic uncertainty.

While planning can and must go ahead, there are many questions for marketers to consider before developing campaigns that will land with customers in six months’ time; will we all be back in lockdown and experiencing a socially-distanced Christmas? How will shopper habits and attitudes have changed in the face of a global recession? Will the trend for socially conscious Christmas ads be accelerated by the current crisis?

We spoke to Mission agencies about how they are helping Clients to address some of these challenges and develop creative Christmas campaigns that won’t fall flat, not matter what the festive season has in store for us this year.

Laura Rowlands, associate director, Speed Communications

July is typically a very busy month in the PR calendar as we host our Christmas media events. With Covid-19 restrictions in place it’s not feasible to engage journalists and influencers in the traditional event-based format, but we still need to ensure our clients are front of mind and winning share of voice at a hugely competitive time.

We’ve taken a much more personalised approach this year, giving media virtual one-to-one previews and Christmas product briefings. For our food and drink clients, this has been in the form of hampers and virtual tastings. For example, we have issued aperitivo hampers with virtual food pairings live from the vineyard in Italy for our prosecco brand, Mionetto. And for our beauty brands, such as Revlon, we are hosting Zoom hair tutorials with a stylist to showcase the features of the latest product launches in advance of Christmas gift listings.

Navigating the restrictions has just meant that we’ve had to be more creative and agile in our approach, but it certainly hasn’t hindered our ability to launch new products and excite media.

Blake Armstrong, managing director, Krow London

We are working with several Clients on planning for long lead campaigns at the moment and there is an acceptance that activity and plans cannot be put on hold until the pandemic is over. Planning and production under new, different circumstances must still continue to ensure they have the best winter possible.

One of the key trends we are seeing is brands being more keen than ever to demonstrate their brand purpose clearly to customers at this time of disruption. We’re also seeing brands increase messaging around their omnichannel nature as they lean into customers’ desire to shop from businesses that allow them to shop in a way that best suits them.

Brands are also recognising that customer service, although outside of the domain of marketing, is something that can’t be left in a silo as customers brand experiences are as much shaped by their customer services as brand messages at this point, especially during this difficult period.

Julie McCartney, media director, Krow Ireland

As life edges closer to normality, we, and our clients, remain conscious that at any time, a second wave of Covid-19 may hit and lockdown restrictions may be put in place again. This has implications for planning media campaigns over the next few months and beyond, as we must provide flexible, adaptable solutions, and be agile enough to respond to the changing situation.

Mindful of this, we have provided a UK and Ireland health foods advertiser with two plans for their Autumn campaign, one with out-of-home activity and events included; and one with these elements dropped, and budget reallocated in favour of “at home” channels – with Plan B being deployed should a second wave hit and we return to strict lockdown conditions. In these strange times, it is more important than ever to understand how each media platform’s reach and frequency is changing and evolving, so we can adapt our media strategy and plans to fit the “new normal”, whatever that may be.

Kate Cox, chief executive officer, Bray Leino

For our Client Milk & More, lockdown has led to a surge in demand, so the business objective for this year’s Christmas campaign is retention - acknowledging those new customers, thanking them and recognising that it’s been a difficult year.

While communications will follow the same formats as last year, the challenge has been hitting the right tone. We don’t want to come across as too pious or morbid, so there’s an added layer of sensitivity. We’ve also had to put everything through the lens of ‘how will this be perceived in light of Covid-19?’ given that there are people who have lost family members; people who have lost jobs. In terms of practical considerations, we’re limiting the number of attendees on the photo shoot, but otherwise it’s all fairly straight-forward.

As with many aspects of life and business right now, planning for the future in the world of marketing is fraught with challenges. While we’re not able to predict what may happen over the next six months and beyond, with a great deal of flexibility and creativity we can help our Clients navigate these uncertain times with confidence and hopefully have a very, merry Christmas!

Cat Davis, group marketing director, Mission Group/Krow Group

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