Creativity Agency

Are Christmas ads dying?

By Flick Duncan | Client services director

Keko Group

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November 15, 2021 | 5 min read

Each year in the UK, the seasonal shift from Halloween to Christmas seems to happen almost overnight, as supermarkets move from witches and goblins to tinsel and trees – meaning Christmas is officially upon us. In recent years it has been the arrival of the highly-anticipated John Lewis Christmas TV spot, but what child of the 90s can forget the Coca-Cola ad with its cheery “holidays are coming” jingle that would signify the start of the festive onslaught? And over the last decade, many other brands have been quick to throw their hat in the outrageously big budget creative ring, such as Sainsbury’s, M&S, Waitrose & Partners, Aldi and Lidl.

Keko Group suggest how Christmas advertising may not be as front and centre as it used to be and why.

Keko Group suggests how Christmas advertising may not be as front and center as it used to be and why

What’s the budget, I hear you ask? Well, with some of the largest creative productions historically rumored to have hit £7m to make, the biggest players are then also quick to snap up a slot for their ‘premier’ during the ad breaks of The X Factor final for up to a cool £200,000 for just 30 seconds of airtime – this being just one (albeit rather large) part of the media strategy and spend. The winning formula has often proven to be a blend of heart-warming, tear-jerking storytelling, coupled with some kind of philanthropic, ‘give-back’ angle, that we could all heavily judge, debate and dissect.

Call me the Grinch, but, much like The X Factor itself, does anyone else feel like the thrill of Christmas TV ad magic and excitement has dwindled in the last year or so?

There was a time when the multi-channel John Lewis Christmas campaigns would help dramatically drive gifting and merchandising sales up. In 2013, ‘The Bear and the Hare’ spot increased festive sales by 6.9% while other outlets were still facing deep discounting in the lead up to Christmas Day. Retailers often refer to Q4 as the ‘Golden Quarter’ and alongside our economy rely heavily on sales to drive up end-of-year figures. However, in the wake of Covid-19, Christmas gifting sales dropped by 10% from £26.9bn in 2019 to £24.2bn in 2020. Only time will tell whether that trend will follow in 2021 and beyond.

Interestingly, according to YouGov, despite an increased willingness to accept Christmas may have to be canceled in 2020, slightly more Britons (32% v 28% in 2019) were willing to do whatever they had to do to ensure they got the festive break they wanted. But this did not mean spending more on buying pressies.

With overall decreased household spending per annum, there seems to have been a shift in how people are choosing to spend their money. After enduring two years of limited social interaction, trends for 2021 show that people value experiences and spending time with their family more than ever before, and when gifting they now prioritize quality and ethical/environmental responsibility over quantity. This is not only seen at Christmas, but also during other key religious dates and festivals such as Diwali, which sits in between Halloween and Christmas, Yom Kippur in October or Chinese New Year in February, to name but a few.

One of the biggest trends in 2020 was the large jump in the number of wedding and newborn baby gifts purchased. As a lockdown new mum myself, I saw first-hand the overwhelming generosity of hampers, muffin baskets and flowers that arrived when friends and family couldn’t physically be there themselves.

All these factors are now playing a much larger role in purchasing decisions, so suddenly the expected multi-million-pound Christmas ad starts to feel a little outdated and doesn’t bring the same excitement that it once did. Plus, there are now so many brands doing Christmas TV ads that I personally find they all just get lost in the noise.

With purchases now more emotionally charged than ever, perhaps it’s time to re-think how gifting, audience segmentation and targeting looks in 2022 and to remember to celebrate the smaller moments and milestones throughout the year – not just at Christmas.

Flick Duncan, client services director at Keko Group.

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