Why November isn't the most wonderful time of year to launch a Christmas campaign
Brands are releasing Christmas campaigns earlier than ever. Olivia Downing, associate creative director at Uniform, thinks it’s destroying campaign effectiveness.
Launching Christmas campaigns early is not only predictable and oversaturating the market but can be fundamentally damaging to creative industries.
‘Twas the day after Halloween. The tricks have only just been treated. The apples barely bobbed. And on the train into work, I got a WhatsApp from my mum: ‘MICHAEL BUBLÉ FOR ASDA CHRISTMAS AD ’.
I wish I could say this was unusual. Arguably, Transpennine Express actually showing up was more shocking. Better still, I began to foam at the mouth: furious that Christmas is being shoved down our throats before the pumpkin guts we kept in the fridge to ‘do something with’ inevitably end up as compost. But I’m an old veteran of this holiday hysteria now.
I’ve been responsible for three Christmas campaigns as a creative, so Christmas in July is no surprise. What is, however, is the ever-earlier launch dates of Christmas ads. I love Halloween, but I have even more admiration for it in later years for its role as a dam, protecting us from Christmas’ fervent expansion like some kind of cancerous, tinselly growth.
But whatever you feel about Christmas in July, November (or any date that isn’t when it actually is) is by the by. The bit that concerns me as a creative is this: everything we know and advise as creatives, agencies, and brand marketers seems to go in the bin for the falsely termed ‘festive period.’ This is an argument to bring us back to pre-Christmas in November clarity so we can create better, more memorable work in years to come.
1. ‘When the world zigs, zig.’: One of the seminal rules of good advertising is to do what your competitors don’t in order to create maximum cut-through and impact. Sadly, this seems to go out of the window the second the clocks go back.
Starting Christmas campaigns in November is so common now that it contributes to the oversaturation of the market with holiday-themed content, leading to fatigue and desensitization of consumers by the time December actually arrives.
Moreover, it undermines our authority as the creative agencies our clients come to for good work. One of the most common complaints rattling around industry events is that clients just don’t trust agencies like they used to.
When we go back on our own advice, how can we be surprised by this?
2. Cost of living Christmas: Early Christmas campaigns can exert undue pressure on consumers to start their holiday shopping prematurely. Now, while I can imagine that most brands would see this as a good thing, it can come across as culturally insensitive – particularly given the current financial climate and cost of living crisis.
By launching campaigns in November, retailers might encourage people to make impulsive purchases before they’ve had a chance to plan and budget for the season, potentially leading to overspending and financial stress – which doesn’t reflect well on the brands that do it.
3. Christmas and then some: Starting Christmas campaigns in November often means overshadowing other holidays, such as Diwali, Thanksgiving or Hanukkah, which occur before Christmas. These holidays are important to many people and should not be diminished by the rush into the Christmas season.
For any brand talking about inclusion and diversity, it’s important to remember that not all individuals celebrate Christmas or do so in the same way. Launching campaigns early can marginalize those celebrating other holidays or none at all, sending a message of exclusion rather than inclusivity.
4. Hollow holidays: Since Coca-Cola turned Santa red, the season has gone from a time for celebration, reflection, and spending quality time with loved ones to asking each other if we’ve ‘seen the trucks yet.’ Initiating Christmas campaigns in November or earlier contributes to the mass commercialization of what was at one point a real holiday: metastasizing its true meaning with materialism. A bit rich from a creative advertiser? Not really, when you consider that it’s simply bad for business. 66% of consumers today want brands to stand for something, making authenticity integral to their brand experience. By forcing the festivities way earlier than they should be, campaigns can come across as inauthentic, making the season (and even certain brands) lose its charm.
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5. Green Christmas?: If you feel bad about the amount of wrapping paper going into recycling after a frantic Christmas morning, just imagine the amount of waste that can be created by starting campaigns early.
Many single-use promotional items contribute to accumulating waste in landfills, exacerbating environmental concerns related to excess consumption and waste.
For brands that take a stance on being environmentally responsible, an early start to the season can potentially undermine their own positioning, again making them seem disingenuous.
6. Elf burnout: I’ve always made the case that working on Christmas campaigns should qualify for workplace injury, and I’m sure I’m not alone. The early launch of Christmas campaigns can place enormous pressure on all employees in the creative and client sectors.
Extended work hours, early store openings, and heightened expectations can lead to employee burnout, which is already getting a lot of unwanted but necessary attention in our line of work. In order to remain an attractive industry to the next generation of creative talent, one takes well-being seriously; we need to acknowledge the strain that early launches can put on staff often doesn’t add up to achieving client objectives for their holiday campaign.
I appreciate to some that this whole article could be surmised as ‘Bah, humbug.’ I assure you nothing could be further from the truth. I was fortunate enough to get interested in advertising at the pinnacle of great Christmas campaigns, and it’s certainly one of the reasons I was compelled to pursue it.
However, while there are obviously economic incentives to launching Christmas campaigns in November, I feel that through predictability and oversaturation far too early, the overall spirit and creativity of the holiday season is being lost. Striking a balance between business interests and the true essence of the holidays is crucial to maintaining an authentic, creative and compelling holiday experience for everyone.