Know thyself: The maxim for brand campaigns this Christmas

To avoid Christmas clichés, brands must communicate what they uniquely bring to the festivities.
16 December 2020
Lindsay Gorton-Lee

Brand Consultant, Brand Strategy, Insights Division, UK

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While COVID-19 may have been trying its level best to dampen Christmas spirits, UK consumers say it will be just as important, if not more important, this year. One in twenty had already finished shopping for gifts before the clocks went back. For many, Christmas is about trees and lights; gifting and festive jumpers. Christmas is synonymous with spending time with friends and family. Christmas may be full of clichés, but the real Christmas experience is a mix of many emotions, often heightened at this point – excitement, belonging, warmth, showing off, stress, the need for control.

The ‘right’ tone of voice and context for Christmas 2020 has been hotly debated. Mark Ritson asked: what level of ‘festivity’ should marketers aim for? But brands will not win just by judging the right level of festivity to suit the public mood. The question you should ask is how you ensure that your brand shows up authentically this Christmas, and that whatever you do drives both short- and long-term gains.

The clear advantage of Meaningful Difference

Kantar has identified that brands with strong clarity contribute 70% more to sales. Clarity of impression or being ‘instantly meaningful’ has commercial advantage. However, just being quick to mind is not enough for maximised growth. Kantar analysis also shows it is those brands that are Meaningfully Different that are the biggest success stories. The most effective brand-building strategies build both simple clarity and meaningful, differentiated associations to have maximum advantage when it counts.

Brands are mapped onto our memories as a compilation of the encounters we have with them. To create a clear and concentrated impression, all those encounters need to consistently ladder up to something cogent and congruent. Even at Christmas! Brands will win by communicating in a way that reflects what they uniquely bring to the festivities. Showing up in a meaningfully different way that resembles a brand’s full year persona is key to authenticity and credibility.

Consistency matters

It’s not just for Christmas carols: Your brand should be singing from the same hymn sheet all year round.

Don’t, as Lynne Deason says, throw the ‘cues’ that you’ve built up over many years out of the window in favour of creativity. Do exercise the enduring power of your brand. You will only get good ROI in long term brand building if you continually reinforce those cues and values, in a way that resonates within a specific cultural moment, like our first COVID-19 Christmas

John Lewis’ Christmas campaign has often been discussed and mimicked over the last decade, with some lauding it as an exemplar of what it means to advertise at Christmas. The campaign is intended to always position the brand as the ‘home of thoughtful gifting’, to align with both John Lewis’ ambitions as a brand and their short-term goals for the Christmas season.

And we have seen and felt this consistently, albeit through fresh perspective, most years. The stories pull on the heartstrings. They’re heart-warming and sentimental. They are understated and personal. Semiotically, they have the same comfortingly familiar, inclusive visual and audio style. They’re about sharing the love. The feeling of making someone feel cherished.

One size doesn’t fit all

While ‘me too’ approaches may be attractive, the John Lewis model is not the only possible take on Christmas or Christmas gifting. Christmas gifts aren’t all heart-warming and sentimental, as revealed by our NeedScope framework of gifting (below). Some are about excitement and fun – 35% of consumers said that they were going to look for “fun” gifts this Christmas. Others are practical and generous: 44% said they would choose practical gifts in 2020. Some are extravagant and indulgent, with 44% of people saying that they would be looking to treat people with this kind of gift for Christmas 2020.


Finding the take on Christmas that fits your brand

There may appear to be many Christmas platitudes, but when you dig a little deeper, there is a wealth of emotion waiting to be unwrapped. Just as there are many types of gifts, there are many different Christmas emotions and motivations to tap in to.

Before determining how they should act, brands must first take a deep introspective look in the mirror, understand who they really are, their strengths, their personality, and what they bring to the world. Then, align this essence of who they are with the Christmas season.

Most brands show up for Christmas, but few approach the season with the discipline needed to really concentrate their Meaningful Difference. In doing so, they’re missing an opportunity.

To avoid clichés and win this Christmas season, the emotion brands choose should be aligned with who they are and what they uniquely bring. This will ensure that they maintain authenticity and concentrate their Meaningful Difference, contributing to both short- and long-term gains.

We can work with you to understand how to activate authentically at key cultural moments in a way that concentrates your meaningful difference. Get in touch to find out more.

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