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This year’s Christmas adverts have been hotly anticipated. Audiences have questioned how big brands will celebrate the festive season after a year of uncertainty and challenges. John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Tesco are among some of the household names that spend millions of pounds on big production adverts. This year, as Christmas ads are released, we’ve seen a shift in the way brands have approached December.

What are the themes that will be addressed in the campaigns and how will they reflect the difference in life experienced in 2020? The Christmas campaigns that have been released so far are trying to distract audiences from the pandemic. Some directly address the lockdown and restrictions we’re all facing, with most focusing on themes of family, how to enjoy Christmas in lockdown and making the most of what we have available to us.

Love and kindness

One of the main themes the ads have centred on is love and kindness. In a time when work, income, health and relationships have suffered, kindness and love are two things that have remained a constant. This is most evident in John Lewis’s Christmas ad offering. The retailer has swapped its usual gift-giving theme for kindness and creativity.

The advert tells the story of how little acts of love can cause a chain reaction of positive impacts. The message behind this ad is that giving a little love to those around you is far more valuable than any present could be and makes a big difference to people’s everyday lives. The campaign raises money for two charities, Home Share and Food Start, to provide support for families in need of shelter and food this winter.

As well as celebrating little acts of love, the John Lewis advert celebrates creativity. The creative industry is one of the most affected by the impact of the pandemic. The advert uses animation, CGI and claymation to name a few types of the art featured, giving multiple artists the opportunity to share their work with millions of people. The opportunity to showcase different art forms gave employment to multiple production teams and creatives that need support.

Marks & Spencer is also giving back to those who need it most by pledging £2m to a number of charities chosen by the nine celebrities featured in the advert. Sainsbury’s and M&S have focused on what they do best, food. The campaigns tap into feelings of nostalgia by discussing the food that unites families and friends over the dinner table. Sainsbury’s tells the personal stories of British families and their love of Christmas food experienced throughout their lives.

Taking it easy on ourselves

Adverts depicting lots of people mixing and socialising like previous years just wouldn’t be right this year. When coronavirus is restricting households meeting, there’s a sense of heightened sensitivity surrounding the usual festive celebrations we would be having. Instead, some brands are choosing to show the things we all have in common, our feelings of guilt and misbehaviour.

Tesco has taken a different approach to Christmas, making sure we all take it easy on ourselves this festive period after a year of hardship. Tesco insists there is no naughty list after a year like this, so we should treat ourselves to the best Christmas ever. The advert directly addresses the elephant in the room, with some characters admitting to panic buying toilet roll pre lockdown and others apologising for their poor behaviour on video calls. Tesco tells the audience there are no sins this year so indulge in Christmas all we want, after all, we deserve it.

 

How does this reflect business to business?

The change in the feel of Christmas adverts is reflective of business to business (B2B). Businesses need to sell things to keep going. That’s a given. But this year has been different from the rest, with customers not buying things as often due to money struggles caused by a loss or reduction in income. Brands have recognised this and reached for more meaningful messages than just selling stuff. Businesses must do the same. This year audiences are leaning towards the kind acts of community and togetherness that make life a little better right now.

The amount of money customers are spending has dropped as wages and incomes have taken a hit due to the pandemic. While the focus for businesses is always on making money, it’s now concerned with ensuring employees are safe, healthy and comfortable with the new working environment. Working from home has forced communication and transparency to increase and regular working conditions to change. While businesses must make money and maintain continuity, a sales-forward approach isn’t what clients and customers are looking for this year.

Businesses can learn from the Christmas campaigns. Customers don’t want to be sold to. Instead, a more personal, understanding and togetherness approach will help to build stronger customer relationships. Understanding the challenges your audience is facing will help you find a way you can support their pain points. Businesses should invest the money they do have into building connections along the customer journey. Create and deliver a content offering that’s valuable for your audience rather than hard-selling your products and services. This approach will help to drive connections, engagement and interaction that ultimately leads to sales and loyalty.

After all the pandemic-related challenges experienced in 2020, the Christmas adverts have reflected the changes in audience behaviour well. Themes of kindness, love, community and togetherness have overtaken gift giving and sales. Businesses should adopt this approach too. Focusing on supporting customers the best they can with valuable content offerings that reduce their pain points. Growing stronger relationships and connections will lead to those all-important sales.

Laura Greenhalgh is a copywriter at Bolt.