Business Trends

The Impact of COVID-19 on Festive Campaign Strategies

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The 2020 festive season has created a unique set of challenges for brands and advertisers. Christmas is usually a time when advertisers pull on consumers’ heart strings. However, this year, navigating the reality of the pandemic has made devising a suitable campaign considerably more complicated.  

Advertisers were faced with questions like to what extent they should feature the “reality” of life during the pandemic? What is the public appetite for seeing masked faces or socially distant friends and families interacting over Zoom or WhatsApp? Isn’t Christmas a time for warm fuzzy feelings, gathering with loved ones and escapism, after all?  

Advertisers also had to think carefully about whether more a traditional campaign might stir up unpleasant emotions. Seeing families and friends having dinner and exchanging gifts in-person, as per a “normal” Christmas, might alienate consumers who aren’t able to see loved ones this Christmas, or who perhaps have not been able to visit loved ones since the pandemic began.  

Sign of the Times: Masks in Christmas Advertising Campaigns 

According to research conducted by Ace Metrix in November 2020, only 32 percent of festive ads featured COVID-19 as a theme. Out of those that did, only a few advertising campaigns featured the use of masks.  

So how did seeing people in masks in Christmas advertising impact consumers? Well, it turns out the issue is controversial and quite polarizing. While some felt that people wearing masks in holiday ad campaigns encouraged consumers to keep up healthy habits and protect others, others felt depressed seeing masks in advertising during the festive season. For example, one respondent to the research thought that Christmas should be “upbeat and cheerful”, and that incorporating mask-wearing into ad campaigns did not reflect this.  

Overall, it seems that brands didn’t want to focus on the issue of masks. Not only are consumer responses incredibly mixed, but including masks poses an additional challenge for advertisers, making it much more difficult to show the positive emotion on peoples’ faces, which is particularly important in visual advertising.  

Of the advertising campaigns that did feature masks, there was some element of in-store shopping portrayed, making it prudent for advertisers to encourage people to stay safe amidst a global pandemic.  

Christmas Celebrations with Friends and Family: Virtual and InPerson  

Since the pandemic began, video conferencing apps such as Zoom and Google Hangouts have grown significantly in popularity. Zoom quiz nights and cocktail parties were new ways for friends and family to interact and connect with each other during the first lockdowns in March and April. Some advertisers have taken advantage of the popularity of virtual parties and incorporated this idea into their festive ad campaigns. Target, for example, was one of the more notable brands to feature virtual Christmas celebrations.  

However, most advertisers seem to have eschewed virtual gatherings, instead deciding to depict the real thing and focus on families and loved ones coming together. One of the most poignant examples of this is Coca-Cola’s “The Letter”, which features a dad making a treacherous journey across the North Pole to deliver his daughter’s letter to Santa. As it turns out, all his daughter wants for Christmas is to have her dad home. The ad ends with dad and daughter sharing a loving embrace and coming together for the festive season. Unsurprisingly, “The Letter” has been voted as one of the best Christmas ad campaigns of 2020.  

Community Spirit: Helping Our Neighbours 

One of the ways advertisers have managed to keep a “human” element to their Christmas advertising campaigns was to feature people going the extra mile to be kind to each other and demonstrating a community spirit, despite the fact we’re living through a global pandemic.  

This is a particularly important message considering the year we’ve all had.  

John Lewis, the prominent U.K. retail chain, is famous for its heartwarming Christmas ads. So much so that the reveal of the John Lewis Christmas ad has become an annual tradition and a much anticipated event across the U.K. 

This year, in their part-live-action-part-animated-ad, John Lewis featurevarious characters helping each other. From a young girl helping a boy retrieve his ball from a tree, to a snowman delivering Christmas shopping to an older couple’s doorstep – the ad epitomizes the original Christian ethos and Christmas message of helping and giving to others, including complete strangers.  

And Finally… A Little Bit of Humor! 

At the end of what has been a difficult year, some advertisers decided to inject a bit of comedy into their festive campaigns. One example of this is Tesco’s Christmas ad campaign which uses pandemic-related humor. Their series of festive ads throws in some of the newly coined pandemic parlance, including , “Some bubbles for your bubble?” and , “Quarantini anyone?”. Another of their ads jokes that it’s a, “two desserts kind of year”. Tesco’s festive campaign features a unique British style of humor, which might be so well received in other markets.  

This year, brands have had to maintain a delicate balance between capturing the festive spirit and reflecting the current worldwide situation. Overall, advertisers have focused on themes of togetherness and family, favoring traditional approaches over depicting the “new normal”.  

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