How to stand out from the marketing crowd at Christmas

The long-awaited festive John Lewis ad is out today. Here's how your business can break through the noise too.

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 15 Nov 2016

Crimbo is nigh, and with it the battle to win over consumers and get to the top of everyone’s pressie list. So how do you make your brand stand out in the blitzkrieg of festive advertising and marketing?

Plan early. ‘Supply lines for Christmas are very long,’ says Jacques de Cock, a faculty member at the London School of Marketing. ‘So you need to have ordered your key product lines by the end of the summer break. You can’t be spontaneous because supply lines will become jam-packed.’

Get talked about. It’s a fact: the media is obsessed with Christmas campaigns and this is the one time of year when advertising consistently makes the news. Make yours the attention-grabbing one, and you’ll get a whole lot of free column inches. ‘If you’re a significant British retailer and the trade and consumer press aren’t anticipating your campaign before it breaks then you’re already behind,’ says Alice McGinn, a planning partner at Grey Advertising. ‘Like it or not, it is a part of UK Christmas culture, signalling the kick-off to the season.’

Embrace the festive spirit. Wrap your marketing in tinsel, daub snowflakes over your website, partner with a charity and share the goodwill of the season – even if it is a bit tacky. ‘Avoid anything negative or dismissive,’ says de Cock, ‘and never make fun of Christmas. This is the one period in the year when the whole of society doesn’t want cynicism – people want a bit of make-believe.’

Give it feeling. Emotion is the trump card of Christmas advertising. McGinn says: ‘At Christmas emotion is disproportionately important because – corny or not – it’s a time when we get together to enjoy each others company and have a good time. It’s also important because when giving a gift you want what you’re buying to have an emotional impact on the receiver.’ But try to look beyond the tear jerking.

Amplify. ‘Create communications that traverse the online and offline worlds and generate conversations that flow between the two,’ says Gareth Davies, EMEA digital lead at WE Worldwide, which conducts an annual brand agility study of Christmas advertisers. ‘When M&S did their "two fairies" campaign they had offline activations where they helped people out around the country, and people took photos and shared online. They were able to create a snowball effect where every engagement and touchpoint built on each other.’

Skip the hard sell. People already want to buy and they have a deadline, so no need to bash them over the head with price cuts, flash sales and countdowns. ‘You want to get as much of your stock out at full margin as possible,’ says de Cock.

Have a story. ‘It’s vital to have a story that’s not just about your product or service at Christmas – like Sainsbury’s First World War game of football, or John Lewis’s Man in the Moon,’ says Davies. ‘Consumers are inundated with products everywhere they look. If you can tell a bigger story people will engage far more, otherwise Christmas becomes just about consumerism.’

Make it inclusive. Get too religious with your message and you risk switching off the majority of the population who are not practicing Christians. ‘Christmas is an event the majority of the population celebrate with a one-size-fits-all narrative, so it’s a great way to build communities and engagement,’ says Davies.

Think delivery. Your campaign will be nothing if you don’t pay attention to detail on product stock availability and fulfilment, and even on handling the interaction and engagement it will generate. ‘Be prepared to respond to any negative reactions your campaign evokes and have the resources in place to take on the conversation,’ says Davies.

Do say: ‘Ho, ho ho!’

Don’t say: ‘Buy ten Man-on-the-Moon telescopes and get one free!’


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