21 Dec 2022

Have you noticed a difference in Christmas adverts this year? It isn’t surprising that some companies are taking a different approach. With Covid still playing on people’s minds and the cost-of-living squeezing everyone’s budgets, we seem to have gone from crisis to crisis. Many companies are very aware that this difficult time calls for sensitivity. It’s fascinating to see the different reactions, from understated comms to subverting expectations with humour and even…memes?

This time of year is usually advert after advert, or posts on our social channels about how extravagant or luxurious your Christmas could be, if you only bought this pudding, perfume or piece of clothing.

However, a survey from QuMind shows that 80% of those surveyed are worried about Christmas spending and 56% are planning on buying fewer presents.

It therefore makes sense that many companies are opting for toned down adverts, like that of John Lewis which focuses on the humble story of a man practicing skateboarding to welcome a young teenager who likes to skateboard into foster care. Others are focusing directly on social issues, like Ben & Jerry’s UK, who are campaigning for immigration system reform via their ‘One Strong Dream’ advent calendar, which is filled with messages from those affected by the UK asylum system. Ben & Jerry plan to open the doors of the calendar and share them daily on their UK Twitter and Instagram accounts.

However, some brands have taken a different approach to cut through the Christmas noise. With social media bringing a never-ending flow of memes, funny videos and trends, there are those that have hopped on the virtual bandwagon to deliver relatable content for their consumers. This presents an interesting way of tackling issues impacting the every-day shopper, as brands can put themselves in the customer’s shoes and remind them that they are, supposedly, just like us.

Fashion brand Boohoo is the queen of timely and relatable content, and this hasn’t stopped over Christmas. Sharing tweets about how expensive December can be, posting quirky memes from Elf, and letting their followers know that they are still not over how dirty Harry did Karen in Love Actually’ gives their followers the impression that they have the same experiences as the average consumer and showcases the brand’s personality. It works to take the consumer’s mind off of any potential financial strain with the view that it is normal to feel the squeeze over Christmas.

Other companies have used memes to sell their Christmas goods or relate to consumers. O2 tells their Twitter followers that they know how it feels to accidentally ‘buy 6 air purifiers’ when looking for #BlackFriday deals and relates to workers who want to scroll through sales whilst at work. Monzo, the banking app, shared an Instagram post with a seal trying to keep its head above water with the caption ‘to everyone who gets paid the same day as Black Friday, we’re thinking of you xoxo’.

It’s a high risk, high reward tactic because these posts work to break down any barriers that the consumer might feel between themselves and a huge corporation.

This strategy can come at a cost, as consumers can take this as an opportunity to complain or criticise. In a recent session with Canvas8, we discussed the importance of brands acting genuine and transparent to the public. Using memes and jokes to ride out what is a very tough year for everyone can create friction if people feel like they aren’t being heard or taken seriously.

A few Twitter users have criticised Tesco’s Christmas campaign for this reason. Whilst many received the campaign positively, some saw the #ChristmasParty campaign as insensitive when faced with a country weathered by turbulent politics and difficult financial situations. This tongue-in-cheek campaign shared polls (dubbed ‘public inquiries’) about how best to eat advent calendars or decorate Christmas trees. It also poked fun at the tense political atmosphere by asking if their followers ‘put a labour of love into every branch or kept it more conservative’.

As a consumer, it might elicit a small chuckle when I see brands act a bit cheeky, but there is always the sneaking suspicion that the aim is misdirection. Brands can seem as though they are touching on difficult topics without doing the work of putting out a serious statement addressing real concerns. QuMind’s study found that 43% of people think they won’t be able to enjoy Christmas as much this year, so it makes sense that some may roll their eyes when they see brands acting as though they know what it is like to struggle with rent or buying presents.

As a comms professional, I can understand that there are real people behind these posts, sharing their experiences and wanting to connect with their audiences. It is a tight line to walk. Above all, it is important for a brand to be empathetic, considerate and transparent in their comms, but sprinkling a bit of Christmas cheer onto the timeline might just help to lift some spirits!