Has Covid-19 changed the face of the Christmas ad?

The battle of the Christmas adverts has long been part of the UK’s festive fabric, unofficially marking the start of the holiday season. Backed by big brands and even bigger budgets, the much-anticipated showdown sees the likes of John Lewis and Coca Cola pull out all the stops to be crowned the champion of the small screen - and the winner of the public’s custom.  


Now in the midst of a global pandemic, UK advertisers have been forced to tighten their belts, with festive spending expected to fall by £724m according to WARC and the Advertising Association (AA).   


In the face of these difficult times, the pressure to get the nation into the Christmas spirit is higher than ever. We take a look at how this year’s adverts are faring and the way Covid-19 has shaped their approach.  


The gift of giving   

At a time of tough social restrictions and business closures, the pandemic has led us all to re-evaluate what is important in our lives. This has introduced a whole host of new material for marketers and advertisers to draw upon in their Christmas campaigns, with kindness and community two emerging themes. 


Co-op's advert, which features two young brothers busking Oasis-style outside their local branch, serves as a powerful reminder that no matter what Christmas may look like this year, we can all do our bit to bring some joy to the community - at a safe distance, of course.  


This is a sentiment echoed well by long reigning conqueror of the Christmas ad, John Lewis & Partners as well as lesser known brands, such as DIY chain Woodies, whose campaigns are inspired by the acts of kindness shown throughout the pandemicJohn Lewis’s latest offering is all about giving, harnessing the skills of the creative industries impacted by the pandemic and encouraging viewers to donate to its "Give a Little Love" charity campaign.  


Some have argued that this is the perfect message in the current climate, with many brands pursuing charity partnerships of their own. M&S has taken this one step further by releasing a star-studded series of adverts which will see the retailer donate to its celebrity narrators’ charities of choice.  


Family first  

As always, the notion of family has played an important role in this year’s cohort of adverts. However, instead of serving as a vehicle to sell products, it has been placed centre-stage. Disney’s “From our family to yours'' took the top spot in Unruly’s 2020 ranking of the most engaging Christmas campaigns; the heartwarming ad tells the story of a grandmother and her granddaughter as they keep family traditions alive over Christmas.  


Coca Cola’s festive campaigns have also proved popular. While its renowned “Holidays are Coming” advert topped Kantar’s consumer research, the brand’s second offering “The Letter” also garnered a strong emotional response from viewers. Taking the audience on one key worker’s determined journey to deliver his daughter’s letter to the North Pole, the ad’s message is simple but effective  spending time with family is what matters. 


Spreading the cheer  

It’s fair to say that we’ve all been in need of some Christmas cheer this year and those brands that have chosen to reflect the national mood have fared particularly well. Consumers have been treated to an array of funny and feel-good campaigns over the festive season, including Argos’s well-received magical showcase.  


Walkers ramped up the humour with their ‘social-first’ Christmas campaign to help raise money for the Trussell Trust. Led by social media star LadBaby, the ‘A Sausage CaRoll’ advert sees the celebrity cast put a twist on the classic Christmas carol as they go from door to door, singing about Walkers’ new sausage roll flavoured crisps.  


Meanwhile, Tesco encourages customers to forget anything that might have landed them on the ‘naughty list’ this year (cue confessions of bad lockdown haircuts and the trials of home-schooling) and instead enjoy a much-deserved festive treat.  


Creative approach  

One brand that has taken a particularly innovative approach to its campaigns is Burger King, spurred by the impact of the coronavirus on households and businesses across the world.  


In America, the fast food chain launched its multi-channel “Christmas in July” campaign to bring happier times to customers during the difficult summer months. While in Europe, Burger King has recently offered free advertising space to independent competitors on its Instagram channel in a show of support and solidarity with the struggling hospitality and food industries over the festive period and beyond.  


Christmas with a twist  

Covid-19 has impacted our ad preferences much like our lives, with a renewed focus on community, family and togetherness winning out. As such, brands that have avoided overt sales promotions fared well, as did those which have found the right balance between escapism and acknowledgement of current challenges - Aldi’s nod to the NHS in its latest instalment of Kevin the Carrot’s epic adventures being a prime example.  


At a time when families find themselves apart when they are usually the closest, this year’s Christmas offerings have helped us capture some much-needed festive spirit and optimism as we all hope for better times in 2021.