13/11/2020 12:02 PM | by Tim Hinton in Blog

Christmas Ads 2020 – Planning in a Pandemic

After the trials and tribulations of an unprecedented year in the life of UK’s retailers, the traditional torrent of TV advertising will be more pivotal than ever in making or breaking retailers performance in the all important Christmas trading period.

But how ‘traditional’ will the campaigns actually be this year in light of an ongoing pandemic and uncertain financial climate?

Let’s take a look at how retailers and agencies have had to adapt and what we can expect from this year’s crop of festive campaigns.

Business as Usual?

Creating a great Xmas TV advertising campaign is easy right?

Combine the joy of the ‘big shop’ with a large table of happy family and friends, throw in a few smiling children, an act of kindness and some cuddly animation and you are well on your way to a safe winning formula.

In an ordinary year yes, but 2020 is far from an ordinary year.

Advertising budgets have been slashed by 18% in 2020 but there will still be a staggering £6.2bn spent over the festive period and over £1.3bn of that will be on TV alone.

That kind of sum always comes with a pressure to succeed but it is especially heightened this year with the ever-changing financial and social climate.

This is putting agencies under the spotlight to create ads that capture the current zeitgeist of the nation, as they know that even a small misstep in tone could be disastrous, leading the undisputed king of Christmas advertising John Lewis to soberly state that their eagerly awaited offering will be suitably “Covid appropriate”.

So what changes will we see?

The planning stage of Xmas ad campaigns usually starts just as decorations are coming down from the previous year, although there are rumours that the festive heavyweight John Lewis actually had their campaign wrapped up by January 1 for the following year.

However like so much of life this year that is all change in 2020. Key ideas have had to be discarded or re-written to reflect the constantly evolving new world order and so, coupled with practical issues around filming and worker safety, have meant that adverts previously filmed in the summer have now been put back to Autumn.

Some advertisers have even filmed multiple endings to their adverts so they are covered against changing restrictions. This shortening of the timeline also has an effect on the creative as many of the more intricate (and often merchandise lucrative) CGI character effects will have to be dropped as there is just not enough time to get the visuals right.

Making sure 2020 Xmas campaigns hit the right note is the key consideration this year and it is vital retailers don’t drop the ball when they are under so much scrutiny from battle weary consumers and shareholders alike.

Many industry experts are predicting a return to a ‘non triumphant’ approach to adverts this year mirroring the strategy that worked so well for advertisers during the last major economic downturn in 2009.

There will almost certainly be no hugging or kissing under the mistletoe as advertisers seek to remain in lockstep with government guidelines and the expectation is that there will be less ‘tear-jerkers’ in the vein of the John Lewis ‘Lonely Man on the Moon’ from 2015.

Its also likely that the (innovative at the time) reliance on video conferencing in adverts will be dropped for the big festive campaigns as this novelty has been replaced with a certain amount of ‘Zoom fatigue’ in consumers and looking back at some of the ad offerings from lockdown 1 already looks dated and a little clichéd.

Escapism is likely to be a key trope for many advertisers this year, potentially with a dash of nostalgia for ‘better days’ thrown in. The usual coming together at Christmas message will need to be adapted to a more aspirational ‘we’ll be together soon’ and many advertisers will have to make do with less as they find their budgets slashed due to the pandemic.

Tim Hinton – 23 Media Audits

So what have we seen so far?

The John Lewis ad, which is the traditional benchmark against which all other campaigns are measured, was released 13th November a week earlier than previous years but there are also a number of other contenders to give us an idea of central themes for this very different year.

Give A Little Love – Waitrose & John Lewis

‘A sense of Community’

The John Lewis Christmas ad “Give a Little Love” features a number of characters over its two-minute film displaying acts of kindness. The theme is developed by each of the characters helping another in their community and points towards helping and belonging. This sense of giving also ties in with the two John Lewis supported charities at the end of the ad – Fareshare (Marcus Rashford is their ambassador) and Homestart.


That’s an Asda Price Christmas – ASDA

The Lil’ Goat – TK Maxx

‘Inferred Covid’

Both ASDA & TK Maxx have adopted the strategy of trying to subtly deal with the Covid elephant in the room quickly so they can move onto more traditional themes and have tip-toed around the ‘C word’ with their campaigns.

ASDA’s gone with an understated message of how “Christmas will be a bit different this year’ whilst sticking with a traditional family theme. TK Maxx on the other hand is offering an animated goat resplendent in designer clothes gifted by its owner because it has ‘been a hard year’.


An Evening with AbracaDaisy & The Incredible Lucy – Argos

‘Family Fun’

Argos on the other hand have stuck with their winning formula from last year by putting cute kids front and center of the campaign. This year putting on a magic show for other members of their family at home.


Aldi Christmas Launch Advert 2020 – Aldi

‘Animated Fun’

Also managing to successfully follow the ‘it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach this year is Aldi, who have re-heated their Kevin the Carrot character for a second helping (no doubt linked to strong merchandise sales last Christmas).


The show must go on – Amazon

‘Facing it Head On’

The Amazon juggernaut has been one of the few winners from this turbulent year and so its probably no great coincidence that they are one of the few adverts so far to face the Covid crisis head on in their ‘The show must go on’ Christmas campaign. Their offering features a young dancer whose show is cancelled because of the lockdown. Her neighbours then pull together to put on an outdoor show that skillfully encapsulates the sense of community that has blossomed this year.


The stakes are high

Regardless of the approach taken by retailers this Christmas all will agree that the stakes this year are very high.

Only time will tell which adverts successfully capture the mood of the times and with big guns like M&S and John Lewis releasing their festive offerings there will be a heightened interest from the advertising industry to see who wins the battle for consumers’ hearts, minds and most importantly wallets over this festive season like no other.


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