Retailers have faced pressure this year to put out adverts that not only have a feel good factor, but also do good.
Against the backdrop of a gloomy winter, where many families will be forced to cut back on Christmas celebrations and gifts in order to keep the fridge stocked and heating on, getting the crucial big ad right is more important for retailers than ever.
High street names such as John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Lidl have incorporated charities into their ads this year, ranging from causes helping children in care to community support groups.
This year’s keenly anticipated festive offering from John Lewis hopes to spark a conversation around young people with experience of the care system.
The retailer has also set out actions, including donations of decorations, food and gifts and a programme helping provide young people with employment opportunities.
It was “more important than ever for our business to stand up and use our voice to make a difference where we can,” according to John Lewis’ executive director, Pippa Wicks.
“Turbulent times worsen social inequalities, and Christmas is a time when this can be most keenly felt,” she added.
By the time you are thinking about taking down your Christmas tree this year, retailers will already have a blueprint for next year’s festive television spectacle.
However, marketing bosses must always be prepared for the “mood of the nation” to switch up suddenly, according to M&S’s marketing director for clothing and home, Anna Braithwaite.
And no year has thrown twists and turns quite like 2022.
So dramatic was the news cycle that M&S “kind of started again” on its advert in May after tracking consumer sentiment, Braithwaite told City A.M.
Instead of showing the Neighbourly charity’s badge at the end of the advert, she said, the retailer decided to “embed it throughout all of our campaign” to create a “sincere, honest” concept.
However, making changes to the advert was not an unusual inconvenience, merely an occupational hazard, Braithwaite said.
“You can plan [for surprises], but you can never guess.” Last year, for example, M&S’ advert shoot was shut down on the third day due to Covid.
Although the UK’s tumultuous times show no sign of letting up, retailers want customers to feel joy and humour when watching their adverts, although a dose of heartstring-tugging ‘sadvertising’ also comes into play.
M&S’ charitable cause is delivered in an “uplifting and joyous way”, with all the features of Christmas magic that make the hallmarks of a festive advert, Braithwaite said.
Despite the consumer crunch, households are excited to celebrate their first Christmas in two years void of Covid curbs.
This sentiment was echoed by top dogs at Tesco, after the country’s largest supermarket’s advert shows a pastiche of festive party scenes under the hashtag #StandforJoy.
More than a third of customers surveyed by Tesco said Christmas was more important to them than ever before.
However, excitement for Christmas amid a torrid economic climate has led to a “confusing period” for household names, Natalie Spearing, marketing director at the Chartered Institute of Marketing, told City A.M.
While some adverts have taken a “charity angle”, with Lidl launching a donation initiative to donate toys to children in need, other grocers like Asda, Sainsbury’s and Boots have tapped into the traditional “big-budget” escapism, she said.
In Asda’s light-hearted advert, Buddy the Elf promises young shoppers he will “put in a good word with the big man,” on his first day working at a store, while giving the check-outs and decorating a go.
During times of crisis, people look to trusted brands to “provide comfort and reassurance,” Spearing added, with adverts needing to be “both creative and empathetic” this Christmas. And the country certainly could do with a bit of reassurance at the moment.