John Harrington
Aug 20, 2020

'Swerve socially-distant Santa, focus on joy' — PR pros on Christmas 2020

Christmas this year will be like no other, so what can we expect from campaigns over the festive season?

'Swerve socially-distant Santa, focus on joy' — PR pros on Christmas 2020

New research suggests the public want to see a different approach from the usual seasonal extravaganzas from brands, with a greater focus on real stories and a move away from big-budget blockbusters.

PRWeek asked some creative comms experts to gaze into their crystal (snow)balls and predict some of the main trends in Christmas campaigns for the Covid-19 era.

Let's hope for laughter – Indy Selvarajah, creative director, Edelman Deportivo

I pray we all take heed of what Mark Twain said: "Humour is a great thing, the saving thing after all. The minute it crops up all our hardnesses and yield, irritations and resentments flit away, and a sunny spirit takes their place."

Personally, I’ve had my fill of the ubiquitous ‘let’s make people cry’ campaigns. I hope we steer clear of the over-saccharine weepies. There’s enough to blubber about in the world right now.

So here’s to hoping we make more people grin, smirk and chuckle. And yes, it’s true that laughter is the best medicine, as it has been shown to have positive mental and physical health benefits. Something we all need a little more of after this most challenging of years.

Show that you matter – Mark Borkowski, founder and chief executive, Borkowski PR

As we inch towards a new normal, we’re prioritising what we need over what we want. This is bad news for those reliant on a collective sense of hysterical consumerist abandon (ie: most brands, most Christmases).

Top Christmas PR tips this year: 1) Show that you matter, and 2) Don’t rub it in for those who have struggled. Most brands will understand this basic premise but overegg the nog by adopting a sombre, worthy tone. Don’t expect the equivalent of John Lewis' Edgar the dragon in a mask, or a social-distanced Sainsbury’s ‘plug boy’. The challenge for PRs out there is to reinvent Christmas as something other than cheesy, sentimental consumerism… but not many will be brave enough to aim that high.

Bring out the squirty cream – Pete Way, creative director, BCW

I think there will be a lot of ‘what the hell just happened’ and ‘treasure what you’ve got at Christmas’ type of stuff.

I’d hope that people will be nicer and that brands will try to do some good, helping refugees, the homeless or the hungry, but I suspect it is more likely we’ll be seeing a lot of Captain Tom dressed as Santa.

But Christmas isn’t all about giving…

If I ask for one thing on my own Christmas list, it is no more shots of lockdowned kids and old people looking wanly outside with their hands pressed up against the glass; but I’ll settle for one joyous, silly campaign about squirty cream – we all need a bit of light relief!

Shun the cliches, focus on joy – Lucy McGettigan, director, The Romans

How do you round off a year like 2020? First off, it’s going to be a logistical challenge, with reduced budgets and uncertainty on where we’ll be in December making it the nightmare before Christmas for some.

Creatively, the most successful work tends to reflect the mood of the nation, but with the full economic impact of COVID-19 looming, we have to be sensitive to how consumers will be feeling without making a load of frankly depressing Christmas campaigns.

The public could be crying out for a bit of light relief, so the best campaigns will avoid COVID-cliches (if I hear “We’re all in this together” one more time…), swerve socially distant Santa, and instead focus on the genuine moments of joy that are worth celebrating.

A time for brands to give back – Kim Allain, creative, MSL

The past couple of years have seen a couple of brands' ads and campaigns stand out due to them taking a worthier approach to the Christmas season. Ads like Iceland’s 'Say Hello to Rang-tang' and Deliveroo’s 'Second Best Delivery', as well as the latter’s Missing People campaign, did something a little different and shone a light on conversations often neglected at Christmas time.

I believe a lot of campaigns will follow suit this Christmas. After the year we’ve had, I believe brands will make the season about giving thanks to key workers, who often sacrifice their Christmases to guarantee others' are special. I also think it will be a time for brands to give back and really make their CSR programmes work harder.

Show community love – Nick Woods, founder, Sunny Side Up

There will be no vaccine against ‘COVID comms’ this Christmas, which will arguably be more widespread than the actual disease.

There may well be strong encouragement of the blowing-away of 2020 with a sense of 'we made it, we deserve a party'. Schmaltz-lovers will enjoy a double-dose of sentimentality and being told to ‘hold your closest closer’. And many will hope that, despite it going against the grotesque, contemporary grain of Christmas, maybe this year we’ll see more than ‘messaging’ around generosity of spirit and more actual donating, volunteering and providing of community love.

The most progressive brands, however, will already be looking to the future, playing on anticipation of better times, on optimism and what could be, rather than what was.

Respite needed – David Wiles, executive consumer director, Good Relations

Any brand not adapting their marketing strategy for Christmas 2020 is heading for trouble. It would be completely inappropriate for brands to spend vast amounts of money on a production that is selling the usual magical, fairytale Christmas we are used to.

I think the values we're going to see communicated will be more reminiscent of those seen in the traditional warm-up to Christmas in the US – Thanksgiving. Brands need to be genuine and show that they understand how Christmas will be different for all of us, but that doesn’t mean communications need to be overly rational and sober. Humour and levity are going to be crucial in helping the nation achieve a little respite during the festive season.


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