How do you approach a Cost of Living Christmas?

For most of us, the run-up to Christmas is full of excitement, mince pies and cheer. But, this year, it’s hard to hard to ignore that things feel a little different. Worries about rising costs and an advent of strikes have made it harder to relax into the Christmas spirit.

For a Christmas like this, where spend spend spend is less likely to land than usual, we were curious to see how brands would respond.

This year’s Christmas adverts reviewed

Last year the focus was on kindness and optimism following another year of Covid troubles. Brands have had to walk a fine line this year. They want us to spend money, but times are tough, and anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that in at least a subtle way risks damaging any brand loyalty they’ve built up.

As we conducted our extensive research, a few strategies kept coming up.

No change

For some brands, it was business as usual. No pause to reflect on the situation surrounding the festivities: these adverts could come from any year.

Asda: Have your ‘elf in Merry Christmas

One of life’s biggest what if’s – would Buddy the elf thrive in an Asda store? This advert is so skillfully edited it’s hard to believe it wasn’t purpose-made. Fair play to the creative team. By harnessing the appeal of one of the most loved Christmas films, they skillfully sidestep having to address the cost of living at all.

Morrisons: Farmer Christmas Returns

Focusing on the quality of its food feels like another sidestep from Morrisons. But, unlike Asda, their advert isn’t innovative and impressive, which makes it harder to forgive.

A gentle nod

It’s a tough line to tread, acknowledging times are harder whilst still encouraging consumers to part with their hard-earned cash, but these brands trod the tightrope.

TK Maxx: Christmas Nailed

TK Maxx’s USP is surprising finds at low prices, which made it easier for them (compared to luxury brands) when thinking about this year’s advert.

The protagonist, Sam, is congratulated by her whole town for finding such marvellous gifts at excellent value. The positive reaction to the bargain-finding prowess tells viewers no one will look down on you for finding a great day. It’s silly, indulgent, and over the top in a way that contrasts with the more earnest tone taken by many this year. But, for TK Maxx, that feels right.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference: Once Upon a Pud

There was a subtle re-direct from Sainsbury’s. Instead of emphasizing the luxurious (expensive) nature of their Taste the Difference range, this year they’ve placed the emphasis on Difference.

In their advert, a chef is challenged to create a new dessert for a demanding Alison Hammond who announces she’s never really liked Christmas pudding (relatable). The result is a caramelised biscuit twist on the classic, which goes down a treat.

Whilst the cost of living isn’t hinted at in the advert itself, which has a royal backdrop, the change in tactic means this advert belongs in the ‘gentle nod’ category. A sensible decision from Sainsbury’s marketing team.

A complete rethink

The third tactic we saw was going back to what Christmas is all about. By demonstrating a commitment to charity, family or quality time, these businesses took the focus off spending and promoted togetherness, kindness and compassion Ironically, doing this well will probably result in more sales for them.

Amazon: Joy is made

As the title suggests, Amazon’s Christmas tale shows us happiness is found in the moments we spend together and the actions we take to make our loved ones happy. It’s heartwarming to see the dad in the advert go to so much effort to make his daughter smile – though he did order a few supplies on Amazon to make that happen!

Lidl: Lidl Bear

Lidl’s new Christmas character is a no-nonsense, no-named bear that finds unexpected fame when it rocks one of their Christmas jumpers. After getting caught up in the lifestyle of the rich and famous, the bear ultimately realises what matters to him most is being with his family.

The plot of this advert might not be groundbreaking, but the actions that go along with it show Lidl’s good intentions. You can’t buy the bear in any of their stores. Instead of monetizing it, they’ve used it as a call to action for their customers to contribute to a toy drive instead. Which they are also donating to.

John Lewis: The Beginner

Every year the opening chords of a reworked classic song tell us John Lewis are about to pull on our heartstrings. So, this year, as the opening notes of All the Small Things played, we were ready. But, it was not a traditional John Lewis advert that followed.

Instead, we see the trials and tribulations of a man learning to skateboard, which we discover at the end of the advert he has done to bond with his new foster daughter. The advert was stripped back and understated, which makes sense in the current social and political context and highlights the work of John Lewis’s Building Happier Futures Programme that supports children living in care.

Tesco: The Christmas Party

Tesco has not shied away from addressing the issues facing the UK this Christmas. In fact, they’ve formed their own political party to solve them – or some of them, anyway. It’s positive and fun. Tesco has sensed the current mood, and it’s refreshing they’ve gone down a less melancholy route than some of their competitors.

Being a supermarket with lower prices gives Tesco permission to take this path. They can promise the lower prices consumers need. Waitrose and Marks and Spencers could never make this advert – it wouldn’t match their brand.

Is there a right answer?

When it comes to brand, it’s never as simple as a one size fits all answer. Despite a myriad of different approaches, almost every ad on this list is effective in its own way. As usual, it all comes back to strategy. The brands on our list have different audiences, purposes and personalities, which influence how they can best express themselves.

Brands that consistently have great marketing campaigns are the ones that know themselves well. Because ultimately, it’s not about finding the one approach that works but finding the approach that works for your brand.