Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Merry Bloody Christmas

Yes that's right, it's now late October, which means all of you should have seen at least 3 Christmas ads by now!

Every single year we get brands talking about Christmas before we even get to Halloween. It's bloody annoying, but does it actually work?

Have you ever met anyone who saw a Christmas ad in October and went "Oh my god, I totally forgot Christmas is coming up, I better go buy all my stuff now!", I sure as hell haven't. Even for people who get their shopping done early, mid October is stretching it just a bit.

By coming out so early with these ads, surely brands are creating negative reactions that actually count against them? Are they damaging rather than inspiring? Almost everyone I know reacts with a depressed sigh of inevitability when the first ad comes on, even mocking the brands that do it. Given many people are completely fatigued with all things Christmassy before it ever gets to December, are you not just placing the brand name in a category marked 'Christmas hassle'.

In fact the massive queues, rushed service and lack of stock that you expect at Christmas are incredibly annoying; and to me using massively Christmas advertising early risks placing a store into the category marked 'This will be packed full of Christmas shoppers, I won't go there.' I wonder if there is room for an approach that deliberately goes against the Christmas flow, not anti-Christmas, but marks a store out as maintaining a pleasant and comfortable experience while everywhere else is going completely over the top with shoving red things in front of your eyes everywhere you look. 'We love Christmas as much as the next person, but we aren't going to go overboard.'

I think a lot of stores fear being seen as 'Bah Humbug!' if they don't engage with the red redder reddest traditions, but actually I think stores drive the perception more than people actually want it. I know a lot of people who would be far more likely to shop somewhere that built up to Christmas in a subtle way.

So is the point to simply associate the name of the store with Christmas, which in a crowded market would make sense; but would that actually work any better by starting weeks before most people actually do any shopping? Sure you want to combat people going online and buying, but what percentage of people actually buy NOW? Not many I'm sure, and the ones who do probably already know exactly what they are buying and where from. Those who are undecided will probably wait til much nearer the time to choose where to go, and with so many stores advertising the odds are they won't be basing their decisions on an ad from 5 weeks earlier.

At least if you are going to talk about Christmas this sodding early, talk about 'getting in early to beat the crowds', 'we'll help you get it out of the way' or 'low stock expected so why not buy now', give the brand a genuine reason to talk to people in October, not just jumping into the race to get a piece of tinsel on screen as early as possible.

In addition: When Christmas shopping this year, please spare a thought for the poor store staff who have to listen to the same 15 Christmas songs on in-store radio, on loop, every single day for two months... I will say though, as an ex store employee, the very worst day to work is Boxing Day. You get hundreds of people piling in with their unwanted gifts and exchanges, all while being swamped by sale hunters. When I did it I was in the middle of serving a customer when someone literally tried to manually pull me around to get me to speak to them. Not fun.


Anonymous said...

One of the things I liked most about living in India was avoiding all of this nonsense and only being around for the 2 weeks either side of Christmas that actually matter (although, having said that, Diwali is going the same way there.)

I imagine there's a media presentation (or 200) somewhere extolling the virtues of being "first-in" at Christmas. I've certainly seen them for other seasonal stuff. I think brands are scared of the inevitable additional noise at Christmas and scared of missing out on the Christmas cash cow. So they make a generic Christmas ad and bang it on as early as they think they can get away with.

Inevitably, they end up just shouting "SPEND SOME MONEY IT'S CHRISTMAS!" without really saying anything about why you should spend your money on whatever they're hawking (and ignoring the fact that it isn't Christmas for 2 more months.) Dialling down the Christmas and dialling up what your brand is actually about (and how that's important at Christmas) strikes me as an excellent idea. But most brands will be too scared to do it, so I think we'll have to make do with Alan Hansen in a santa hat for some time yet.

Rob Mortimer (aka Famous Rob) said...

Sadly yes.
Just look at the response to John Lewis last year, an ad that felt like it was truly in tune with the spirit and reality of Christmas as experienced by its customers.

Always Argos and DFS that get in really early, so maybe we need to talk to them.

As for that PowerPoint, if there is I'd like to burn it...

Unknown said...

I've been thinking about this post, while listening to the conversations going on around me and have come to the conclusion that you don't hang out with many mums Rob.

EVERYONE I know in my middle-class-mum world is thinking about, planning, organising, booking, making, baking and buying for Christmas. It seems the annual pattern is - September: back to school, October: plan Christmas, November: Organise Christmas; so that come December you can enjoy it with your family.

Check out Mumsnet and the like - there'll be threads and threads of mums swapping their plans, asking for gift ideas, talking about which shows and events they're booking and sharing info on where is doing great pre-christmas offers. Between work, extra socialising and all the extra school stuff that happens with the kids and the rest of the family at Christmas, December has potential to be custard if not well organised. If you want it to be magical for the kids, you're thinking about it now.

And that's the thing, it's when you're in this 'thinking about it', planning and visualising it mode that you're really open to presentations of magical Christmas. Before the dream gets tainted by reality (not being as organised as you think, kids crying hysterically when they finally meet santa) it's the time when you can indulge in fantasy's of getting it all right.

And to a degree I think it's always been the case, just less commercialised in the past - stir-up Sunday is traditionally late October.

Anyway, I totally agree about last year's JL ad, and think JLP generally know what they're doing getting Delia on TV now for Waitrose. She's not talking Christmas, but she sets up appropriate values that come into their own at Christmas.

Rob Mortimer (aka Famous Rob) said...

@unknown That's a really interesting response. I know a number of mums and none of them (bar one who is giving birth) has said anything about buying or planning Christmas.

It's good to know at least that there is the possibility that these ads have had some thinking done rather than just being chucked out there.

I think your point about the dream being tainted by reality is very true, maybe if they communicated that a bit more it might do a better job talking to the people who aren't planning as early too.

It's definitely a tricky one to balance, but if there is an audience that actually goes out there that early, maybe there are better ways of reaching and communicating with them and their Christmas ambitions.

Rob Mortimer (aka Famous Rob) said...

Thanks for the challenging comment :)