The Holidays are coming. With them come dreams of white Christmases, just like the ones we used to know…Treetops glistening & children listening for those sleigh bells in the snow. Chestnuts are roasting on open fires and Santa's on his way… it’s the most wonderful time of the year.
In 2017, Christmas is about all this and more. It’s also about keeping up with the Jones’ and perfecting the ultimate Christmas dinner with Nigella’s Turkey and Ottolenghi’s sprouts. Dragging out the festivities from early November with Pret’s Christmas sandwich and Starbuck’s spiced lattes. It’s about getting that warm fuzzy feeling of familiarity as you queue up Christmas standards on Deezer and Netflix. Picking the perfect douglas fir via augmented reality before the schlep to IKEA to pick it up, driving back in a pine scented hatchback with Chris Rea softly seeping from the speakers.
Brands are everywhere at Christmas. But their role has evolved beyond simply scrambling to get product under the tree or on the table. It’s about how they can help carefully define and curate the most perfect Christmas experience possible. We love our conventions at this time of year, but whilst we claim to be Xmas traditionalists, our need for more unique experiences have changed what matters to us most at this time of year.
The race to define Christmas
The launch of Xmas adverts is now a firm fixture of the modern Christmas experience. Not only does it mark the beginning of festivities for a quarter of Brits, 1 in 6 have actually changed their plans to catch the premiere of their most anticipated ad! Brands are investing billions into seasonal advertising in a bid to define what Christmas is all about with epic, Hollywood-rivalling nuggets of entertainment (33% of the UK public is more excited for the ads than Star Wars: The Last Jedi).
M&S, the front runner this year, is full of recognisable, nostalgic signallers of Yuletide, reimagined through the quirky odd ball lens of Paddington Bear. It’s got a heartstring tugging story of redemption at its heart, telling us that Christmas is a time for forgiveness, a chance to do good. It’s about family and friendship, the gift of giving, all wrapped up in the doublespeak of ‘Spend it well’. It’s not obviously product driven (bar Paddington merch, ‘Super Alice’ costume and marmalade), it’s a feeling they want us to buy into. An experience that an M&S sponsored Christmas can help you achieve at home.
M&S’ idea of the perfect Christmas experience has resonated with people more than John Lewis’ fart heavy, ‘Moz the Monster’. But both have been subject to derision in comment sections around the internet. As much a tradition as the ads themselves, opinionated keyboard warriors come out in force at Christmas to debate the role of brands in festive celebrations.
Once you get past the right wing garbage bemoaning how PC everything has become, you find a collective pining for a return to traditional Christmas iconography, with people looking for brands to deliver the magical images that define the cosy and familiar Christmas experience they crave.
Stressin’ around the Christmas Tree
The modern Christmas experience is more connected than ever thanks to social media. But it doesn’t inspire a heart-warming, ‘hands around the world’ global happening. It’s become an insta-fueled, bloodthirsty competition of one-upmanship.
Three-quarters of Brits feel stressed at Christmas time. The leading cause? The pressure of delivering the ‘perfect’ Christmas.
‘We have been overexposed to festive perfection on social media, through advertisements and celebrity images… We mistakenly conflate our festive efforts with a reflection of our worth’ - Marisa Peer, relationship therapist, The Telegraph
Social pressure drives us to go bigger and better at Christmas. Whether it’s like-farming with how creatively you’ve positioned your Elf on the Shelf (it’s for the parents, lets not kid ourselves), Santa-fying your brows, upgrading the cheap chocolate calendar for Liberty’s or Diptyque’s, or giving the most thoughtful, unique gift possible (Monkey coffee anyone?), the fight for the perfect Christmas is fiercer each year. We even get guides these days on how to get the most out of Christmas for our feeds...
But has it really changed?
Christmas has always been about looking from the outside in - the experience age hasn’t changed that, but global connectivity and our appetite for more unique experiences has raised the bar on expectations. The pressure has reached hypertension.
The question is, how can brands capitalise on Christmas in the experience age, feeding the public appetite for bigger and better experiences.
1. Importing new/old traditions
A product of the increasingly global nature of Christmas is that we now look to other parts of the world to import new traditions. German markets have become an established part of the Christmas landscape in the UK since their introduction in the late 90s. In more recent years, Xmas trends have seen us go all Scandi in a bid to hygge-fy the holidays. Perhaps the best example ever is KFC in Japan. Spotting a gap in the market, they imported the Western tradition of a sit-down, poultry based family meal and subsequently turned fried chicken into a widespread Christmas tradition for millions. It’s not really about the chicken. It’s about importing the experience family togetherness made possible by succulent meat, crispy skin and a secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices…
2. Take an Instagram first approach
Make the most of the visual, social currency of Christmas and think in terms of experiences or products that will get consumers reaching for their phone. How can you be a part of the world of Xmas ‘brows, Beard Baubles, Slayer Christmas jumpers and Elf on the Shelf???
3. Play to one up man ship
Take a look at what others are doing but go one bigger or better. Take a proven Christmas favourite and add the sprinkles (or turn a Frappuccino into a Christmas tree if you're Starbucks).
4. Create new traditions
The Post Office invented Christmas cards as a way to get more people using the service. A London sweet-maker invented Christmas crackers in the late 1840s. It’s possible to create traditions from scratch, but those that have truly taken off all share a social value that resonates with people at Christmas. If Alf Garnett lookalike Émile Durkheim taught us anything, it’s that the experience of participating in Christmas rituals, generating a shared feeling of excitement, is a drug to us social animals. When trying to introduce new rituals at Christmas, the social value they bring to the experience is key.
So there you have it. While traditions rule the roost at Christmas, the experience age has not only seen them go into flux but also redefined the role brands can play in defining and delivering the perfect Christmas experience. So as you tuck into your millionth mince pie or a bucket of KFC, why not plan how your brand can turn tradition on it's head and shape the ultimate Christmas experience in 2018. After all, it won't be too long til the Coca-Cola truck is on the horizon once again.