Is the blockbuster Christmas ad still relevant?
Christmas advertising, says Shirin Majid, Virtue's ECD, Europe, currently means tinsel, moments of magic and a tinkly, nostalgic soundtrack. But should it? She argues that the industry needs to find a new way to explore the holiday season and to engage a broader range of people.
Firstly, a disclaimer: I am a Christmas-card-carrying-December-the-first-tree-decorating-antler-headband-donning-All-I-Want-For-Christmas-karaoking-Elf-myselfing-sherry-swilling member of Team Red and Green.
But Christmas ads need a reboot.
The world has moved on and the pre-Covid formula feels tired.
At its heart, advertising’s Christmas blockbusters are about entertainment, and we need entertaining now, more than ever. But the world has moved on and the pre-Covid formula (snowy exterior shot + tinselly magic moment + nostalgic tune) feels tired. After all, tinsel is landfill and we haven’t had a white Christmas in England since 2010.
Above: Some of this year's Christmas blockbusters.
The best brand entertainment reflects contemporary culture, and specifically our human experience within it. So, the brands that stand out during the holidays will be the ones which break tradition with both form and function, that drive diversity through storylines more than just casting, and which go beyond craft to create a visceral experience.
The best brand entertainment reflects contemporary culture, and specifically our human experience within it.
As the creative community gets back on its collective feet after this not-really-post-Covid Purgatory, how do we take the 2022 holiday season to the next level and connect to culture and the world as we know it?
Challenge the formula
I’m no brain surgeon, but I do know that seeing the same thing over and over does nothing to fire up the ol’ neurons. Instead of looking to past Christmas ads for inspiration, look to the forces shaping culture and forge new territory.
According to Vice’s latest report, The Next Chapter: Re-Emergence, the part of their lives which young people plan to indulge in more moving forward are their relationships and loved ones. So, how can we tell a story of connection (or re-connection) during the holidays that we can all relate to - or that makes us see our relationships in a new way?
How can we tell a story of connection (or re-connection) during the holidays that we can all relate to?
Can we break the rules on format and production to not just make a connection with our audiences but to make people feel more connected to one another? For example, what if you involved your audience in the making of the film - whether through co-creation or experiment. Make it real and relevant.
Above: How can advertising evolve over the next 12 months to bring about a different approach to Christmas advertising in 2022?
Make people feel seen
Diversity has optically improved in terms of casting, but we’ve got a long way to go to be more inclusive from a cultural point of view. We can start by challenging the tropes of Christmas ads and the traditional nuclear family.
What about single parents? What about single people? What about people whose friends are their families? What about empty nesters? What about people who can’t have kids? What about people who don’t want kids? What about people with feuding families? What about people going through a divorce? What about the millions who have lost loved ones? What about people who can’t go home?
Diversity and inclusion during this period is so much more than a casting exercise. We need to broaden our perspectives.
And what about people who don’t celebrate Christmas? Isn’t it time we acknowledged that the holiday season is for everyone?
Diversity and inclusion during this period is so much more than a casting exercise. It’s about removing the bias that the holidays are collectively spent by one kind of family in one traditional way on the same day. We need to broaden our perspectives.
Above: Bing and Jay-Z's Decoded campaign united people around a cultural moment.
Modernise the ‘magic moment’
We’ve spent so much of the last decade talking about how we need to be where our audience is. So why, when it comes to Christmas, do we revert to the 1960s, thinking that we’re all huddling around our tellies happy to watch the same ads over and over?
Let’s rethink the Christmas blockbuster to unite people around a cultural moment in the real or virtual worlds. Remember how we felt when we saw Jay-Z Decoded [above]on the streets of New York? Or PlayStation take over the world? Or Marshmallow in Fortnite? Or even when #AbsoluteUnit (read: Museum of English Rural Life meme) broke Twitter. Let’s bring a bit more of that sass to it.
Why, when it comes to Christmas, do we revert to the 1960s, thinking that we’re all huddling around our tellies happy to watch the same ads over and over?
In 2022, I hope to be moved by characters beyond the usual suspects. I hope to be hit in the gut by stories that make me (a mixed-race, third culture kid) feel like I belong at the holiday party. I hope to see films directed by people in underrepresented groups. I hope to see experiences in alternate realities that connect people in a new and unexpected way.
And I hope we set a new standard for the Christmas blockbuster moment, one that taps the cultural zeitgeist and collective holiday spirit like we’ve never seen before.