Reality vs escapism: Two sides of the Christmas coin
Unable to sit around each other’s desks or retire to the pub to discuss how brands might approach this Christmas, staff at Leagas Delaney made time to have a Christmas conflab over Zoom. What came out of that discussion were two approaches the agency believes might fill our screens in November. So, without further ado, let battle commence…
Craig Lawrie, Integrated Strategy Director
Christmas 2020 is anything but a merry one: unemployment in the UK is predicted to exceed 10% by the end of the year; hospital beds are in short supply as the dreaded ‘second wave’ hits more of the elderly and vulnerable; and a draconian set of restrictions to everyday life is hitting more and more of the population [since writing this, it was announced that England will go into a national lockdown again from Thursday November 5].
This isn’t a year for brands to be helping us ‘celebrate’ the season. In a year where many will be spending Christmas cut off from their loved ones, or fearful of their finances, health and futures, brands need to be part of this new national mood. They need to be comforting, reassuring, empathetic and, dare I say it, serious. This is no moment to play at imaginary Christmas parties and carolling.
Brands simply won’t appear credible pretending 2020 didn’t happen by serving up lashings of the usual CGI or animated fare.
This means reflecting the reality of people’s lives: families forced apart, Christmas get-togethers over video calls, face masks in stores and a Christmas season stuck indoors. One where consumption isn’t gratuitous, where giving is affordable and where the small things in life are as valued as the big.
Obviously, brands aren’t all dour and realistic; they are supposed to be positive and promise a better future. And this doesn’t gel easily with portraying a mirror image of the nation’s current mood. Brands simply won’t appear credible pretending 2020 didn’t happen by serving up lashings of the usual CGI or animated fare. Creative treatment should feel as real life as possible.
However, optimism can still be conveyed through the lens of our current reality: A family heading to the fast food drive-in and enjoying their festive burger in the car. The face mask-wearing young man entering the department store’s click-and-collect area to pick up the presents he ordered online. The tech brand that allows the family to still play Monopoly remotely together on Christmas afternoon. The fizzy drink brand featuring housemates catching up together in the pub garden. None of these examples are negative. All carry with them the fun of the season. But they are relatable and sympathetic to the current circumstances and don’t promise a Christmas that can never be delivered in the middle of a pandemic.
Above: Craig Lawrie and Lucy Collier fight it out over what this year's festive offerings might look like.
Lucy Collier, Creative Director
It’s been one hell of a year and I, for one, am looking forward to Christmas and the Christmas ads. As a result of the pandemic and lock down we’ve had a lot of things stolen from us this year; holidays, time with loved ones, the opportunity to travel to foreign shores. I’d hate for Christmas ads to disappear too.
Christmas ads signal the start of the countdown to Christmas, to being closer to family and friends, slowing down and being thankful for what we have. Every year the ads bring a little magic, but they also bring light-hearted debate. Which is the best ad? Which is the worst? Which has the best soundtrack? Will it get a Christmas Number 1? Christmas ads are part of the tradition of Christmas for me.
But this year the Christmas ads offer something in addition, they offer some much-needed escapism. They offer some yearned for entertainment. Throughout this year of Covid, I feel like I’ve experienced far too much reality; the daily statistics, the endless graphs, expert after expert, contrary government messaging. I could write an endless list, but I’ll spare you.
The Christmas ads are like the wardrobe into Narnia, they allow me to armchair-travel to somewhere else for a few minutes.
The Christmas ads are like the wardrobe into Narnia, they allow me to armchair-travel to somewhere else for a few minutes. It could be one of the big supermarkets taking me into a weird, plasticine world of snowy mayhem. It could be one of the big tech brands whisking me away in a time travel contraption. Or it could be a high street department store’s singing Figgy Pudding that brings a smile. We are yet to find out, but I am looking forward to seeing where creative imagination might take me in the ad breaks this November.
The approach to Christmas 2020 will definitely be different in the way the retailers connect to Covid-fatigued consumers. Different due to possibly reduced production budgets as a result of the high street being off limits for much of the year. Different, no doubt, in the way the Christmas ads were created and shot during summer, at the height of social distancing.
It’s been a challenging time for consumers, brands, agencies and production companies alike, but I believe all parties will have risen to these challenges with what we do best, creative solutions so that Christmas ads still have a place at the table.