How Will 2020 Christmas Marketing Campaigns Look?

Excitable Edgar breathing his fiery breath over a crowded John Lewis dinner party wouldn’t fly in 2020 would it? COVID dude! Paddy McGuinness and Emma Wilson walking through a bustling Christmas market for M&S without a social distancing thought in mind is also unsuitable. So what’s in store for the festive period in 2020? Surely, we’re not going to see Santa sanitising his hands before entering each house, or snow men placed two metres apart? Personal opinions on enforced lockdowns aside (:)), I’m looking at this issue as a marketer. So, how will 2020 Christmas Marketing Campaigns Look?

2020 Christmas Marketing – A Huge Challenge for Top Brands

Sneaky kisses under the mistletoe? Nope! Large family gatherings with laughter and cheer? Nope! Nans hugging their kids and smiling from ear to ear? Also nope. Oh dear god, where’s the joy? To cut a long story short, the pandemic has really messed up the marketing plans of high street giants who usually plan their campaigns a year in advance. Everything was looking great in January and February then boom! Along came March. The rest is history as they say, but what next?

Judging the mood of a nation while simultaneously lifting spirits is not an easy task. Anything depressing is a massive no-no at Christmas, especially after the year we’ve had. But go to over the top and you might face the backlash of viewers. According to Raquel Chicourel, chief strategy officer at Grey London, the advertising agency behind the M&S Food

“There was a question to ask about whether people will actually want to see a big Christmas production asking people to spend their money on retailers, at a time when there’s a rise in unemployment and a humanitarian and economic crisis.”

That said, when the ads finally do launch, they might gain more attention and be more necessary than ever suggests Chicourel as people become desperate for new entertainment. Especially with the death of new TV shows and film.

“With the content fall we’re expected to have around that period of time, we’re going to run out of things to watch on Netflix and Amazon Prime. I think what’s going to be left is these amazing Christmas ads to get the nation talking.”

There’s also the issue of budget. Christmas ad spend could drop by more than 10% this year as retailers rein in spending after a difficult year and amid ongoing uncertainty over both Covid-19 and Brexit. The final quarter of this year, which traditionally sees a sharp rise in retail ad spend because of Christmas, is predicted to post a 10.5% year on year decline to 6.2 billion, according to new figure from the Advertising Association and WARC. That would be 724 million lower than last year.

So what’s on the cards?

Inside 2020 Christmas Marketing Campaigns…

The thrill is in the anticipation. There’s something heart-warming about waiting for the latest John Lewis ad to drop. But this year has been unprecedented, so I’m all about the sneak peaks.

Firstly, after a tough year, it seems that most retailers are avoiding tear-jerking Man on the Moon-type ads, like John Lewis in 2015. Simon Elborne, executive producer at Outside, the production company who has made campaigns for Sainsbury’s, H&M and Harvey Nichols in the past said of the scripts he has already seen this year, “There’s a real drive to make people feel good. Brands are trying to be positive, to capture people’s imaginations and create hope.” Well hope in a crisis is always good. What else?

According the Elborne, escapism will be huge this year with a strong focus on the ‘spirit of Christmas.’ And Covid-19 won’t hog the spotlight as it has done throughout 2020 with Elborne continuing, “Nothing I’ve seen is in any way connected to the real experience we’re having of this pandemic.” Things might get a tad sickly, however, as brands attempt to unite us and encourage us to forget our ongoing misery. There’s likely to be a ‘dialled up’ focus on community spirit in a bid to reflect the closeness we’ve all gained through this shared experience, without overly referencing Coronavirus. Anyone feel nauseous?

The ads created also need to be socially appropriate. Restrictions across the globe are changing continuously and therefore showing Christmas parties and group gatherings is really not a good idea. Raquel Chicourel of M&S Food said,

“If the country is in lockdown or there are a number of local lockdowns, you can’t show families mingling or strangers hugging each other. You just can’t.”

Sorry Kevin the Carrot of Aldi. No Tiny Tom will be rescuing you this year unless he’s in your social bubble. And as for the performing Robbie Williams’ ‘Let Me Entertain You’ this breaks nearly all the current regulations and is a huge no go unless it’s live streamed on the internet. Perhaps there will be a parsnip Zooming a roast potato? Or a Brussel Sprout chatting to his gran on Skype? Back to the drawing board you go Aldi.

Indeed, advertisers are going to have to think much more carefully about everything they pop into their ads. Let’s look at the Tesco Christmas ad from 2019. It was harmless enough last year, but the script is totally inappropriate for this year. Lines that probably wouldn’t make the cut in 2020, include:

“Christmas is about going out…” Nope! Not if you’re in lockdown.

“Yorkshire’s at Christmas?”

“Not in my house”

Carol singers? People without masks? Delivery people actually coming to the door and not flinging orders into the garage out of fear. Oh my, what a difference a year makes. And talking of social bubbles, are Rudolph and his crew in a bubble and are they allowed to fly altogether as there are nine of them altogether not six as allowed in the UK? Oh dear.

But to end on a high note Elborne is confident we won’t be disappointed. “It’ll be a really strong year, but it’ll be a different year, because of how people perceive it. I’m really excited to see {the ads} out there.”

How to Run a 2020 Christmas Marketing Ad Successfully

Christmas marketing 2020 isn’t cancelled. But if you want to run a successful festive ad it’s important to:

  • Think about ad spend. Do you want to pay for a social media targeted ad? Or do you want to cut costs by creating an organic campaign across your channels? Videos work well for this, as do advent stories which can boost business throughout the Christmas period. Release a snippet from the story each day to improve interaction and engagement. This is exactly what we did over at Contentworks with our #SantaIsReal and the Elf that Hated Christmas Campaign of 2019.

  • Judge the mood of the nation. As mentioned above, don’t do anything that could rub people up the wrong way. Think very carefully about your wording. There shouldn’t be any mentions of large get togethers or lavish gifts as the world is currently gripped by lockdown scenarios and job losses. Instead, it’s best to be humble and settle on a strong message of unity. Arts and crafts brands, for instance, could focus on homemade gifts that make people smile. Bigger brands could focus on gifts that provide actual meaning or give back. Remember, covid-19 shouldn’t be in the limelight, but the ad should reflect the current mood.
  • Focus on connecting with your audience. People aren’t interested in pushy sales messages especially when budgets are tight. Instead, you need to make your content relatable. Instagram Stories is a great way to present your brand in a fun and engaging way. A good example is to share how your brand is embracing corporate responsibility over the festive months. Maybe a few promotional products like embroidered t-shirts (maybe with the help of companies providing the best embroidery melbourne) could prove to be a symbol of unity – for your team and the audience.
  • Create engaging content. Quizzes, interactive activities, polls, questions and more work really well. Hamleys recently ran a lovely little campaign for Halloween where they asked people to answer spooky questions using a relevant emoji. Something similar could be done for Christmas. Don’t forget to retweet or share content to build a strong connection with your community.

  • Don’t create anything that could go out of date. You might be able to mix in small groups now but not when Christmas actually arrives. So, try to keep your content as relevant as possible regardless of how the situation might change.

Christmas Corporate Gifts

And on the subject of Christmas planning, you might want to reconsider your usual corporate gifts this year. With many staff furloughed at home, it will be difficult to send sharable corporate gifts to company offices. Also, how worried are your clients about cross infection? Some are not worried at all whilst others are sterilising everything. EEEK. Here are some alternative gift ideas for the 2020 corporate Christmas:

Donate to a worthy cause – Make a corporate donation to a worthy cause like a homeless shelter or food bank that will provide food for the needy over Christmas. Let your clients know via social media what actions you have taken but avoid being braggy about it. You could also encourage more donations with a story on your blog.

Gifts that give back – Instead of going to your typical corporate gift provider, employees and clients would appreciate it if you used providers like Packed With Purpose (look here to find out more about them). The gifts will be more well-received if they know they have come from a company that focuses on the environment, women empowerment, and youth development.

Send vouchers – Send your clients vouchers this year. If you are all in the same vicinity you could support local businesses like a cake shops or food store. If you are a global company then opting for a safe bet like Book Depository might be easier.

Provide free services- One way to show clients you care from a distance, is to provide an additional free service for them. Give them extra credit, an extra item in their monthly retainer or even a tailored report or one on one consultancy time.

It’s worth pointing out too that Christmas 2020 will also be a very difficult time for anyone suffering from depression, anxiety or chronic illness (rapidly rising cases). If you are able to reach out to help or volunteer your time then that is also a great way to spend your time.

Note- if you gift me branded hand sanitiser I will not be grateful.

Christmas marketing in 2020 will be different this year. But what Christmas 2020 ads do you have high hopes for? Let me know below or tweet me “Charli_Says.

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About the author

Charlotte Day, known as Charli, is a content marketing strategist heading up social media and storytelling at Contentworks Agency. A content marketing thought leader, she has 1000+ articles published, guest writes for leading social media hubs and frequently speaks at events. She also maintains her own blog at and a writer’s life presence on social media. When she’s not writing and managing the agency, Charli enjoys swimming in the Mediterranean, writing poetry and reading.