Will Christmas PR campaigns be cancelled this year?

Sorry to mention the ‘C’ word, but Christmas is just around the corner (in marketing terms). Our national economic emergency means that it is harder for many to celebrate this year, so how are brands changing how they market to an audience that is struggling to make ends meet? We discuss how campaigns should be sensitive to people going through harder times.

Focus on having an ethical Christmas

Rebecca McLeod, non-executive director at communications agency Jack & Grace: “I can't be the only PR who hates Christmas, and this Christmas is no exception. Brace yourself for the onslaught of targeted campaigns, festive emails and good causes to jump on board with. I put myself firmly in the 'bah humbug' category at the best of times, and Christmas 2022 certainly isn't the best of times.

“The energy crisis is biting hard, the cost of living is skyrocketing and economic and political uncertainty is rife. Our agency uses communications as a force for good, but what does that mean for our clients at Christmas? It's not all doom and gloom - even in the midst of a recession people crave a break - so our messaging will be around ethical retailing, buying local and independent, food gifting, re-using, recycling and buying second hand. Cheers to that!“

Have a sense of humour

Paul Lucas, director of PR agency Fanclub: “There’s no getting away from the fact that money is going to be tight for many, many people this year. However, ‘tis the season when people like to suspend reality even if just for a day and people won’t necessarily want reminding that times are tough during a time of celebration. They say humour is a great leveller and putting a smile on people’s faces, no matter how small, has probably never been more important.”

Don’t go over the top

Paul Lucas: “Of course, common sense should prevail and brands will be mindful of not over egging the festive pudding - I anticipate a lot of value and a time for standing side by side in support of each other type messaging to be on display too - especially with the World Cup playing out simultaneously.

“Ultimately brands will need to be cognisant of their place in the round and act accordingly.”

Modest and mindful is the way to go

Lindsey Hill, consumer lifestyle tech PR specialist at PR agency Hotwire: Christmas PR campaigns will undoubtedly look a little different this year. With the cost-of-living crisis affecting so many, the big budget PR campaigns we have come to expect during the festive period are at risk of being seen as frivolous and wildly out of touch given the current climate. That said, Christmas campaigns don’t need to be ‘mundane’ - modest and mindful is the way to go. There’s always room for a bit of joy and lifting spirits, as consumers have come to expect from brands, just as they did during the height of the pandemic.

“I anticipate we’ll see a lot of content leaning heavily into the more traditional values of Christmas - sharing, spending time with loved ones and more ‘thoughtful’ gifting. We can also expect to see brands highlighting the ways they are giving back through social initiatives and how they are looking to help communities in difficult times.”

Concentrate on coming together

Ece DeWaal, associate director at PR firm M&C Saatchi Talk: “The excess and extravagance of yesteryear is out, and brands will be more cautious than ever to not appear tone deaf, especially considering some incredible moments from brands that have set a standard with their approach to environmental and economic issues. We’ll still see campaigns that are light and fun in essence, but with more focus on coming together and the joys of the basics - something put into practise and spurred on by a month of high spirits (maybe!) because of the first ever Winter World Cup.”

Think of the three Ps

Heather Bull, director, commerce at PR agency H+K Strategies: Brands will be aiming to connect with shoppers via ‘3Ps’ – price, purpose, and personalisation. “‘Price’ is under way, with retailers already offering discounts to lure people in. However, to keep us from switching from deal to deal, ‘value for money’ and ‘affordable luxury’ needs to feature more prominently. This is also where second-hand marketplaces can double down.

“Who doesn’t feel good when a campaign highlights a worthwhile cause? However, ESGs are usually the first investments to disappear in a recession, so I hope anyone promoting ‘purpose’ initiatives will follow them through next year!

“Then ‘personalisation’. Less obvious, but bespoke gifts - especially when budgets are squeezed - reinforces the time taken to find items and makes them feel exclusive.

“But away from the messaging, savvy brands should also be leaning into commerce trends such as social commerce, pop-ups, and AI to build connections with their communities well beyond the season of giving.”

Messages must be heart-warming

Natalia Brzezinska, marketing and outreach manager at passport picture site PhotoAiD: “2022 Christmas PR campaigns should be the answer to all of the negativity that happened this year. In particular, Russia’s aggression is the reason why society is in need of extreme heart-warming actions. That creates a background for PR campaigns that will emphasise the need to help each other and stick together. So, I believe this year’s campaigns should be even more socially involved than before and contribute to building a sense of community. They should openly refer to our current crises and be a way of reassuring those who have been affected by them.”

Things may be a bit tricky for all of us this winter, but that doesn’t mean to say that Christmas is cancelled. So, despite everything, we wish you a very Merry Christmas - even if it is only October!

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