How can you advertise effectively at Christmas if you are not a major retailer or supermarket with a media budget to match?
Many such companies are already launching festive TV campaigns featuring celebrities, cartoon characters, and Father Christmas in various guises, so The Media Leader asked agency leaders how they have helped brands approach media during the festive period differently if they cannot compete with others pound-for-pound.
“[It’s] very much a make-or-break Christmas,” said Rik Moore, managing partner for strategy at independent media agency The Kite Factory. “You get a sense that clients recognise they have a need to spend, but it is imperative that they evidence the short-term effectiveness of that spend back to their business.
“It seems particularly heightened this Christmas, and that is having a knock-on effect on the creative and media choices they are making.”
Advertisers are forecasted to spend record amounts this Q4 on their campaigns. According to the latest figures from the Advertising Association and WARC, adspend will reach £9.5bn, an increase of 4.8% compared to last year.
Moore added this has led to a focus on creative and media plans that drive performance, which may well still be on broadcast channels, rather than “creating the big showcase ad spot launch moment,” like major retailers M&S and Asda have.
“As much as they would like to play to the ‘Long’, and understand its benefits, it feels like this economy and the demands of their CFOs are keeping them understandably focussed more on the ‘Short,’” he continued.
Maren Seitz, senior director at Analytic Partners highlighted consumers’ intent to spend this Christmas had dropped compared to 2022 and many marketers wanting to spend big on seasonal TV campaigns to reach the masses are finding budgets “under a lot of pressure.”
Achieving fame at Christmas on a small budget
However, Alex Hurley, director of planning at JAA Media argued brands should still look to activate at Christmas even if they cannot afford TV.
“TV is often where the noise happens when it comes to Christmas ads but if you can’t afford TV it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t activate — you can achieve fame without the big bucks,” he said. “We’re doing it right now for a couple of clients with media partnerships where you get some big impact moments, especially in the realms of out-of-home (OOH), that achieve the ‘fame’ you need to a targeted audience delivering disproportionate value.”
Starting early and nailing ecommerce is also important, as JAA Media’s ecommerce team found Black Friday search uplift started 14 days before the November mega sale.
“It’s all well and good being on TV but you really need to have nailed the pay-per-click (PPC) campaign to make sure you are making the most of your Christmas media budget. If you don’t have a mega-budget to go with the mega-sale, making sure your ecommerce strategy is sorted is step one for us,” Hurley explained.
He highlighted examples of successful Christmas campaigns making use of press and TV in different guises. Last year the RNIB’s Letter from Santa saw the UK’s first ever braille national newspaper cover, as well as a take-over of the continuity announcer during kids Christmas movies on ITV2.
Their campaign for the RSPCA around the cost-of-living crisis used non-daytime day parts and focussed on broadcaster video-on-demand (BVOD) and connected TV (CTV) rather than traditional direct response TV (DRTV) channels. Hurley said this saw “a remarkable uplift in new donors,” particularly people who they would not have found had they done “the tried and tested route.”
He also highlighted analysis of Christmas present purchases, and when they peak, can be crucial for timing awareness campaigns. For instance, garden gift purchases peak the week beginning 4 December, which resulted in how JAA Media focussed their TikTok, audio, radio and podcasting awareness campaign for the Woodland Trust for tree gifts and its tree dedication service.
Seitz echoed the importance of analysis in Christmas campaign planning for smaller brands, saying, “While TV may still be the glory platform for broad reach, especially for small budgets other channels can step up and provide an efficient opportunity to cut through the noise and deliver strong ROI. It all comes down to pre-planning and analysis of consumer behaviour.”
She said their data for the Christmas period showed consumers were often receptive to advertising far in advance of the big day, when media costs were still cheaper, because they “enjoy the anticipation and associations”. In turn this allowed brands to “leverage those emotions” across multiple media channels, using storytelling channels such as online video before later turning to more conversion and product-focused activities, such as digital display with a call to action closer to the date.
Seitz also recommended integrating activities with common elements and adapting this to context to make the most of “festive shopportunities,” using an omnichannel mindset when planning and measuring activity, and refreshing previously used ideas.
“There is often no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to a campaign platform or creative — too many campaigns are replaced before they ever truly wear out. A refresh of an idea that landed well in the past is often better — and more cost efficient — than a replacement,” Seitz recommended.
‘A great opportunity for something different’
Hurley stressed: “There is a bit of an unnecessary fight for the big brands to gain those seemingly important column inches on ‘first to launch’ or ‘Best Bublé soundtrack,’ but for brands with smaller budgets and big ambitions, Christmas is a great opportunity to try something different when it comes to media.”
This was echoed by Tim Heden, managing director at Electric Glue, who told The Media Leader there was a great opportunity for small- and medium-sized brands to stand out this year.
He explained: “Our view is that big budget, emotional-heartstring, blockbuster ads, if done well, can have a part to play at Christmas. Of course they can — they’ve been around for almost 20 years now. But we think it’s also easy to simply be a me-too Christmas spender, undifferentiated.
“And the national mood feels very different this year — if a big brand misreads that, they’ll look out of touch. Additionally, there’s a mood of cold hard reality in the media and marketing sectors. Everyone’s under pressure as regards targets and accountability. All of this plays to the virtues of agencies that focus on big campaign ideas and agile creative thinking year-round, to ensure continued return on investment.”
One example of a brand doing something different with its Christmas advertising recently was Not On The High Street, the network for small creative business, who created three special-build 3D billboards in London and Manchester to highlight issues around landfills filled with unwanted gifts. This was in partnership with Uncommon London, Hearts & Science, Grand Visual and out-of-home specialist agency Talon.
The billboards, made out of unwanted gifts, boxes and socks, were placed in London’s Westfield Shepherd’s Bush and Vinegar Yard and Manchester’s Salford Chapel Street from the end of October, with respective messages: “Don’t Gift Landfill,” “Don’t Gift Big Biz,” and “Don’t Gift Boring.”
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