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Opinion – do we really need Christmas adverts this year?

Festive favourite brands like John Lewis and Sainsbury’s are toning down their Christmas adverts as the cost of living crisis looms. But is seasonal marketing truly necessary this year? 

For years, the start of the festive adverts has signalled the beginning of Christmas.

Like most seasonal traditions, the launch of the Christmas ad has crept earlier and earlier. Now, department stores and supermarkets can be expected to drop extravagant marketing campaigns as early as late October.

With elaborate stories and special effects, adverts by John Lewis and other big-name supermarkets tend to resemble short films. For the former, Christmas has become a huge part of the John Lewis brand, with annual festive campaigns spawning merchandise and interactive in-store experiences.

These ads are known to come with costly price-tags, too. For their 2017 campaign titled ‘Moz the Monster’, John Lewis spent an alleged £7 million on production of the advert alone.

According to Market Business News, the most expensive UK Christmas ad to date is Tesco’s 2014 ‘Lights On’, which cost £22.2m.

The numbers would be toe-curling at the best of times. But as the country slips into financial instability, and millions of families face price-hikes on daily essentials, the opulence and excess of Christmas feels more garish than ever.

Retailers have responded to the cost of living crisis by claiming to slash budgets across festive campaigning. John Lewis and Tesco have chosen adverts with more sentimental messaging, and suggest that the point is not about ‘spending money’ but ‘being kind’.

A spokesperson for John Lewis described how the bleak economic outlook had impacted production on the company’s festive campaigning. The new advert, called ‘The Beginner’ follows a middle-aged man learning to skateboard.

Without any of the CGI of earlier John Lewis Christmas ads, the new video feels decidedly stripped-back. It was ‘a very deliberate choice’ explained Claire Pointon, director of customer at John Lewis.

‘The tone has been important for us in terms of how we tell the story’.

Despite smaller budgets and more emotive messaging in their festive ads, UK companies are still set to spend £9.5bn in the run-up to Christmas this year.

These months are known as the ‘golden quarter’ because retailers tend to make the majority of their annual profits during this period.

However, the public are expected to spend £4.4bn less on non-essentials this Christmas. And brands are responding by shifting focus to value and pricing.

Sweet as they may be, these campaigns are difficult to separate from the multi-billion dollar retail industry they’re promoting.

At the end of the day, these adverts help high-street giants make staggering amounts of money – and the only way to do that is by encouraging the public to spend their hard earned, and currently scarce, expendable income on Christmas food and presents.

As the country enters another period of austerity, the real question is whether we need Christmas advertising this year. At the very least, we should question whether it’s possible to produce sensitive festive marketing at all. Long associated with over-spending and over-indulging, the festive season has become a capitalist holiday more than anything else.

Exploiting the idea that Christmas has a ‘true meaning’ – the notion of giving up oneself in the interest of others, and focusing on sharing rather than receiving – has become a cornerstone of festive marketing.

But if our biggest goal this year is to cherish loved ones and move away from unnecessary spending, we certainly don’t need a glitzy advertisement to tell us that. No matter how tear-jerking it is.


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