Why brands must deliver more than a slice of schmaltz this Christmas

Retailers splurging on festive advertising makes Christmas the UK's answer to the Super Bowl spot, but many retailers have revealed they are woefully out of touch, writes Nicola Kemp.

We love Christmas in our household: mulled wine, mince pies, more festive albums than I should really admit to, and, of course, Christmas ads. I can't help thinking, however, that many of this year's spots are out of step with consumer sentiment.

Am I the only one who, having watched John Lewis' snowman character's epic and dangerous journey to purchase gloves and a hat for his better half, thought that perhaps it wasn't worth the hassle or upset of leaving her alone? That maybe spending precious time with your loved ones is more important than anything money can buy? The ad did not convey a message that will send me running to my nearest Peter Jones armed with a credit card, even if that's possibly a good thing.

Then there's the infamous Asda spot, which sparked a barrage of criticism on Mumsnet on the grounds it is sexist and 'insults everyone who isn't a stereotypical family'. Morrisons, for its part, just leaves the impression that Christmas, and by association shopping at Morrisons, is all rather terrible.

Christmas communications present a phenomenal challenge. For many consumers, the festive period brings anxiety rather than joy. Next week, the annual Rowntree report will reveal that nearly two-thirds of those below the poverty line in the UK are in work.

Martin Lewis, the creator of MoneySavingExpert.com, has taken to the pages of The Daily Telegraph to argue that its time to ban Christmas presents. He wrote that 'across the country people are growling at the obligation to waste money on tat they can't afford, for people who won't use it'.

It is a difficult environment, but brands such as Waitrose, Pret A Manger and Marks & Spencer, show that those brands delivering more than merely a slice of schmaltz can still thrive.

 

THE UPSHOT

WHAT BRANDS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CONNECTING WITH CASH-STRAPPED CONSUMERS

- Show compassion

Waitrose bypassed its traditional big-budget ad to give more to charity, while Marks & Spencer answered a mum's plea on its Facebook page to include her son, who has Down's Syndrome, in its ad. Those brands that deliver something bigger than a glossy ad and show consumers real generosity will thrive.

- Give consumers the diversity they want

The advertising and marketing industry is lagging behind society when it comes to embracing diversity. In an industry that should reflect society, marketers must beware of presenting a narrow world view. As Asda discovered, relying on cliches can alienate your target audience.

- Business as a force for good

Businesses will face unprecedented scrutiny in 2013. Even John Lewis, a brand held up as an example of a fair business, is under the microscope for failing to pay its cleaners the living wage. Now, more than ever, brands must ensure their values are reflected in how they run their businesses, not just in how they present themselves in a 30-second spot.

Nicola Kemp is Marketing's head of features. Follow her on Twitter: @nickykc

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