Something we all hear a lot at this time of year (apart from Wham's 'Last Christmas' or Slade's 'Merry Christmas Everybody') is that Christmas doesn't mean what it once did - and that is especially true for those of us in market research. The festive season used to be about carols, turkey and mince pieces. Now it involves cutting through the clutter of Christmas advertising campaigns and identifying which brands are successfully making their voices heard in the annual festive marketing overload. Given the commercial frenzy and heightened consumer spending that surrounds Christmas, standing out from the crowd is arguably more important to brands now than at any other time of the year.
This raises an important question: what is the key to achieving cut-through at Christmas? A difficult conundrum, I thought - until inspiration struck during a chance encounter in the middle of London. While strolling around Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland recently, I bumped into none other than Peter Crouch, the former England striker. Of the estimated 570 Premier League footballers, how many of them could walk through the Winter Wonderland and go unnoticed by the average consumer, who is unfamiliar with the finer points of the offside rule? Well, probably most of them. So why did Crouch stand out among the crowd of excited visitors, and what can brands learn from him?
Tip #1: Standing out is for life, not just for Christmas
The 'Crouch-ism': At 6"7 Peter Crouch stands tall - and therefore stands out - for 12 months a year, not just the 31 days of December, making him a highly recognisable figure all year round.
The marketing concept: In a heavily commercialised society, it is not feasible for a brand to hide among the clutter for 11 months of the year and then suddenly come alive with a rousing Christmas campaign. Brands need to maintain a place in consumers' hearts and minds all year. Potentially high-value purchase decisions in December are rarely made on impulse; instead they are based on a longer consideration period - hence the need to occupy the consumer headspace all year round.
Xmas X-ample: Sainsbury's is one of the traditional Yuletide marketing heavyweights. But the supermarket does not find itself in this position by fortune or fate. In 2013 alone Sainsbury's has delivered campaigns such as: Price Match, Active Kids Schools, What's Cooking in the Sainsbury's Kitchen and even a 50 minute feature-length movie as a prelude to its Christmas campaign. Therefore, it comes as little surprise that Sainsbury's Christmas campaign has already been dubbed as 'winning the Christmas ad battle'. Is this because it's a great advert? Possibly. Or is it because we are so familiar with Sainsbury's messages, that we simply understand its festive advert more clearly than the others? Are we latently looking for the brand's messages by virtue of regular exposure and resultant expectation?
Tip #2: It's the season to be jolly
The 'Crouch-ism': Famously, Peter Crouch was once asked what he would be if he wasn't a footballer. His response? "A virgin" - a quip that not only saw him voted the funniest man in British sport in 2010, but also showed he is an everyday guy with a sense of humour, undoubtedly endearing himself to football fans and the general public alike.
The marketing concept: Christmas is one of the most light-hearted times of year for consumers. Brands therefore need to portray this feeling in the way they communicate. By doing so, they will appear more personable - something of growing importance at a time when people no longer buy products or services; people buy great interaction with other people. Furthermore, by being light-hearted in Christmas communications, brands show their sensitive, human side - all-important at a time where austerity means consumers are wary of brands that are too focussed on 'the sale'.
Xmas X-ample: In 2012 highbrow fashion brand Harvey Nichols showed their funny side by releasing an advert in which two ladies arrive at a party in the same dress. How was this problem solved? With lasers and Chihuahuas, obviously! With this advert, Harvey Nichols showed that they are an upmarket brand capable of out-of-the-box humour.
Tip #3: The consistent Christmas carol
The 'Crouch-ism': Height aside, Peter Crouch is best known for his robotic dance moves. But would they catch the eye if he was just average height? It's doubtful. The reason Crouch's dance style stands out is because, thanks to his DNA, he stands tall.
The marketing concept: When deciding how to stand out at Christmas, it is vital that brands leverage and amplify their DNA - taking what is at the core of their identity and leveraging it in a way that is likely to resonate with consumers on a festive level. Brands that stay true to the fundamental aspects of their identity will enhance their credibility and also stand a better chance of standing out enough to catch consumers' eyes in the festive shopping period.
Xmas X-ample: This year's campaign from Waitrose focuses on the idea of giving something back. Even more so than a typical premium supermarket festive advert, it pulls on consumers' heartstrings and looks to resonate with the goodwill elements of Christmas. It also supports 'The Waitrose Way' - part of which is Waitrose's edict that it is valuable to contribute to the community. By doing so, the supermarket has maintained consistency in its messaging - and created something bespoke and unique to represent the time of year the advert is released.