Thought Leadership

Boots and VMLY&R deliver a masterclass in cost of living creativity

The ‘Joy For All’ campaign shows that creativity can thrive in an era of constraint and cutting back.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


Constraint has long been a fuel for creative ideas. In the 1960s a group of French-speaking writers and mathematicians sought out constrictions of form and pattern to better focus their creative thinking. The ‘Oulipo’ movement was an ongoing quest to free literature by tightening its rules. 

For creatives and marketers the constraints may well be different, but they are perhaps the most constant and enduring force in marketing. The quest is ongoing. Just as the ‘lipstick effect’ (the notion that consumers spend more on ‘little treats’ in a downturn) has become part of public consciousness, the notion that creativity has the potential to thrive in the face of economic downturn is more than a self-serving industry myth.

Marketers and agencies alike have long faced boundaries when it comes to platform, pace and budget. From the number of characters on a brief to the number of zeros on the budget, constraint is a polarising and pressurised force in the industry. While in the wake of the Covid pandemic the production and creative community rose to the challenge of virtual shoots in the face of restrictions. 

Christmas is the hardest brief of the year. It's a time people treasure and getting the tone right is essential. This year, it’s been an even greater challenge as customers face worries about how they are going to pay for it.

Laurent Simon, Chief Creative Officer at VMLY&R London

A question of emotional capacity

Yet while those physical constraints are finally in the rear view mirror; the biggest constraint of all remains: emotional capacity. Marketers are well-versed in the hyper-masculine language which accompanies the ‘battle’ for attention in an ecosystem in which consumers are routinely diminished to a data point.  

Bright brains within our industry have long pointed to the fallacy of the ‘share of voice’ approach in favour of an approach which reflects the power of having a share of consumers' lives. To earn a share of consumers' lives, or an unfair slice of culture, you need to recognise not just the media ecosystem, but the emotional and economic realities and contradictions that consumers exist within.  

I recognise that at this point the word ‘unprecedented’ has almost entirely lost its meaning, yet its overuse is reflective of the reality of our recent history. Is it any wonder that consumers' collective emotions are closer to the surface than ever before? From the cost of living crisis to the ongoing trauma of the pandemic, the traditional Christmas advertising bonanza feels at once immensely fragile and vitally important.

It would be easy to lean on the imagined certainty of generic insights in such a volatile market. Yet as the latest research from the IPA showed, consumers aren’t just looking for light relief or a slice of schmaltz from advertisers; they want fair pricing to help them through the cost of living crisis.

Rising to the toughest brief of the year

There is no question this is a tough brief and an austerity Christmas is a bitter marketing pill to swallow. As Sandie Dilger, Chief Strategy Officer at TBWA\London recently explained, the ‘extra circle’ in the Venn diagram of Christmas campaigns this year is ‘acknowledging ‘the shit show that is our current reality.’ 

Yet even in the midst of the current climate brands have succeeded in walking a tightrope between realism and joy. None more so than Boots, whose ‘Joy For All’ campaign, created by VMLY&R underlines the power of not taking an ‘all or nothing’ approach to the cost of living crisis.

Laurent Simon, Chief Creative Officer at VMLY&R London, explains that  “Christmas is the hardest brief of the year” he adds: “it's a time people treasure and getting the tone right is essential. This year, it’s been an even greater challenge as customers face worries about how they are going to pay for it. And whilst the tightening of belts and purse strings is a reality, we also know people still want to make Christmas magical and meaningful.”

Not only does Boots have a long history of fair pricing; with 3 for 2 gifting being a long-term festive staple; but it also succeeds in delivering the unique joy and magic of Christmas through an authentic lens. A pitch perfect tone which is not only a reminder of the enduring power of creativity in the midst of constraint, but a dash of magic we all need. Pass me the Santa glasses please.

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