Thought Leadership

Should brands embrace light relief this Christmas?

Striking the right tone for Christmas this year is no easy feat for brands and advertisers

Jeevan Georgina Hammond

Editorial Assistant Creativebrief


In the midst of global uncertainty and individual pressure, striking the right tone this Christmas is no easy feat for brands and advertisers. Where Christmas campaigns have long leaned on ‘feel good’ and tear-jerker moments, this Christmas a shift toward humour could see brands aim to provide some festive escapism from heavy emotion.

With the cost-of-living crisis continuing to bite, both advertisers and consumers are looking for maximum impact from their spend. According to the Advertising Association (AA) and WARC, advertising spend for the festive period is set to hit a record high this year, reaching up to £9.5bn this Christmas. Consumers will also look to spend their Christmas budgets with the brands that make a lasting impression and showcase value.

Half (52%) of the winners at this year’s Cannes Lions were campaigns that used humour, which reflects a 9% increase on 2022’s winners. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that this year brands may look to humour as a tool for escapism and effectiveness.

With this in mind, we asked industry experts if brands should recognise that consumers desperately need some light relief this Christmas and place humour and escapism at the heart of their campaigns.

Jennifer Black

Jennifer Black, Special.jpg


Special London

Christmas always involves a heavy dose of escapism. We can’t help ourselves from fantasising about the perfect party outfit, dreaming of a blissful day with our loved ones, and leaving a mince pie out for Santa. Retailers naturally reflect this: it’s about conjuring up the magic of Christmas, getting people in the spirit – and persuading them to spend their money with you.

Consumers put a lot of emphasis on the big day, and this year in particular many will be budgeting carefully ahead to help maximise the festive cheer. When it comes to advertising, it’s a balancing act for retailers; they want to conjure up abundance without promoting over-consumption. 

Humour is a great way of navigating this path, and this year we’re already seeing more of it in the Christmas ads than we have for a while. Soppy seems to be out of fashion as Asda, Waitrose, M&S, TK Maxx and Sainsbury’s have all gone for a humorous approach, skilfully based around a narrative that makes space for plenty of products.

When life and the news are not easy to navigate, consumers want to escape the everyday and have a laugh. If you do it right, Christmas provides plenty of creative opportunities to help that happen.

Kevin Windsor

Kevin Windsor, Creative Director, The Producers, part of the PrettyGreen Group.jpg

Creative Director

The Producers, part of the PrettyGreen Group

It feels like the country is taking a collective deep breath this Christmas when we all should be breathing a sigh of relief. After a(nother) difficult year, we now must try and navigate the expense of Christmas during a cost-of-living crisis. Continuing, daily, horror stories from Gaza and the Ukraine. Corruption and ineptitude from the government. And, presumably, a dead partridge in a rotting pear tree!

So, it’s a good time for brands and agencies to remember that, against this backdrop, what we actually do isn’t that important. We largely encourage people to spend the money that they’re already planning to spend on one brand as opposed to another. That’s it.

As “living advertising legend” Dave Trott once said, advertising should be entertainment: “If we could remember how trivial advertising is, we could remember it’s our job to make it interesting and fun.” Amen Dave.

The only thing that brands can offer of any real meaning this Christmas is help and support to those struggling the most. For instance, every year we work with The LEGO Group to amplify their global “Build To Give” campaign, where families can donate LEGO sets to those less fortunate than themselves by simply building a themed, brick offering.

This year, we all need a bit of light relief and escapism. So, brands should be looking to bring fun, entertainment, support wherever possible and – last but by no means least – a little bit of reassurance that everything is going to be okay.

John Hudson

John Hudson, Head of Anything But Grey.jpg

Head of Anything But Grey

Bray Leino

Oh good, another Christmas ad with a slowed down cover version of a well-known song and a storyline purporting to show how worthy the brand is. I mean, if ever we all needed cheering up and entertained by our ad breaks it’s now, in this world of continual onslaught of terrible news.

Research shows that the over 50’s (who have the greatest spending power of any demographic) respond to humour, yet all I see on my telly are drab so called “feel good” ads. Truth is I’m more likely to engage with your brand (and so are my age group) if you entertain, rather than bore me or make me feel even worse about this world than I already do.

I get that this is because brands are fearful of upsetting anyone but without humour and entertainment they are likely to be forgotten or ignored - exactly what brands do with the 50 plus market! (Perhaps there is a karma thing going on here?)

Come on brands, this is supposed to be the season of good cheer, so how about raising a smile?

Wendy Tang

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Business Director

The Ninety Niners

Despite the annual obsession in adland, let’s remember that real people don’t care about Christmas ads, let alone expect them to provide light relief they need. If anything, they would seek this from entertainment platforms like Disney+ and Netflix.

Having said that, humour and escapism are powerful ways to connect to people especially in tough times. It can bring people together and spark conversations. It can also be more shareable and memorable. However, there's a risk of all Christmas campaigns looking similar if brands follow the same trend.

There's significant pressure on brands to make their Christmas campaigns successful. To stand out, campaigns should leverage consistent brand assets, music, or fluent devices. Iconic examples like Coca-Cola's Christmas truck and the ‘Holidays are Coming’ song, or more recently, Aldi's Kevin the Carrot, have stuck in consumers' minds and will continue to do so if there’s consistency year after year. There’s evidence this approach is already ranking highly in ad effectiveness on System1’s Test Your Ad platform this month.

The key is striking the right balance between light-heartedness, relatability, and brand distinctiveness. Getting this balance right will enable brands to be not only entertaining, but also to create a lasting impression.

Hamid Habib

Hamid Habib - Havas.png

Chief Experience Officer of Havas Media Network & Deputy Managing Director

Havas Entertainment

Have you looked around?!? Britain is on its knees. Data from the ONS shows anxiety levels up, happiness and life satisfaction scores down across the home nations - except the Scots who are slightly more satisfied. Maybe that’s because England is the worst performing of the four nations, seeing a statistically significant year on year decline. 

Against that backdrop we’re crying out for some light relief.

We have already seen a move away from purpose towards humour in Cannes this year. Over half the Film Lions winners (52%) were intentionally humorous, a significant increase from 43% last year. But, as System 1 is quick to point out, humour as an effectiveness tactic doesn’t always work unless audiences genuinely find it funny.

These are difficult times and brands need to treat their communications with sensitivity but Christmas, more than any other time of year, is celebratory and fun. So, yes, don’t hold back, channel your inner Elf and put humour at the heart of your campaigns.

Flora Neeson

Flora Neeson, Business Director at Mission.jpg

Business Director


Ah Christmas. The most wonderful time of the year.

Or is it…?

With the world seemingly going to hell in a handcart it may seem an easier decision for brands to park their festive messaging, pull the proverbial duvet over their heads and sit tight for a while.

But my friends, to lean heavily on Tupac, I didn’t choose the PR life, the PR life chose me, and so every year, around July-ish, my cohort of creatives and I devise and deliver creative Christmas campaigns for some of the world’s biggest brands (and almost always in the midst of a heat wave).

I complain in jest of course. Times are tough for many in a variety of different ways and it’s a real privilege and joy to bring a touch of fantasy, whimsy, dreams and sparkle into people’s lives even for a moment. If ever there was a time for consumer brands to dial up the escapism and light relief, it’s Christmas.

Our amazing clients put their trust in us to strike the balance of festive brand magic and, perhaps just as importantly, be able to read the room in terms of messaging and tone of voice.

Most of Mission’s clients are already committed to charitable endeavours and we pride ourselves in creatively bridging brand activity with in-culture with purpose driven moments.

From delivering Covent Garden’s Christmas light switching in support of Save the Children, coordinating the Coca Cola Christmas Truck Tour with charity partner Neighbourly and leveraging the launch of arguably the most exciting festive meal outside of Christmas day - the Pret Christmas sandwich - to raise awareness and funds for the Pret Foundation, each activation delivers more than the sum of its parts in dialling up both the feel good and for-good factor and if nothing else, that’s certainly something worth believing in.

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Christmas Humour