Thought Leadership

Will a frugal Christmas fall flat?

With consumers facing a cost of living crisis, we ask industry leaders to consider how to approach a Christmas like no other

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief



‘There are years when nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.’ This often-quoted phrase feels particularly apt in 2022. The year that marked the end of the Elizabethian age, also marked a year of unprecedented hardship. 

From the cost of living crisis to the ongoing economic and emotional cost of Covid consumers find themselves on fragile ground. Yet when Christmas comes will the overwhelming desire for joy and escapism mean brands embracing a frugal Christmas fall flat?

There is no question that marketers have leaned on social listening to ensure that their tone of voice does not feel out of touch with consumers. So while industry watchers might complain that brands have ‘gone too early’ with their Christmas campaigns and product launches, smart marketers recognise that consumers’ are budgeting and spreading the cost at at time when disposable income is squeezed. 

From buying early, to not buying at all this will be a festive period where many in the industry are struggling to make meaningful long-term forecasts. With this in mind we asked industry leaders to share their predictions for a Christmas like no other.

Sandie Dilger

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Chief Strategy Officer


There’s no doubt that 2022 sees an extra circle appear in the Venn diagram that forms the majority of Christmas campaign briefs. The usual, “emotionally engage with a fresh take on Christmas” meets “buy our products” has been joined by “acknowledge the shit show that is our current reality”.

As we saw with the sea of Covid advertising sameness, there’s going to be a strong temptation to ‘lean into’ this element of the brief, acknowledging 2022 as the Christmas of austerity. However, the consumer isn’t an idiot, the consumer is your media savvy, price sensitive customer. So, communications that claim to ‘share the pain’ with the customer whilst at the same time increasing your prices and spending rather a lot on media to broadcast your ‘empathy’ might not wash particularly well and nobody needs empathy from an anthropomorphic carrot.

Instead, I’ll be looking out for those who disrupt the brief all together and forge new paths. Traditional Christmas advertisers who choose to focus on the other big winter event of 2022, The World Cup. Brands taking real action to help their customers navigate the cost-of-living crisis and choosing to amplify that without bells on. (Sainsbury’s Smart Shop, I’m looking at you) and brands that eschew the whole Christmas thing and do something true to themselves and their products (hello Harvey Nichols Britalia from 2016). Christmas is coming, the briefs are getting fat, please make some choices to avoid the advertising tat.

Alan Fayolle

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Managing Director

Forever Beta

The term black swan event came about from the simple fact that people didn't believe they were real or possible until a real one presented itself. In the wake of the global pandemic, war in Europe and the resulting energy crisis, economic crash and cost of living crisis, we're now getting quite used to Black Swans.  

Turns out most of these swans are unpleasant. So with the real cost of living projected to hit 20% next year, interest rates surging, talk of energy blackouts and families having to choose between feeding their kids or keeping them warm this Christmas is a massive tightrope for advertising, especially as the outlook for a lot is let's face it quite bleak.

But despite that, this Christmas presents an interesting opportunity for brands.  An opportunity for some to share a little optimism through the winter gloom.  For brands to show their true colours; who stands with their customers, who emphasises and perhaps a threat to those brands who miss the mark?  

Quite often, in this moment the brands that really stand for something stride forwards are brave and perfectly reflect this unique historical moment. Some will get it badly wrong, perhaps be tone-deaf or inauthentic, or straight misleading. Remember Iceland’s and the Palm Oil Ad anyone?

Adam Morrison

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Founder & Managing Director

2050 London

My hope and prediction is for a positively bonkers Christmas. 

We’re optimists at 2050, so despite the gloom and doom that’s rippling through the media landscape at the moment, and the biting cost-of-living crisis, we believe brands will see the power in lifting communities and encouraging positivity through what they say and do.

I expect action from retailers to give families bundles of value - ‘feeding families for a fiver’ type activity. And then campaigns that support such heroic initiatives with typically captivating stories the world takes notice of. Positively bonkers brand worlds that smash their way into pop culture. Campaign worlds that transport audiences from their communal living rooms, for a fleeting moment, to an inspiring, magical new reality so they feel good at Christmas. 

For when people are feeling down, we have a responsibility to lift them with culture defining communications - especially if we want them to spend with us now, and into the future. This can be be advertising’s moment, and for those working on such epic briefs, to remind ourselves and the world of the power of creativity in defining pop culture and stirring economies. 

Jamie Peate & Guy Beardsley

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Global Head of Retail Strategy/Head of Effectiveness

McCann Manchester

Managing Partner

UM, McCann Manchester

Jamie: I am 57 so this is my 57th Christmas on Planet Earth. The thing about Christmas is it is always the same but always different. The same rituals, routines, music, visuals, references etc. but always in a changing context shaped by age, culture, circumstance, macro-economics etc.

In my experience it’s very easy to focus on what’s different and forget about what is the same. The core human truth at the very centre of Christmas as we know it in the UK is the idea of kindness, generosity and celebration. We always prioritise this (John Lewis have built a whole Christmas business based on thoughtful giving)  and strive to deliver the very best Christmas we can with the resources available to us. In these dark times we should not forget this. It might be that we can’t afford to buy the most expensive gifts and provisions, but the act of gifting and providing for family and friends in a positive way are still very much a need that brands and retailers can help with. That means that Christmas advertising must,  of course,  not be ‘tone deaf’ but needs to be upbeat, positive, warm and above all entertaining. Let’s all help the UK keep Christmas as well as they can, both physically and emotionally.

Guy: I am not 57 but despite being a fair bit younger that Jamie, agree with his sentiment and if there is ever a moment in time for advertising folk to remember that fundamentally Christmas is about kindness, family and friends it is this Christmas. From a media perspective this is truly a Christmas like no other as planners across certain verticals have wrestled with the complication of two market drivers (Christmas and the World Cup) colliding. If I could have been a fly on the wall in agency and client TEAMS meetings, discussions such as start dates, weights, screen viewing habits, audience behaviour and how far will England get will have been ringing out like the bells for Christmas Day. Across the industry,  media spend, despite the current economic climate,  will still be high this Christmas.  More clients than ever before are working with Charities to make sure that this spend and their positive, upbeat and entertaining advertising also serves a higher purpose, which I for one think is a very good thing.

Ondine Whittington

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Group Managing Director


‘Consumers will not be forgiving of brands that show-up insensitive or tone deaf to the worries that many will have around the affordability of Christmas this year. Encouraging responsible consumerism will be the right thing to do and expected. Whether that’s through sustainable gifting, supporting local and not encouraging over-spending through credit offers, brands need to ensure that their actions speak louder than their words if they plan to engage consumers this Christmas and not come under fire. However, at a time of such uncertainty there is also an opportunity for brands to wrap their arms around consumers. Christmas traditions could provide a route in for brands to do this in a reassuring and uniting way, as traditions, often those we form in childhood, allow us to feel safe in times of change and uncertainty. Conversely this Christmas we will see a major change to one of our nation’s biggest Christmas traditions – the Queen’s speech. A reflection on traditions, thoughtfully, poignantly or even with humour could be a relevant space that brands could play safely in this year.  Whatever a brand’s approach to Christmas is this year, every aspect needs to be critically appraised to ensure it is congruent with the way that company behaves.’

David Proudlock

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Chief Strategy Officer

Crispin Porter Bogusky, London

Despite two Christmases cloched by Covid, only tone deaf brands will lead with ‘bonanza celebration’ messaging. For most, a blow-out is impossible. Encouraging that level of consumerism would feel irresponsible and ironically depressing.

Inevitably price will still be core, but to stand out brands need to make people feel something. That doesn’t mean leaning into the pandemic-worn trope of ‘togetherness’. This Christmas, given the grim economic reality, it means escapism. 

Distinct comms will dive into emotion and distract us for a bit. Whether grounding comms in the reality of reduced circumstances, or in fantasy, making someone laugh will be the most powerful thing a brand can do – now more than ever we need a little entertaining.

Amy Forster & Michael Kates

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Business Director

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Senior Planner


Christmas is usually a time for mistletoe and wine, but the cost of living crisis will force many across the UK to celebrate this Christmas through a much stricter, sombre lens of frugality.

As Retail Gazette found, 70% of households across the UK are planning to cut back some, if not all, of their spending this year.

But we know communications which create positive feelings deliver better long-term results for brands. And after the ongoing volatility of the last few years, many will be looking for some Christmas spirit.

This means brands will need to tread a tightrope - demonstrating passion for the holiday season while being compassionate towards the everyday realities of their consumers.

So how can brands empathise with these frugal realities without coming off tonedeaf?

We believe success will come to those who focus on creating maximum emotional value without relying on overindulgence and extravagance. 

Successful brands across the price spectrum are no stranger to this – sharing a Coke to celebrate the happiness of a new romance, or an iPhone capturing the affection of family generations celebrating the holidays.

This year we hope brands work harder to create more of these in-between moments, which is the real magic that makes this season so special.

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Christmas cost of living