The importance of joyful magic this Christmas

Matt Shaw, Senior Planner at The&Partnership on giving people a dose of Christmas spirit and how escapism always triumphs in dark times.

Matt Shaw, The&Partnership

Senior Planner


In early lockdown, when the Christmas briefs first hit their desks, well, their kitchen tables, bedside drawers and other improvised surfaces, every advertiser in the country was facing the same questions: what will Christmas be like this year? And what do we do about COVID?

Half a year later and Christmas Day is just as uncertain today as it was when we first faced these questions. Given all the talk of ‘unprecedented times’ and ‘the new normal’ we can be forgiven for thinking that everything has changed this Christmas. The reality is, of course, that while we may not be able to celebrate the big day in all its glory and we might have to find different ways to shop, the key motivations and desires for Christmas remain the same, and, if anything, have only been strengthened by the hardship, isolation and lack of celebrations that have dominated the past nine months.

So, if consumers’ hopes for Christmas have only been strengthened, the question to advertisers then is how different should our approach be this Christmas?

of grocery shoppers feel it’s important to have a good Christmas after the events of 2020
of consumers hope advertisers will refrain from referencing the pandemic this Christmas, while half didn’t feel strongly either way

Learning our lessons from Lockdown 1.0 

Much of our thinking this year has been shaped by the experience of the first lockdown (March-July). A period where our industry didn’t cover itself in glory, pushing out too many reactionary, amorphous, adverts that only added to a sense of gloom and anxiety.

The industry learnt from this experience in real-time. In May, System1 and others showed us that most pre-existing campaigns performed just as well during lockdown as they did when they originally aired. While research from Lucky Generals suggested that 90% of consumers thought "keeping a sense of humour is important in times like these". 

Consumers were looking for a sense of stability, positivity and humour from advertising during lockdown and this remains true this Christmas. While we need to be sensitive to the realities of Christmas this year, in particular the reduced celebrations and reduced budgets, we cannot repeat the mistakes of spring, by focusing too much on what has changed rather than what remains the same: our desire to make the most of Christmas.

Giving people a dose of Christmas spirit

This Christmas is a set to be a particularly un-Christmassy one. Celebrations with extended family on the big day seem highly unlikely, but Christmas is much more than just the 25th. Many of the joyous traditions that make the festival period special, carol concerts, light switch-ons, Santa’s grottos, work parties etc. have also been prohibited.

The result of these cancelled traditions is that many people are doubling down on what little traditions remain. Decorations, for instance, are set to have a bumper year as people look to reclaim parts of the Christmas they’ve lost. Google searches for Christmas decoration are just as high in mid-November this year as they were during the key first week of December in 2019. Building on a pattern seen during Halloween where searches for decorations increased 127% YOY in 2020.

Christmas advertising is in a privileged position as part of the nation’s Christmas experience. Whether it’s the John Lewis advert, the Coca-Cola truck or the Argos gift guide, for many people Christmas marketing acts as the starting gun for their festivities. That’s why, according to Kantar, 30% of people were looking forward to watching Christmas ads. While this is down from 46% in 2019, perhaps due to the general malaise of the year or the industry’s sorry efforts in the spring, we should cherish this honoured position and, like Christmas decorations, sparkle brighter than ever, shining a bit of Christmas joy into homes this year.

47% of people want Christmas adverts to make them feel happy, 44% long to feel warm and 31% seek nostalgia.

Unruly and Tremor Video

Escapism has always triumphed in dark times

From Star Wars in the mid 1970s to the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008, fantasy and escapism have always triumphed over realism during times of hardship. It’s only natural that in moments of darkness, people look for a little light. The best Christmas adverts have always, at the very least, had elements of magical-realism about them and this year it’s needed more than ever.

It’s our jobs as custodians of Christmas advertising, to lift the nation up and give people a much-needed Christmas boost, not only because this is the right thing to do, but because it will lead to more effective work for our clients as well. The IPA has long established that emotional advertising is roughly twice as effective as rational messaging, but it’s up to us to choose joy over sadness and fear.

Guest Author

Matt Shaw, The&Partnership

Senior Planner


Matt Shaw is a Senior Planner at The&Partnership. He was part of the team which created this year’s Argos Christmas advert, ‘An Evening with AbracaDaisy & The Incredible Lucy’, a joyful celebration of magic, imagination and family time.

Related Tags