It may only be the first week of November, but many shops and brands have already launched their Christmas advertising campaigns.
John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Boots, Lidl and Barbour are among those that have revealed campaigns already. For many, this is earlier than usual.
This comes at a time when data shows people are spending earlier than normal. ONS research has found that 12% of adults have bought items for Christmas that they would usually purchase later in the year. 3% have pre-ordered items usually bought closer to December 25.
As Susannah Streeter, markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, puts it: “There are signs that shoppers have shot out of the traps earlier this year to snap up Christmas food and presents amid fears of shortages on the shelves.”
It’s not just fear of shortages: after last year, when lockdowns and travel restrictions kept many families apart on Christmas Day, many people are also stocking up for a more luxurious celebration when they reunite with loved ones. The CEO of Sainsbury’s this week said his business was preparing for a “big Christmas”.
Lynne Deason, head of creative excellence at research group Kantar, says: “This year our research shows that people want to have an extra special Christmas after a tough 2020 and 37% of consumers report that they’ve already started shopping.”
Retailers think it is worthwhile trying to capitalise on this demand by splashing out on early adverts. John Lewis released its ad featuring a young alien experiencing her first Christmas on earth on the morning of November 4. Within 27 minutes of launch it was trending on Twitter. By 5pm that day it had been viewed over 5 million times.
Rupert Reynolds-MacLean is the UK managing director of Biscuit Filmworks, a production firm involved in making commercials. He says: “I think more brands are going to release their festive films earlier than normal and will have put more emphasis, and potentially budget, on their Christmas campaigns than previous years in an effort to boost sales after a mixed year.”
Sharry Cramond, Marks & Spencer’s marketing director, says: “Christmas campaigns are incredibly important to the business and we base them on extensive customer insight.
“Adverts help keep your brand top of mind and create buzz in the all-important festive season, but most crucially they’re a way to really showcase hero product.”
M&S’s latest campaign features a Percy Pig coming to life, voiced by Hollywood actor Tom Holland.
Alex Rogerson, marketing communications director at grocer Morrisons, says the Christmas advertising season “is a golden opportunity” for brands “to remind customers what makes them unique and distinctive, whilst spreading some festive joy and warmth to the nation”.
Morrisons will be celebrating its “unique fresh food” for example. Rogerson says: “After a tough year, we think the gifts on the table will be as important as the gifts under the tree.”
Not everyone is convinced. Independent retail analyst Nick Bubb reckons the commercial benefit of Christmas ads “is unproven”, adding “by the end of the festive season they all blur into each other, with viewers unable to tell which is which”.
Whether or not they work, competition to win Christmas spending will be fierce this year, says Deason.
“Advertisers will need to work harder to capture a share of spend, tapping into the joy and meaning of Christmas to win the hearts and minds of people,” she says.
Firms that do win the battle will need to ensure they have enough stock to satisfy demand. There could be issues with some products due to the UK’s supply chain crisis.
Retail analyst Richard Hyman says: “The key point this Christmas will be around supply chain and stock availability, all of which is very uncertain. This means that advertising and marketing budgets have been calculated with a somewhat unknown level of demand.
“Christmas spending in general in the UK has been softening a little over the years in any case. Returns from investment in advertising has always been extremely difficult to calculate with any certainty and this year it will be significantly more uncertain still, so I think a number of leadership teams may well be taking a more cautious approach this year.”