After a turbulent 2016, there is a tension in how the UK’s leading supermarkets and department stores are communicating Christmas to their customers this year. Are this year’s adverts relatable and empowering to face the pressures of their immediate reality, or are they providing escapist fantasies to help consumers cope with Christmas and the future?
With this contrast in mind, here are three of the themes that this year’s adverts are exploring:
A partner in calming preparation anxiety
Tesco’s series of ads demonstrate a realist attitude towards the relatable elements of the festive season such as fatigue towards premature Christmas jingles and awkward conversations at parties by using situational humour. The adverts advocate self-sufficiency and perseverance as the key to tackling Christmas, with Tesco assumed as the guide to achieve this ideal.
Taking this idea in another direction, M&S’s ad codes its brand as a source of all-powerful motherly support through its Mrs Claus narrative – a figure that helps children with their desperate and last minute panicked Christmas wishes when Mr Claus cannot.
Whether these brands are taking care of customers’ problems for them or encouraging customers to negotiate their own hardships, brands are representing themselves as bastions of stability to help customers cope with the frenzy of Christmas. These brands want to help alleviate anxiety of the holiday season – offering solutions (for the ‘problem’ of Christmas?).
Return to innocence
Animals still take centre stage this year. John Lewis tells of a housebound dog’s yearning to enjoy the garden trampoline while Waitrose’s ad depicts a robin’s harrowing journey home.
Projecting human qualities and values is not reserved just for animals. This year, ALDI has breathed life into its animated figure, Kevin the Carrot, in its quest to meet Santa Claus.
Imagining the lives of animals and animated objects shows a permitted return to childlike innocence. Anthropomorphism and fantasy narratives provide a way for viewers to forget the immediate anxieties of reality and escape into something that is simple and fun.
Small moments of connection
Many of this year’s adverts focus on the small moments in life that are often downplayed or overlooked. Sainsburys’ fantastical Claymation ad tells the story of how a frazzled toy maker uses clones of himself to help balance his work life against the challenges of Christmas preparation, creating a metaphor that encourages customers to get organised in order to spend time with family.
Through the simple pleasures of playing on a garden trampoline, opening presents, making new connections with siblings or strangers, and centring action on the family home, this year’s brands are embracing these small, intimate moments.
Rather than a large fanfare to celebrate Christmas, these brands are keeping things cosy and low-key to demonstrate simple, wholesome, and ultimately inoffensive family values with which most can identify.
This year’s adverts demonstrate a strategic response to the shockwave of new social and political changes affecting consumers in the West. Facing a disenchanted or anxious consumer base, brands are reverting to simple, traditional narratives. In doing so, they are able to provide comfort and reassurance where the rest of the world cannot. Through problem solving, fantasy and wholesome simplicity, this year’s Christmas adverts offer a sense of familiarity and stability that acts as temporary escape from an era of fast-paced cultural change.