Tentative festive cheer: possibly the best way to sum up Christmas 2020 for consumers and businesses. In years gone by, the Christmas advert has been the true marker of the start of Christmastime. Consumers have eagerly awaited the likes of the infamous John Lewis advert – many brought to tears by its pathos and rich storytelling, others start frenzied debates about who ‘won’ in the battle between German superstores, Aldi and Lidl. For brands and agencies, the Christmas advert has been a chance for them to become famous for their creativity, a project to flex their muscles and create a campaign worthy of becoming a viral sensation. 

Following a year unlike any other, and a December spent in national lockdown, advertisers have grappled with the best way to approach their Christmas advertising. We decided to take a look at the Christmas adverts that launched in the year a pandemic changed the world. 

The balance – people and profits

This year, we have seen the economy come to a near standstill, some retailers have closed their doors for good and sales have struggled. So, it is hardly surprising brands will be more cautious with their spending. A recession looms and redundancies have and will continue to rise. Brands were aware that they needed to tread the balance between maintaining sales and acknowledging Christmas, whilst being aware of the bigger picture human picture. 

Big bucks or tightened purse strings?

Charity has played a huge part in 2020 Christmas ads, allowing brands to get creative and add a little festive spirit all while acknowledging the difficulty of the current situation and donating to some great causes. 

John Lewis & Waitrose 

John Lewis & Partners has been quoted as wondering whether they should do an ad for Christmas 2020, but launched its ‘Give a Little Love Campaign’ alongside its ad – encouraging small acts of kindness through the community and pledging to support charities Home-Start and FareShare to help over 100,000 families in need. The brand is matching donations up to £2 million, more for those who swipe their store card, and has created a range of products from which 100 per cent of the profits will go to its chosen charities. The brand was also eager to create employment in the creative industries and so replaced one production team with multiple artists.


M&S is also giving back, pledging £2million to charities handpicked by nine celebs.

Magical distraction or realistic depiction?
Tesco – Humour

Tesco’s ‘Relax, there is no naughty list’ ad set out to add a little amusement around what has been a pretty dreadful year. The advert addresses the Covid elephant in the room with simplicity and gentle humour, listening in to people’s internal monologues about why they might be on the naughty list – from giving siblings a terrible ‘at home’ haircut to buying too much toilet roll.  

Asda – Realistic Depiction

That’s an Asda Price Christmas. Asda’s Christmas 2020 advert travelled the realistic route, summing up a lot of people’s situations this Christmas. The ad focused on tightened purse strings and delivering “the Christmas they need at the prices they want”. It captures the feeling of the nation by acknowledging that “Christmas is going to be different this year so let’s really make the most of it”.

Argos – Nostalgia 

An Evening with Abracadaisy & The Incredible Lucy. After a challenging year, Argos wanted to lift the nation’s festive spirits. Leading with a magical idea that tapped into the nostalgia that so many people can identify with, eagerly looking through the Argos Christmas gift guide and dreaming of opening their most wished-for gifts on Christmas Day.

Helping others versus looking after yourself 

This year has seen the nation become much more focused on helping others. A focus on kindness has been a theme adopted by many including Boots, whose ‘What The World Needs Now’ ad acknowledged the difficulties of 2020 and that love and care for others is what’s needed the most right now.

Small gatherings replace huge Christmas get togethers

Advertisers have deliberately approached much of their creative with Covid-19 restrictions in mind, including the likelihood that family gatherings will be much smaller this year. Many addressed the issue of loneliness or decided to travel the route of old, as seen in Sainsbury’s ad ‘Home is Christmas’ which aimed to bring the focus to the seemingly mundane, little things that make Christmas so special. 

Overall, retailers have taken many approaches to the long hard year we’ve all had, but without doubt Covid-19 has impacted every decision made from a storytelling and creative perspective. Christmas 2020 will certainly be one for the history books. The pandemic has highlighted the growing inequalities across the country, with those who are already most vulnerable disproportionately impacted – knowledge which might well change festive adverts forever. Perhaps it was best put by Waitrose Executive Director, James Bailey who said: “Each year festive adverts come and go – and some are remembered more vividly than others. But advertising this year will leave a lasting legacy – and in that way, we hope it won’t just be for Christmas.”

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