With the odds favouring a challenging festive season for retailers, has the time come to abandon excessive sentimentality in Yuletide advertising and take a cue from Tom Lehrer? "God rest ye merry merchants, may you make the Yuletide pay," the musician wrote in 1959. "Angels we have heard on high, tell us to go out and buy!"
While Mintel predicts total retail sales growth of 3 per cent in December, taking total spending up to £36.5 billion, it suggests rising consumer confidence may be knocked back by the effect of possible interest rate rises.
This year’s Christmas offering will certainly be glitzy. Romeo Beckham will be the face of Burberry’s campaign, while Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett are fronting H&M’s festive sales pitch. Yet there’s also evidence that some retailers are shifting ground. John Lewis, famous for its tear-jerking Christmas ads, has changed direction by incorporating Gogglebox into this year’s spot through Adam & Eve/DDB. It follows fears expressed by Andy Street, its managing director, that the brand was perceived to be getting "too big for its boots".
Paul Brazier, chief creative officer and chairman, Abbott Mead
"For most of the year, I’m trying to do a mix of work – from gritty to funny – that will produce cut-through. But, at Christmas, I change my tune. I love that time of the year and the build-up to it. And I think most people do. If we found that people had had enough of Christmas goodwill, then I suppose the advertising would have to change too. But we all love schmaltz at Christmas because we grew up with it. And what better advertising character can there be than Santa Claus? He’s squeaky clean and never off-brand."
James Murphy, chief executive, Adam & Eve/DDB
"The question isn’t whether or not we should get rid of the schmaltz from Christmas advertising. The real question is how you do standout work that’s going to bring people into your stores or encourage them to visit your website. The problem our industry faces is that we risk producing Christmas ads for ourselves and not for our clients, who want to see results. The trouble is that some clients want to be seen as the Christmas ‘winners’ when they should be more concerned about footfall and website visits. It doesn’t matter what the advertising is like as long as it produces customers."
Peter York, social commentator
"Tough economic times are no reason for killing the schmaltz in Christmas advertising. This is because of the muddled way people now consume old media such as TV, which they intersperse with new media. That means they can get price information any time they need and don’t want to see price-led advertising at Christmas. This isn’t lost on retailers such as Tesco, which produces very heart-warming Christmas advertising. Christmas allows advertisers to do things they can’t do at other times. Schmaltz can actually help build brands. It’s just that the schmaltz may need to be re-angled to give it more edge and sophistication."
April Redmond, chief marketing officer, Kerry Foods
"Christmas is a very emotive time and also a unique time of the year when we, as advertisers, can tap into those emotions. The most effective are those that can do so but not in a clichéd way. John Lewis has always been able to do this in a very innovative way but that’s also commercially successful. This isn’t the case with a lot of grocery retailers (Sainsbury’s is a notable exception), whose Christmas advertising is so similar. I think they are missing out on a great opportunity to drive their business."