The first fortnight of November has become the UK’s Super Bowl moment.
One of the key challenges for client and agency teams hoping to win Christmas is predicting the mood of the nation at least 10 months in advance.
Brands that chime with the cultural climate of the country will strike the right emotional chord. Barely had the tinsel been taken down in our office, when the M&S team gathered to dust off our crystal balls and plot how best to seize the Christmas crown this year.
Surveying the year ahead was sobering enough to banish even the most lingering of hangovers.
This is a genuine extract from one of our briefs written in January, "So what will be the mood of the nation come December 2016? Well this is the year the Brexit debate will divide the nation.
"This is the year of Donald Trump threatening to build walls and deport immigrants. 2016 will be a year when the public is more in need of a dose of the Christmas spirit of happiness and good will than ever before".
And so together with our client partners we took the decision that this Christmas M&S would shift away from the high fashion and food extravaganza of 2015’s commercially successful "Art of Christmas" towards a model of emotional storytelling. A decision that of course put us in direct competition with John Lewis.
But what sort of story should M&S tell? From the outset we were clear that this year we wanted to recognise the 40- to 50-something women who are so important to M&S’s business, as the true heroes of Christmas. We also knew that we needed to do that in a way that felt glamorous and modern.
A 2012 Asda ad which showed a harassed mum as the "power behind the throne" of Christmas received over 600 complaints of sexism.
The ASA later cleared the advert of any wrongdoing on the grounds that this was in fact a fair and accurate representation of Christmas in most households in the UK.
It’s true that while much has changed for women in this country, we are still undoubtedly the producers of Christmas.
And what a show it is to put on each year. Somehow in between working long hours and caring for our families, women must find the time to buy and wrap presents; decorate the house, shop for school nativity costumes (if anyone can point me in the direction of a donkey outfit for a five year old that’d be ace….) and coordinate the travel plans and sleeping arrangements of relatives with the diplomacy of an EU trade negotiator.
On the big day itself, women are normally the ones to cook the meal, decorate the table, organise the games and generally make sure everyone is smiling. Thank god for the power of a sequinned cashmere jumper and a martini to keep you feeling festive.
So, where Asda’s 2012 ad set out to sympathise, our goal was to celebrate. We chose to elevate our storytelling above the slice of life by focusing on the goings on in the most festive household of them all at Number one the North Pole. And who better to dramatise the heroic work of women at Christmas than Mrs Claus? She is a homage to us all.