Editorial: Don't expect festive glitz to improve public mood

There are two cast-iron certainties about the festive season. One is that Christmas Day falls on 25 December.

The other is that TV schedulers will always find space for It's A Wonderful Life. The unashamed sentimentality in Frank Capra's 1946 film has led to many a Christmas tear. And yet there can't have been many years in which it has seemed so in tune with the prevailing public mood.

As jobless figures soar, property values tumble and recession looms, there's a palpable sense that people - like James Stewart - are re-evaluating their lives. Suddenly materialism seems passe; old values and social responsibilities are being rediscovered. What's more, agencies and advertisers are sensing that people are opting for simpler but more fulfilled lives and eschewing consumerism.

This change has led some adland observers to question whether the traditional Christmas advertising fare of big-budget TV spots packed with celebrities is in keeping with the prevailing mood.

When the US sneezes, the world catches a cold, so the saying goes. So there's no reason to suppose that the move by US advertisers towards so-called "austerity advertising" (see page 21) will not be mirrored here before long. At its most basic level, the reasoning is simple. Cash-strapped consumers are shopping less. And when they do, they need persuading that what they buy offers value for money.

But it's equally clear that advertising will have to drill deeper into the public psyche if it is to succeed. It will certainly be interesting to see how many companies take their cue from MasterCard in the US, which has begun focusing less on its product being a passport to luxury and more about how it can facilitate life-enriching experiences.

Of course, it would be too simplistic to say that recession alone has precipitated this shift. Environmental concerns have been causing behavioural change among consumers for some time. Recent events have merely accelerated it. Woe betide the advertiser who doesn't react.

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