Initially things looked bad. Talk of "quietest high street ever" reverberated as retail footfall saw its lowest December level since records began in 1998 (down 9.3% year on year) while the New Year weekend saw visitor numbers slump 16% according to Springboard. All this despite pretty mild weather.
However, it was far from a gloomy Christmas at the nation’s tills and online checkouts with last week’s Super Thursday results day confounding the experts yet again.
My belief is that marketers should get a pat on the back for the role they played in delivering such a positive business performance, thanks to three key tactics.
Old-fashioned ‘bloody good’ advertising
Electrified by the John Lewis effect, Christmas TV advertising has entered a "golden age" and is undoubtedly "THE" advertising event of the year – the UK's version of the US Super Bowl. Consequently, the quality of advertising is increasingly high (across all media not just TV) and hugely successful at engaging with UK consumers.
2016 was no exception. A study by Realeyes showed that the likes of Robert Dyas and Febreze – not the most celebrated of advertisers – were among the most emotionally engaging Christmas ads, alongside usual luminaries such as John Lewis (Buster) and M&S (Mrs Claus).
Although John Lewis has hinted at adopting a different approach in 2017 for Christmas, the advent of the blockbuster Christmas campaign has raised everyone’s game when it comes to emotionally connecting with consumers at this critical time of year.
It will have played a role – as advertising’s purpose should be – in getting people to buy more "stuff" on the high street and increasingly from the sofa.
Harnessing more 'big moments that matter'
With these blockbuster ad campaigns marketers continued to target the likes of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, however, this year we saw a marked upturn in brands harnessing high profile sales events beyond the "big two".
Media-inspired events with monikers like Frenzied Friday, Super Saturday, Christmas Day Digital, Boxing Day Bonanza and New Year’s Day Drive represent a more persistent approach to the increasingly long shopping window.
Christmas Day, for example, saw an astonishing £1bn in online sales and shows marketers’ (and consumers) increasing stamina over the long haul of Christmas.
The smart clients had their "online strategies & plumbing" in place well ahead of time. They factored in all these different "moments" into their media investment plans where traditional and online media (especially programmatic) were exploited to maximum effect and their brand and agency teams were available to optimise campaign spend 24/7.
The biggest winners of Christmas 2016 were bricks & mortar brands' online departments and online-only players like Asos & Boohoo. This clear shift in consumer behaviour has been happening for some time now and has seen digital media become ever more important in client plans.
Unsurprisingly, online advertising will have done very well with the cost-efficient, improved audience targeting options offered increasingly by programmatic technology coming to the fore.
There was also a greater application of cross-media opportunities to build quality reach and gain new customers cost-effectively. TV operators through VoD, radio groups like Global with their DAX online marketplace as well as print brands increasingly integrating online gave brands more choice.
At RadiumOne we saw a large increase in brands’ syncing their online ads with what people were watching on TV to harness "second screen" behaviour.
Following this, rocketing smartphone usage meant more brands put mobile at the centre of their investment plans.
We saw a significant uplift in campaigns designed specifically for mobile and the mobile programmatic sector will have seen a major boost. This is a sign of increasing confidence among advertisers but also among consumers who are now more comfortable about purchasing on mobile.
Amazon claimed 75% of its customers ordered goods via smartphones during the Christmas period while low-cost airline Monarch saw mobile sales increase four fold. Proof of rich rewards for brands that understand and follow the eyeballs.
This year has shown that those brands taking a longer, more holistic view to Christmas will have plenty to celebrate. So, well done to the brave marketers who did their homework on the consumer, spent big, took risks and delivered business returns.
Hopefully this year will see a pat on the back from the boardrooms and by the way we only have 342 sleeps until Christmas 2017.
Craig Tuck is the managing director at RadiumOne UK.