Pernod Ricard, Bombay Sapphire and more discuss 2020's virtual Christmas

With Christmas comes a greater need for celebration and joy.

Pernod Ricard: immersive brand masterclass hosted by Jameson
Pernod Ricard: immersive brand masterclass hosted by Jameson

In line with the rest of 2020, the build-up to Christmas - a time when brands would have traditionally rolled out lots of new live experiences - has been severely curtailed by Covid. 

But a unique opportunity arose for brands to provide online experiences with an audience that was short on alternative options.

"From Zoom celebrations and Teams drinks to shopping online for everything from flour to flowers, this year has seen digital transform all aspects of our lives," Antony Parham, executive creative director at Imagination, says. "And the rise of the online experience has not just been the domain of the digital natives – all age groups have adapted and adopted to this virtual world."

He adds: "With Christmas comes greater need for celebration and joy and consumers are willing to go the extra mile, be that home delivered three course meals or virtual Christmas office parties. The opportunities for brands are only limited by their ambition."

Pernod Ricard developed a two-pronged approach when it came to hosting digital events with an aim of engaging 15,000 people. Free cocktail masterclasses were aimed at consumers wanting to learn how to elevate the Christmas season and establish the ability to make good quality serves at home, and ticketed brand masterclasses were designed to provide a more immersive evening of entertainment that pairs cocktails with another creative element.

Estelle Martin, head of experiential and consumer activation, Pernod Ricard UK, says that the strategy would deliver both short- and long-term value: "When getting organised for a master class you'll be prompted by an invite with ingredients that are needed. So actively consumers will go and purchase if they want to do a follow on of this. I think there's a long term value in terms of the advocacy of our brands, we're not only telling them how to make a great drink but we're also educating people in terms of the product itself.

"It's a very open transparent forum for people to ask questions. We do go through the masterclasses by giving top tips, not only on how to make the cocktails but specific information about our brands that we feel is relevant to the consumers watching."

John Lewis Partnership is hosting its first live-streamed show today (18 December) alongside more than 100 virtual events that cover fashion, beauty and food between November and 23 December.

The move to a virtual Christmas was designed to help people navigate the festive season from home. This year the retailer observed shopping habits rapidly evolving, and having an entertainment-driven online presence over the festive season is part of the business's continued investment in virtual and digital services "to bring the knowledge and expertise of Partners direct to customers in their own homes".

Secret Cinema and Haagen-Dazs created a Christmas edition of their at-home entertainment series that "brought people together virtually at a time when we all needed a bit of escapism, communal fun and light-hearted entertainment".

Talking about the festive event, Max Alexander, chief executive of Secret Cinema, says: "Frankly we thought it had run its course, but lockdown is the gift that keeps giving. After a bit of prodding on social from fans and Christmas addicts, we decided to come back for one night only with one of my all-time favourite films, Elf – now transformed into a lean forward, highly participatory, syrup-eating contest. This time we are partnering with Crisis, whose mission to help end homelessness resonates now more than ever."

Bombay Sapphire first launched its "Stir creativity" campaign in 2018 as a call to arms for consumers to unlock their creative potential. The gin brand opted to engage with people during the "lull" between Christmas and the first week of the new year with a hybrid advent calendar. For its "12 days of creativity" consumers will receive art tools, cocktail ingredients and access to an online hub with new tutorials that can be accessed each day.

Natasha Curtin, global vice-president, Bombay Sapphire, states: "This felt like a moment in time more than ever that the notion of stirring creativity and inspiration or tools or access to creativity felt more pivotal than ever particularly at this time through Covid. It felt like the absolute moment to continue speaking versus going silent.

"I think we've also seen consumers show real interest in at-home cocktail creations, learning how they can bring some of the theatre in the entertainment that they're missing from their previous lives to their homes."

With large areas of England under tier three restrictions, at-home entertainment is enabling consumers to continue to engage with brands during a time when IRL experiences are hard to come by.