Monday, 5 December 2011


A new qualitative research study that we will publish this week shows how Britons plan to reject traditional consumption and spend Christmas reconnecting with the things and people that matter most and are closest to them.

The study paints an emotional picture of a traditional Christmas as respondents talk about sending cards to and buying gifts for a closer set of people than normal; people they care about rather than gifts as random tokens and looking forward to “just spending time” with those close to them.

We found that consumers are viewing this Christmas as a buffer against a painful present, a time to recharge batteries, and to reconnect with matters they view as genuinely important. Consumers seem less concerned with magic and spontaneity, more with practicality and planning. There is more emphasis this year on planning and buying early as a way of budgeting at a time when thrift has become more than merely a lifestyle choice.

Linked to this is feedback that being savvy is not only a necessity but also something that can be genuinely rewarding. Greater effort is being invested in finding a bargain or in doubling up vouchers, finding a discount code, collecting and using points across all purchases, really checking deals in order to make hard earned money work harder and go further.

Christmas is obviously about enjoyment and escape, and a certain degree of excess is traditional but, in keeping with the subdued times, our respondents have said that a sense of modesty and restraint is the order of the season.

This Christmas will be about reconnecting, being playful rather than
over-indulging, and a more careful and thoughtful, rather than excessive, consumption of products, food and drink. This will be the Christmas of only moderate excess.

And in response to the prevailing sense of economic gloom, consumers appear to be responding best to brands which are using their advertising and marketing activity to capture the traditional spirit of Christmas.

Consumers seem also to be tapping into the power and comfort of ritual. In these times of uncertainty the comfort of rituals is very appealing. Most respondents saidthey were looking forward to “the day” and “the people” rather than “the things” and are being attracted by brands which convey that.”

In terms of brand advertising, the John Lewis advertisement, which revolves around a playful inversion of the classic ritual of waiting for Christmas day, has tapped most particularly into our desire for a return to a traditional sense of giving. But the advertisement that was cited most often was Coca-Cola’s “Holidays are Coming” spot with the illuminated Coca-Cola truck and convoy snaking through the wintery hills to a “universal” town. This advertisement was spontaneously discussed as a signifier of Christmas, and welcomed as enthusiastically as the families in the advertisement welcome the Coca Cola truck.

In the face of what feels like unrelenting economic gloom, unrest and
uncertainty affecting many levels of society, respondents have been switched on
by advertising that has captured their mood, hopes and fears.

There is a real hunger for hope. As well as being a lovely seasonal story, the John Lewis advertisement particularly resonates with people’s need for stories of hope; hope that values of giving are alive and well in a world which has been so much about receiving or taking; Even the more ambiguously received M&S advert captures a hope of a future where “dreams come true.

Five themes emerge from the study, which have significance
beyond Christmas, long after the decorations have been put away. These are (1) a profound need for hope; (2) a sense of post materialism; (3) a focus on people and things closest to us; (4) the comfort of ritual and (5) the idea of the rewards of practicality, planning and hard work. So what should brands take away from this seasonal analysis?

The messages from our respondents are quite clear.

Articulate hope and a positive long term vision as consumers are looking for inspirational light at the end of the tunnel; reflect the way that consumers have, in some ways, temporarily lost faith in materialism and focus on values rather than things; focus on the local, facilitate family, be active in communities and, at very least, continue to overtly support the British economy with products created and built locally. Brands should continue to tap into
rituals which offer familiarity, comfort and trust for consumers and create promotions which reward planning and effort, as well as “hard to ignore” deals.

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