Football, Father Christmas and inflation: getting festive advertising right in 2022

The festive season is going to be uniquely challenging for advertisers this year with the added ingredient of the men’s football World Cup and some tough economic headwinds. Christmas is always a febrile and competitive time, with many businesses relying on the Golden Quarter to deliver their biggest sales numbers.

Over £8 billion1 is expected to be spent on ads this winter alone as brands clamour for attention.  With football fever added to the mix, how can businesses make sure campaigns cut through and deliver commercial ROI?

The Christmas plus World Cup combo could be tricky to get right and our research shows that many brands don’t effectively capitalise on sporting events. Yet sport also presents huge opportunities to boost brand awareness and connect with consumers, tapping into its unique blend of drama and passion.

We’ve seen the power of sport to motivate and unite people with the Lionesses’ triumph at the European Championships, and some brands are already deploying clever creative to engage with their success to great effect. Businesses can learn from this best practice as the Christmas countdown begins.

Fire up people’s emotions  

First, we know that the best and most effective advertising stirs our emotions – people remember ads that make them feel something.  We’ve seen brands like Nike put that into action following the Lionesses’ victory, harnessing the excitement and sense of achievement for women’s sport.

Its Metro cover wrap tapped into the emotive trials and tribulations of English football with the simple yet powerful image of a Nike swoosh, the word ‘Home’ and the players’ names.

Advertising is so much more successful if it reflects the public mood, especially at Christmas.  There may be more opportunities to get behind national teams this winter but brands will also have to tread carefully in the context of a cost of living crisis.

People will want to celebrate, and a run of World Cup success could fuel that desire, but many families will also be facing some of the toughest times in recent memory.

Sensitivity will be key this year, as will testing campaigns to ensure they land with consumers in the right way.

Crucially, brands shouldn’t fall into the trap of ‘sadvertising’– a trend we saw during Christmas 2020 at the height of the pandemic. Campaigns must be appropriate and shouldn’t jar emotionally or intellectually, but that doesn’t mean people want sombre, downbeat content.

More than ever consumers want ads that make them feel uplifted. During the lockdowns, audiences appreciated light-hearted humour and escapism. The key to success is getting this across thoughtfully while not appearing tone deaf.  As is often the case in the world of good creative, nuance rules.

Make it relevant and be distinctive  

The second must-have this festive season is authenticity.  When we tested ads aired during the 2018 World Cup, consumers didn’t see them as in keeping with the respective brands.

In fact, ‘brand fit’ (how well the advert fitted with the brand) was 25% below the typical TV ad, while people’s view on how relevant the advert was to the brand in question was 28% below the average score.2

That’s an own goal for businesses.  Advertising has to be credible and easily relatable to the brand behind it or it just won’t deliver the desired impact.

Back to Nike’s Euros campaign, the content worked beautifully with the brand’s message to ‘Just do it’ and reflected Nike’s wider efforts to promote women’s sport.  It just felt right.

Of course, it could be argued that Nike had it easy as a brand famous for sportswear, but even for non-sports brands the same principles apply.

Take a look at Weetabix’s ad after the Euros final, simply stating ‘they had theirs’, echoing the brand’s famous tagline but cleverly inserting it into a major sporting event, or the Royal Mail’s ad with a wrapped-up football labelled ‘Home’.

The best Christmas ads will be the ones that stand out, that are different not just in terms of brand messaging and the products and services they promote, but in their content and approach too.

Sports adverts especially rely on common tropes of unity and often feature celebrities, but seeing similar styles, themes and stories can be repetitive and boring for viewers.

Consumers are bombarded with content every week from brands all vying for attention. This Christmas, advertisers need to show something that people have never seen before, to say something unexpected, or to say something that only they can say.  Differentiate, delight and surprise should be watchwords.

Put the brand at the heart of it  

The third ingredient to a winning festive campaign: get the brand front and centre.  It’s surprising how many ads don’t get this right.

The most entertaining, heartfelt and unique campaign in the world won’t deliver a return if consumers don’t know who it’s for.

Brands or products must always have an active and clear role in the narrative.  It’s about making it easy for viewers to connect the dots.

Behavioural science teaches us that humans prefer clarity over ambiguity.  So, at a time when people increasingly see advertising as a nuisance and don’t want to engage, creating clear stories that have the brand at their core is crucial.

And it is important to tell people what you want them to do next.  Sports-related adverts, in particular, tend to boost general interest, rather than profiling a specific promotion or new product.

In a saturated market this Christmas, there’s a risk that viewers will struggle to absorb brand messages when they are being swamped with ads. If pure brand-building is still the aim, then content will have to work extra hard to be distinctive.

Break the stereotypes  

Ultimately, sports advertising has a lot of similarities with festive advertising.  The principles of using emotional storytelling, being different and making sure the brand is at the heart of it all still stand. Sport can be life changing for many and there is huge emotional power which brands can capitalise on if done properly this Christmas.

One final thing to say is that advertising, like sport, can be a real force for good.  There’s already been discussion about what holding the men’s World Cup in Qatar means for diversity and inclusion.

We know that inclusive advertising has the power to drive social change and people are increasingly looking for brands to lead the way.  Showing underrepresented groups in ads in a progressive, non-stereotyped way brings commercial benefits too – our Kantar Link database shows it can both accelerate immediate sales and drive long-term brand equity.

As ever the issues have to be navigated sensitively but more inclusive, representative campaigns could be advertisers’ gift to us all this year – and when or where better to do it than on a global stage like the football World Cup?

This article was first published on Kantar.


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