Picture: 123RF / KRYZHOV
Picture: 123RF / KRYZHOV

It hasn't been an easy year for retail, and festive season trade can make or break a company's results. In the past few weeks a number of UK and US brands have released their Christmas campaigns, including Amazon, M&S, Debenhams, House of Fraser, and of course the annual John Lewis blockbuster.    

So far these campaigns have included big budgets, big directors, huge tracks, Paddington Bear and a monster under the bed. Most have been a little disappointing, perhaps, with few new story lines or insights, other than Tesco’s “Everyone’s Welcome” reflection of diversity and the celebration of sisterhood by both Boots and House of Fraser. Like them or not, their one commonality is that they’re all entertaining and full of emotion.

The big take-out: The festive season is an opportunity for brands to create advertising that taps into family and human connections and makes consumers feel something positive.

What can we expect from local brands this year? Will we have to endure more of the same heavily promotional festive ads and plenty of products packed into a 30-second television commercial ending with a promotional tag, all wrapped up with a remix of a Christmas jingle? Or will we be treated to some more emotional work?

Black Friday exposed consumers to lots of big sales and “door busters” adverts; and as much as I love a sale, the real question is whether an even bigger discount than before will be enough for a brand to stand out from the festive clutter, create an enduring connection or drive a repeat purchase. In these times a great price has become a right to trade, but beyond that, is there not an opportunity to deliver some emotional promotional work? 

Mike Abel, CEO of M&C Saatchi Abel, is fond of reminding his staff: “We’re in the job of making the familiar strange, and the strange familiar.”  So, at this time of year, when much of the merchandise is commoditised, is there not an opportunity to drive preference with communication that really resonates?

 Given the current state of anxiety in South Africa, I can’t help but feel that this festive season is a great opportunity for brands to create work that reminds us of our strength in community, that taps into the family and human connections that this time of year allows.     

While I'm not a huge fan of local “nostalgia” work, perhaps now is the time for a big SA retailer to create work that makes us feel something positive or unifying.  Some good old-fashioned storytelling, perhaps; but authentically South African and not a sunny version of a European Christmas.  

The brands that will win this season will offer not only deals to excite the wallet but stories that engender a sense of hope and positivity, delivering not only great Christmas trade but some equity to last long into the New Year. Takealot’s latest television commercial, a heartwarming SA story about the joy of giving, is a good example. 

With online sales forecast to break the US$100bn mark in America this year it will be interesting to see how many South Africans shift their spend to take advantage of the amazing value, choice and convenience being offered online.

* Springer is a partner and head of strategy at M&C Saatchi Abel.

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