Heather Dansie, associate research director at Publicis Media, discusses why experience is core to a Christmas strategy and what brands can do to truly embrace the festive season.

Every year, the familiar phrase pops up around this time, “Is it me, or does Christmas seem to get earlier every year?” And with Christmas street lights twinkling away from the beginning of October and Mariah Carey playing in stores the day after Bonfire Night it certainly seems so.

As a nation, we’re becoming increasingly obsessed with ‘The Big Day’. With Google estimating that the average Brit spent over £1000 last year on Christmas (double that spent in Italy or Spain), from a brand perspective it really is the most wonderfully important time of the year.

But, as every brand from every sector is muscling in on the action, what can brands do to ensure they are front of mind during the UK’s biggest shopping season? The answer is experience. Brands that go that extra mile should reap the rewards.

For it is the feeling of the festive spirit - that sense of total relaxation, indulgence and heightened importance of family, friends and food - that lies at the heart of Christmas. It is the small acts of preparation for Week 52 that are critical to get consumers into the jovial mood. In fact, 47% of Brits we surveyed say putting up the Christmas tree is the start of the festive season for them.  As society becomes more flexible and fluid – one in which 22% admit to cancelling plans at the last minute – the very day of Christmas has become more important. When our daily lives are so frequently chaotic and open to change, the fixed traditions of ‘your family Christmas’ become something to celebrate in themselves. 

Shopping behaviour too is evolving and taking on new meanings. Whilst we may be spending more online, we are also asking more of the retail experiences we do indulge in. For only 8% of Brits think that shopping online makes a better Christmas experience. For the 92% that don’t agree, retailers are responsible for creating much of the magic we desire when shopping.  

Even our gifts are becoming more experiential. Our ageing population means the generation that has everything is growing but more importantly younger generations increasingly value knowledge and events over stuff. Brands of course are reacting, not only in what they sell, but delivering festive experiential marketing initiatives and services to engage consumers, perhaps epitomised by the king of Christmas, John Lewis. Last year the retailer offered ‘treetorials’ in store to create an entire tree decorating experience, and more recently, aside from the festivities, the ‘ultimate try before you buy’ offering. It has nailed the customer experience and it’s leading the way for the future of Christmas.

Starcom’s client Dreams ran a hugely successful Dreams Charity Christmas Countdown where stores became the drop off point for gifts donated to under privileged children across the UK with media counting down the days to Christmas. It elevated the store’s meaning and purpose at a time when retailers are fighting for attention.  

Of course Christmas ads are now part of our overall Christmas experience too. So far to date, YouTube reports 9.1 million views of the John Lewis Christmas advert. So as we start planning for Christmas 2018 as most of our consumers wrap up this year’s Christmas, we should expect more brands to be creating experiences to ensure the Christmas spirit.