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Christmas marketing needs to be early this year reveals research

Research compiled by MediaCom Manchester indicates that millions of consumers are beginning their 2021Christmas preparations further ahead than ever before – and will be making this Christmas their biggest yet.

The team that was behind online value retailer Studio.co.uk’s new #TeamEarly Christmas advertising campaign, which launched 100 days before the big day to help people get organised early so they can celebrate for longer, has highlighted its key findings into Christmas 2021 trends. The agency is urging brands and retailers that rely on the Christmas buying period to boost annual revenue to not leave getting Christmas marketing messages out there too late, even if it sparks ‘debate’ that it’s too early by some.

“Indications are clear this year – that the mood of the nation is to start early and go bigger”, advises Paul Cooper, COO of MediaCom Manchester.

“And like with all marketing campaigns in today’s fast-paced environments, what was ‘the norm’ in previous years, when it comes to timings, channels and messaging, may no longer be relevant for Christmas 2021.”

“This is what we’re seeing with Christmas this year,” continues Charlotte Beech who heads up MediaCom Manchester’s Creative Systems division, “with so many cultural elements at play – from post-Covid mindsets that want to make up for the loss of family time due to restrictions, to spreading the cost because they’re worried about domestic heating costs rising – it’s essential that research drives decision making and brands act with agility and relevance.”

  • According to a Sitecore survey, almost half (48 per cent) of consumers have already started or are this month (October) starting their Christmas shopping1 (only a quarter will be leaving it until the last minute).
  • In a similar consumer study by eBay Ads, 27% of people said that they are planning to start Christmas shopping and preparations earlier than they did last year, with only 11% saying they’ll start later2, and 41% intend to have their Christmas gift buying wrapped up by the beginning of December.
  • Online searches for “Christmas” were higher in September 2021 than in the same period in the past 10 years, indicating that shoppers are already more active than previously.  
  • The research is also indicating a consumer uplift in spend this year. In an IPA study nearly a quarter of people (23%) said that they will spend more money this Christmas than they normally do4; a similar poll by Future plc found this was more than half, as 55% said they will make Christmas 2021 the biggest celebration yet5
  • The ‘shop early’ trend is also being fuelled by heightened consumer awareness of stock shortages and delivery delays. Almost 60% of consumers denoted that they are expecting out-of-stocks to get worse in the run up to Christmas6. A Mintel study hinted that uncertainty from the fuel crisis may also encourage early Christmas shopping. 

“While there is always much debate over whether displaying Christmas products on shelves in the summer months is just annoying, especially to those who don’t want to think ‘festive thoughts’ until after Bonfire night at least, the numbers of people who are planning ahead are increasing every year – to the point that this is where the smart money is!” says Cooper. 

Beech believes this is something that brands can use to their advantage: “It’s beyond doubt that brands that go early certainly get talked about – even if that’s to say “this is too early! But talkability, in itself, helps to boost campaign awareness, especially in social channels. 

“With more access to data and our ability to track in real-time the impact data-driven creative is having, we’re able to ensure that all campaigns tap into current trends and consumers’ shifting mindsets.

“All the signs are that this year people will be making the most of the freedom to spend Christmas with loved ones and celebrate longer. They’re more open to early messaging – as they’re already making their plans of what they will buy, who they will spend the festive period with and how they will decorate their homes.

“Brands tapping into this mood in an empathetic way will get ahead this year. For studio.co.uk going early has been right, because the whole brand ethos is about supporting and inspiring families, helping people to spread the cost and shop wisely. The campaign, which featured Joe Swash, also included a giveaway of £1000 a month in the run-up to Christmas – which again provided a rationale to run over three months.

“It’s a perfect example of a campaign that brings together media with data and captures the cultural mood of the nation, as we come back together to celebrate Christmas with our families, delivered in a way that has consumer-research at its core and delivered in the environments our audiences know and trust.”

Cooper concluded: “Historically, the big Christmas advertising moment has always been when John Lewis, and more recently M&S, Aldi and Sainsbury, launches its Christmas TV advert with a memorable song or lovable character. Generally this has been between 7 – 14 November.

“But with so many barometers showing that while we may be picking pumpkins still and forking out for fireworks, Christmas is already front and centre in many consumers’ minds. For us, getting in early would be a good move for many brands who can deliver a campaign with the right sentiment and in the right channels.”

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