Birds Eye View

Commercial Christmas in a troubled economy

By Senior Digital Account Director, Megan Ashdown​​​​

How can retailers position themselves sensitively amidst another Cost-of-Living Christmas?

It’s a position no one wants to be in, but once again, we are facing a Christmas shrouded by the ongoing cost-of-living crisis – and it’s worse than last year.

Not to state the obvious, but Christmas is pivotal for commercial retailers – and we know that consumers are tightening the purse strings this year, which presents some problems. A recent study by PWC revealed that spending intentions are now negative across all purchase categories, and consumers are now likely to buy less and trade down by switching to cheaper retailers. [1]

So how can commercial brands tackle these changing behavioural patterns amidst all this uncertainty?


Nods to the cost-of-living crisis and economic backdrops of this Christmas in your campaigns can go a long way in making your brands and products more accessible – and relatable – to consumers this Christmas. It’s human nature to look for solidarity in times of strife, and showing your brand understands this will be key to not only driving sales but also building longer-term brand loyalty.

Brands who have won at this creatively – but with extremely different approaches – are Not on The High Street and Iceland.

Not on The High Street dived straight in with the “Gift Less, Gift Better” campaign, ticking the creative boxes in a couple of ways.

  1. Encouraging thoughtful gifting – which we know is on the up… [2]
  2. Encouraging a “less is more” mentality – which will be perceived well amidst the COLC while aligning with consumer sentiment around spending less this Christmas. [3]

Search trends have seen consistent growth for “Not On The High Street” since the campaign launch, which looks likely to equal its last peak (if it continues on this trajectory), seen in 2021. Considering we’re no longer in a pandemic and don’t have to shop online for the same necessities, this is a testament to the campaign’s success.

Iceland, however, has done the opposite and held off any large-scale media, such as TV, communicating it would rather help customers struggling with high food prices than spend millions on an advert. Consequently, they have invested the money to support customers with lower prices and money-saving initiatives.[4] Not only does this align favourably with the national mood, it creates solidarity between Iceland’s customers and the brand. However, while honourable – Iceland have missed a trick here. To compensate for the lack of Paid advertisement, they needed to employ a robust Owned, Earned and Shared strategy to compensate for the shortfall, which hasn’t materialised. Consequently, Iceland is currently comfortably at the bottom of the table for Brand Buzz as we move into peak festive season.[5]

Socio-sensitivity from a media buying perspective also means keeping an eye on frequencies, especially across digital media. We already know that 74% of adults think there are too many ads and that this number grows to 78% for adults over 35. [6] With the latest numbers from the advertising association and WARC saying ad spend will reach £9.5bn (+4.8% YoY), you’d be forgiven for assuming any perceived advertising extravagance has the potential to hack the average consumer right off. [7]

So, keep the frequencies down. Focus on broad targeting on digital campaigns to capture new audiences – while keeping an eye on your retargeting levels. Could you exclude people who have visited the site more than once but have not purchased for 30 days? Give them a breather.

Remember that more than ever, people are likely to be put off and aggravated (or worse, pressured and saddened) this year by a bombardment of ads telling you to “buy, buy, buy”.

Keep targeting economically personal. 

Yes, we all know GDPR means we can’t target based on individuals’ incomes but we can be more sensitive to generalised price points within the commercial sector.

We can apply economically personal ads primarily within the Digital sphere. With clever tactical buys and compliant audience partners, you can keep things economically relevant to the individual, thus speaking to their personal experience within the COLC. Personalisation is key in creative, and ensuring someone sees a product they can afford will benefit your brand love AND your ROI to boot.

There are some quick wins you can apply to your campaigns to keep them economically personal to your audiences.

  • CRM Lookalikes. Using niche lookalikes of existing customers will allow you to target those more likely to purchase (and be able to afford) your product. You could also take this further, creating lookalikes from average order values of your purchases ranging from low to high and targeting with corresponding products.
  • Lower Average Value, and Higher Average Value product sets in your broad feed activity. As AI and Machine learning grows, by separating your products into price categories and handing over the reins to Meta or DSPs, you’ll be able to capture customers with items within their price brackets.

Utilising GDPR-compliant audience partnerships – to effectively plug that data gap between audience and income. Partners such as 59A deploy custom algorithms across any media channel which can take multiple consumer touchpoints and provide postcode-level targeting to capture the most relevant audience possible – ensuring that all ad delivery is hyper-relevant through hyperlocal targeting.

 Make it clear you’re giving back…and not just raking it in!

The “we’re all in it together” ethos is something that we’ve spoken about here, but it bears repeating. In times of trouble, we know that charity income remains one of the steadier industries. To cut back on spending, consumers will trim expenditures such as holidays, eating out, clothes, cars & entertainment subscriptions before cancelling a regular charity donation.[8]

So, pairing yourself effectively with a charity can help enforce the idea that you’re not just making money for yourself – you’re recognising the economic climate and using your corporate wealth to do your part to help. By doing this, you’ll also align with consumer behaviour, which is to continue to support those less fortunate, even when you are cutting back yourself (and to avoid sounding a little mercenary, it goes without saying that giving to charity is just a fundamentally good thing to do!)

A brand that has knocked this out of the park creatively this year is Unilever.[9] Not only is Unilever supporting The Trussell Trust – which has seen a direct increase in demand due to the Cost-of-Living Crisis (making itself hyper-relevant to the current climate) – but the way they’ve executed it means you can’t help but crack a nostalgic grin. [10]

Unilever, in partnership with NotJustClothing, has created Marmite, Pot Noodle, and Colman’s Mustard Christmas jumpers, which simultaneously spark cultural nostalgia and promote Unilever’s superstar brands while flawlessly connecting everything back to Food, ensuring the whole campaign links seamlessly back to the Trussel Trust – which receives 50% of the profit of each sale. All playing beautifully on quintessential togetherness in times of trouble.

I’m not pretending that the path to a profitable commercial Christmas will be easy in 2024 or employing these three points will magically propel your campaign to success. But, by ensuring that you consider each customer’s sentiment and economic situation, I’d measure that you’ll leave this Q4 with more brand loyalty and love (and ROI to boot) than if you don’t.

As for those who have got it really wrong (in my opinion)? Not to go on a rampage, but a few springs to mind:

  1. Charlotte Tilbury – How much did you pay Elton John and Kate Moss to sing Step into Christmas for a minute? We know Charlotte’s brand is glitzy – but this is needless extravagance and totally misses the mark on socio-sensitivity for a COLC Christmas.
  2. Marks and Spencer – Amidst the COLC, the brand decided to focus an ad around:
    – Blowtorching Christmas cards
    – Throwing decorations into a woodchipper
    – Throwing away party games

    While clearly intended to be playful and funny – you can’t help but wonder how those who couldn’t afford those luxuries this year felt while watching the M&S ad.

  3. Eastern Savings & Loans Smaller than the other two – but deserves a mention. Their creative directly plays on the guilt of those unable to afford Christmas luxuries this year – and then whacks them with a stonking 42.6% APR. Talk about Christmas Spirit…

Fundamentally, my point is this: Ensure the heart of your campaign focuses on people. The Kite Factory is here to help with this. Whether it comes to tactically tailoring your creative, strategic pivots, or tactically optimising for sensitivity, our media experts work on the premise that we’re all human and that your campaigns need to echo this.


[1] https://www.pwc.co.uk/industries/retail-consumer/insights/consumer-sentiment-survey.html

[2] https://www.ebayads.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/ebay_ads_christmas_2023_F-1.pdf

[3] https://www.pwc.co.uk/industries/retail-consumer/insights/consumer-sentiment-survey.html

[4] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-67418790

[5] https://track.brandindex.com/analysis/view/quick?lang=en (comparisons vs. Tesco, Sainsburys, Asda, Waitrose, Co-op and Aldi).

[6] https://www.surveymonkey.com/curiosity/74-of-people-are-tired-of-social-media-ads-but-theyre-effective/#:~:text=Consumers%20dislike%20the%20ads%E2%80%94for%20many%20reasons&text=Nearly%203%20out%20of%20every,to%20their%20wants%20and%20needs.

[7] How can smaller budgets cut through at Christmas? – The Media Leader (the-media-leader.com)

[8] https://thekitefactorymedia.com/how-to-find-growth-in-the-regular-giving-model/

[9] https://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/christmas-2023-round-up-watch-festive-ads/1847387

[10] https://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/christmas-2023-round-up-watch-festive-ads/1847387