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Christmas is an emotional time by its very nature. This year, in the midst of the pandemic, everything is a bit different. More intense. We are more receptive to emotive messages than in the “old normal”. This presents an opportunity for brands to penetrate deeper into the consciousness of their target audience and with more lasting effect than is otherwise the case. Only a handful of brands have recognised this.

By Hans Meier-Kortwig.

Coca Cola Christmas Truck
The Coca Cola truck. Photo: © Coca-Cola

Family, home, closeness and community have held new meaning since March 2020. Now, at X-Mas time, this new feeling is even more intense: people are grateful that they can celebrate together at all, even on a small scale. Nevertheless, the Christmas parties and other social events which won’t take place this year leave gaps in the usual proceedings. Brands are reacting very differently to this “Covid Christmas” in their communications – in the same way that people are responding differently to the pandemic. In this connection, it is interesting to read a Study1 by the Bertelsmann Stiftung, which investigated people’s coping strategies during the coronavirus crisis: it identifies five types, such as the “stable crisis manager”, the “creative communitarian” and the “concerned protection seeker”.

Brands offer different angles on a Covid Christmas

To a certain extent, brands can also be put into these categories; current commercials show how brands are reacting to the Covid Christmas with different tonalities. Amazon adopts the right tone with its Christmas campaign and the commercial “The show must go on”: it shows a young ballet student preparing for her big performance, even during lockdown. The show is cancelled due to coronavirus and the protagonist’s dream is shattered. The happy ending is truly moving: the family organises its own performance with the ballerina dancing in her stage costume outside in the falling snow, illuminated by a large torch. Neighbours from the block of flats make up the audience. Amazon conjures up the power of community and its talent for improvisation. By doing so, it positions itself as a “creative communitarian” and a source of hope. The brand Amazon is only visible in the commercial when the torch is ordered online. This restraint is spot on and enhances the value of the story and the message.

Some other brands have opted for superficial Christmas communications which ignore coronavirus completely. Kaufland, for instance, deliberately puts on a pair of rose-tinted spectacles: its commercial is a jolly, funny X-Mas musical that focuses on festive fun. The commercial works, but it is quickly forgotten because there is no brand message. In the psychological profile of coping styles, Kaufland ranks among the “active optimists” who Bertelsmann describes as wanting to “make it easy for themselves and others to deal with the crisis”. That is OK, but a link to the brand is lacking. The same thing happens to a number of other brands: their communications are purely seasonal and fail to make full use of the opportunity to enhance the brand. Take McDonald’s, for instance: its current Christmas commercial is about the forgotten tradition of the “Christmas gherkin” hidden on the Christmas tree. Whoever finds it gets a present. The commercial therefore centres on the gherkin, which doesn’t want to spend its time alone in the larder. It would rather celebrate Christmas with the family. This is the premise for a little story which ends with the message that family is the best gift. Admittedly, this is a good Christmas message, but it doesn’t build on the #ichliebees (“I’m lovin’ it”) brand campaign which McDonald’s ran from July to October. Christmas has its own distinct time-frame which can be treated differently in communications. However, brands should make better use of the opportunity to make their Christmas communications genuine brand communications which slot neatly into their overall strategy..

Coca-Cola: the only brand that “owns” Christmas

Coca Cola Santa Clause
Photo: © Coca-Cola
Coka Cola Christmas Truck
Photo: © Coca-Cola

Irrespective of coronavirus, any look at Christmas and brands has to finish with Coca-Cola. To this day, Coca-Cola is the only brand which has made Christmas “its” brand event. Exactly 100 years ago, Coca-Cola published its first Christmas advertising to boost sales during the colder weather. With the Christmas advertisements illustrated by Haddon Sundblom2, who designed the festive visuals from 1931 to 1964, Coca-Cola shaped the image of a likeable, kind Santa Claus – taking a break with a Coke in his hand.

Another factor which should not be underestimated is the brand’s colour, red, which corresponds brilliantly with Santa’s outfit. For many, the Coca-Cola Christmas trucks which have toured the USA and several other countries since 1995 are a fixed part of the run-up to Christmas. The trucks won’t be doing the rounds this year and many fans are disappointed. At least the Coca-Cola Christmas commercial is the sort of thing we want to see from Coca-Cola. Unlike any other brand, Coca-Cola has succeeded in taking ownership of the Christmas season – with its message and festive communications which consistently feature the brand’s distinctive DNA. “For one hundred years, Coca-Cola has been celebrating the festive period through its advertising with messages of solidarity and optimism. This year, the campaign reflects the true magic of Christmas – and thereby our even greater esteem for the people we love and the need for community too,” says Michael Willeke, Marketing Director at Coca-Cola for Germany, Denmark and Finland.

Brands’ messages need to reflect their personality – not just at Christmas

Coca-Cola’s Christmas message is a logical offshoot of the brand essence, “zest for life”. And this is why it works: it is part of the brand idea and is implemented through communications in the brand’s distinctive style. There is no need for a deep and meaningful Christmas message every year, but a good fit with the brand is a must. That is what turns seasonal marketing at Christmas time into genuine brand communications which enhance the brand. Perhaps in future other brands will succeed in “claiming ownership” of Christmas like Coca-Cola has. On that note, merry X-Mas.


1: Bertelsmann Stiftung: „Die Corona-Krise und Strategien der Bewältigung. Ergebnisse tiefenpsychologischer Interviews“.
2: 100 Jahre Magie: Weihnachten mit Coca‑Cola.

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