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Christmas marketing: dodging the clichés and ducking the puns

Updated, rewritten and repackaged with added sparkle for Christmas 2021. Ooh and if you’re a small business, I have a Christmas post JUST for you (don’t worry, I’ll put another link to it at the end of this one).

It’s that time of year again, the shops are filling up with sparkly stuff, school halls around the country are reverberating to the sound of the recorder orchestra (if that’s allowed in a pandemic?), and the turkeys are wondering why everyone is looking at them funny.

Yes, Christmas is looming.

And with Christmas, comes Christmas marketing. Oh no it doesn’t. Oh yes it does.

Sorry. Stop me.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE CHRISTMAS.

I love a Christmas song and a bit of sparkle, I’m a firm believer that you should use as many Christmas decorations as you can throw at a tree (and a few more for luck), and if my mum threatens once more to ditch the traditional turkey as our Christmas dinner I might actually throw my reindeer slippers at her. I’m all for tradition, familiarity and festivities. But Christmas marketing can easily end up a bit bland or missing the mark.

Good Christmas creative is a delicate balance

So much Christmas marketing is the same. It’s the same as it was last year and the same as everyone else has used this year. The supermarket is using the same copy as the florist, who’s stolen her ideas off that big TV ad. It’s confusing and actually, all it says is that Christmas is coming – which we already know.

And while we LOVE the familiar and everything that makes us feel festive (or at least, I do), it all becomes a bit unimaginative if you’re not careful.

To help, I’ve broken down Christmas creative into categories and added in some copy-specific tips for each one (I am a copywriter, after all…). Use them for inspiration, mix together the types, and sprinkle with my top tips so you can nail your Christmas ideas with style*.

* Alternatively, you could get me to write your Christmas copy for you. Take a look at what I do. 

Wonderfully cheesy Christmas messaging

The go-to for many, pun-tastic, cliche-ridden copy is EVERYWHERE at this time of year. There will always be exceptions, especially if they tie in particularly well with your brand or campaign (I’ve always loved that Selfridges have their ‘Elfridges’ gift-consultation service) but for the most part, ‘tis the season for a winter wonderland of festive fun and Christmas crackers. And you’d better watch out, you’d better not cry… To be honest all I want for Christmas is something that stands out from the crowd.

How to write cheesy, punny Christmas copy:

Start by making a list of all the Christmas puns you can think of. An actual list. Write them down. Then use that list to navigate a path that avoids the worst of the cheese. 

A bit of cheese is good. A bit of festivity is perfect for the time of year. Use those puns for inspiration, use them to get in the Christmas frame of mind, play with them to make a (relevant) pun of your own.

Just mind that you don’t find your copy swamped by them so it looks just like everyone else’s. It’s easy to do. It happens without you noticing. It’s something to do with the elves, I think. They add in the puns when we blink, but if you know their tricks you can take them out before you inadvertently add to the flood of Christmas spirit and ‘naughty or nice’.

I reckon this Christmas recruitment post from Fat Face hits the mark perfectly.

Embrace nostalgia and tradition

Father Christmas. Stockings. Mince pies. Christmas carols. Twinkly fairy lights. Kids’ nativity plays. You know what I’m talking about.

Tap into all that good stuff, embrace the warm and fuzzies. Even though real Christmas is more about last-minute panic buys, trying to wrap a globe in that last scrap of paper and obsessing over not giving people food poisoning, we all love a bit of feel-good nonsense, too. If you can give it a fresh twist, even better. I still love this from Sainsbury’s.

How to channel nostalgia and tradition in your Christmas copy:

Get yourself into the Christmas headspace. That might not be easy if it’s mid-July when you’re writing. But try. If, like me, you love a cheesy Christmas song, get on YouTube and watch a few. If there’s a food you link to Christmas try to get hold of some. Look back at photos. Watch re-runs of Christmas specials online. Grab a Christmas film. Think back to Christmas when you were a kid and try to think of any time that felt Christmassy to you. And then play with those themes until you come up with something that works with your brand. Extra points if it’s fresh and funny.

Get sentimental and reflect

The end of one year and arrival of the next is a natural time to reflect on the months that have just passed, and on what’s really important in life – and as this applies whether you celebrate Christmas or not, this can be a great place to start if your audience won’t (all) be celebrating Christmas.

While we might roll our eyes at more sentimental content through the year, we kind of love it as the year draws to an end. Whether you focus on shared memories across your audience or on the fundamentals in life that matter to us all, these are themes that pull an audience together and create a sense of meaning, belonging and community. Powerful stuff.

Google did this brilliantly in 2020 with their Year in Search video as the world faced a pandemic festive season.

How to write sentimental, reflective Christmas copy:

Try tapping into social media for ideas. Check out what your target audience is talking about, and any themes or events that captured their hearts during the last twelve months.

You might even be able to get them involved and build your copy around user-generated content.

Lose yourself in whimsy and magic

I reckon the 2021 John Lewis Christmas ad falls firmly into this category (admittedly with generous helpings of nostalgia and sentimentality, too). If there’s a time of year for suspending reality and believing in the magic of fairy dust, this is it. After all, the big man in the red suit relies on magic to make those reindeer fly, no?

How to write whimsical Christmas copy:

Let your imagination run free, wild and positively silly. Follow it and see where it goes.

Forget real life, the laws of physics and rational explanations, and see where it takes you. Just a tiny pinch of whimsy can add a little sparkle to your idea (it doesn’t have to be a full-on spaceship with a futuristic Targaryen to work – apologies to anyone who hasn’t seen the JL ad yet or watched Game of Thrones…).

Magical ethereal fairytale endings win hearts (and sell). Just ask Elsa and Anna.

Be utterly practical

Every single bit of marketing you put out should have a healthy dollop of this one, whatever the time of year. You need to know what the point of it all is. Are you selling something? Is there actually a Christmas angle or are you just shoe-horning? Or perhaps you’re genuinely just wishing your customers a happy Christmas, which is great!

Taking ‘practical’ a step further, there are plenty of businesses that might take a pretty no-nonsense, matter of fact approach rather than trying to get creative. That totally works, too. I love this approach from Tesco.

How to write utterly practical Christmas copy:

Think about why should people buy from you this Christmas? What’s good about your product or your service? What is the purpose of your copy? Keep it heartfelt, genuine and thoughtful and you won’t go too far wrong.

There’s so much ‘off the shelf’ Christmas marketing that yours will stand out if some thought has gone into it.

And finally, if you’re writing words (words are my thing)…

Once you’ve written your copy, take a break and then re-read it. Does it need a bit less festive spirit? Or perhaps you’ve gone the opposite way and it actually needs a bit more sparkle. Now’s the time to refine it before it goes out. A little time away from your draft, if deadlines allow, means you’ll see it with fresh eyes – invaluable at any time of the year.

Now off you go, deck the halls and jingle all the way to a very Merry Christmas knowing you’ve got your Christmas marketing all wrapped up.

(Damned elves).

Small businesses – this one’s for you!

Enjoyed this? Fancy a nosey at some other words I’ve written?

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