Have a Holly Moral Christmas!

© MarkRademaker - stock.adobe.com © MarkRademaker - stock.adobe.com
© MarkRademaker - stock.adobe.com

Think Black Friday and you might think shopper brawls. Unfettered consumerism. Flitting between brands based on infinitesimal percentage discount increases. 

And that might well be warranted. 

So – we’re going to take this opportunity to look at the flipside of Christmas spending. If there’s been an increase in conscious consumerism in recent years, then what does that means for the traditional season of giving? 

Last year the UK saw the biggest surge in ‘charity christmas’ searches, as people’s view on what’s important came into sharp focus following a turbulent year;

This year we expect to seem similar. We may have gone into 2021 expecting relief from the pandemic, but things haven’t quite panned out that way. We’re hoping for a lockdown free Christmas – but given the preceding 12 months have rivalled 2020 in matters of public health, climate related disaster and international upheaval, we can expect an uptick in those looking to go into Christmas with the sense that they’ve given back.

The last 2 years has seen us guide clients through the ‘impossible to predict’. Here’s our take on the purpose-led Christmas shopper, and how brands can tailor product and communications to stay ahead this season and in years to come.

The prevailing winds of purpose

Talking purpose in marketing is in fashion for two interlinked reasons:

Consumer behaviour – the term ‘conscious consumerism’ goes back to the 1970s, but increased access to information and a keener spotlight on the issues inherent in ‘the system’ have expanded the pool of people who make (some) decisions based on the ethics or purpose of available brands. 

Shifting demographics are bringing this trend into sharper relief - there is a growing segment switching brands on ethical considerations. 46% 18–35-year-olds say they only buy products from ethical companies, compared to 27% 55+s (CCS).

Brand communications – as a reaction, brands are putting purpose front and centre. There’s a spectrum at play; some might pick a campaign and hitch their wagon to it, others change or form their business around principles that seek to make the world a better place. Due to the former, consumers will exercise cynicism and pick holes in the weaker arguments, due to the latter those who make decisions on ethics have better options.

This is important at Christmas – not just because it’s the period of highest retail spend, but because it’s a season of gifting. How you spend your money is on show for your family and loved ones to see. And no one acts like a conscious consumer like a consumer who knows they’re being watched. 

So, if ethical is the new luxury, don’t be shy to show off your credentials. Here are 3 ways in which you can demonstrate that you fit the bill. 

Charity Starts at Home 

Lockdowns have strengthened ties to local communities, and disrupted supply chained have forced more to make the link between where they spend their money and who they support. As a result, there’s been an uptick in community spirit. As we reported in Shopper DNA, in 2020 36% of GB consumers felt the need to be involved in the life of the community or neighbourhood, up from 31% in 2019, and this has been accompanied by a resurgence in shopping in local high-street shops such as butchers and green grocers. 

The donut phenomenon refers to the fact that more are spending time on the outskirts of a city, closer to home. Local high-streets are feeling the benefit, and city planners are catering for increased demand for local services. 

How should you react?

If you’ve got them, demonstrate your local ties, and how you’re helping communities you operate within, even if you weren’t ‘born’ there. 

Go local with both your messaging and media channels. Think long-tail; perhaps last year you’d be looking at one key outdoor format, with the highest footfall in a city? This year consider multiple local formats that reach people close to home.

Good over Goods

Ever felt like you have too much ‘stuff’? You’re not alone. 33% say they’re trying to declutter – 55% agree that ‘less is more’ (YouGov). Matters of sustainability are already part of the public discourse, but ecological concerns will be even more prominent in the run up to Christmas this year, off the back of COP26 in Glasgow.

This is driving interest in circular retail – promoting products that are renewable or reusable, retail designed with minimal environmental impact in mind. The likes of H&M, Levi’s and Nike took their steer from brands like Nudie and promoted reuse and mend programmes. IKEA are testing furniture leasing, take-back and buy-back schemes and are investing more in helping customers to keep old furniture going. Where no such programme exists customers are taking matter into their own hands, extending the life of products by selling and buying on platforms like Vinted and Vestiaire.

This Christmas expect to see the trend for experience gifting continue at pace, in line with the feeling that we’ve reached ‘peak stuff’. The ultimate expression of rejecting unfettered consumerism this Christmas will be using a present to give back. Social Bite, an Edinburgh based social enterprise that aims to end homelessness, has long promoted a special Christmas ‘pay it forward’ initiative, where one can gift a Christmas meal to those who can’t afford it themselves. 

How should you react?

Think about the lifecycle of your products and promote the innovative ways they might outlast their typical lifespan. 

Think about the experience of your products. Use experience in media to show how shopping with you adds to 2022 lives, rather than fills 2022’s attic. Think more about human motivation when planning than ever before.

Put your money where your mouth is and support the initiatives that give back this Christmas. 

Stop, Collaborate and Listen

In the Carat strategy department we have attempted to answer the question that even those well versed in the zodiac are struggling with – what will next year look like? The biggest thing that stands out? The sense that collaboration is a thread that runs through many of the shifts in human behaviour and drive.

Necessity has driven more to work together to get through this crisis. Brands are working together to share or borrow authority. Resources are pooled. Know-how is shared across different industries. At Christmas 2020 VisitScotland used their site and communications to promote the local high-street with the #ScotlandLovesLocal campaign, an example where tourism supported retail and retail in turn promoted local tourism.

The last 12 months has seen Burger King promote McDonalds, and Tesco send people to the pub.

This Christmas, and beyond, expect to see more collaboration. That might be larger brands supporting smaller bodies to do their own version of giving back. Or it could be traditional rivals coming together, under the premise that ‘what is good for the industry is good for the player’. 

How should you react?

Join forces with others – those who might share your ambition but who speak to different audiences. Consider co-branding and brand extensions. It might just be about sharing intel across borders. 

Or it may well be about putting rivalries aside this Christmas.

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