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‘Tis the season to be… one of three things

Kids Industries’ strategy director, Jelena Stosic on the three distinct behaviours that we can expect to see with families this month.

One thing’s for sure: Christmas can be both magical and stressful for parents, and this year in particular it carries some new challenges (I’m stopping myself from using the word ‘unprece…’ – you know the one I mean). We have a moveable tiering system in place, which is proving hard to keep track of, but we also have a nation of somewhat depleted, lonely people, with many facing new financial challenges.

A recent survey by Action for Children found that 57% of children were concerned that their parents will be worried about making Christmas a happy time for their family, and it seems that they are right. 17% of UK parents in this study said that they would cancel Christmas altogether this year if they could, with 41% of parents who receive Universal Credit in agreement.

So, sure it’s the most wonderful time of the year but, as people working in the space of brands and providing value for consumers, I am keen to keep challenging all of us to think about how we can support those that support us, and bring some festive cheer into our customers’ homes. At Kids Industries, we work with families and family brands every day, and – through our research work in the past couple of months – we’ve observed three distinct behaviours that we can expect to see with families this month.

Let me introduce you to the FaceTime Embracers, The True Meaning Chasers and The Creatives.

2020 will be the year of the 'digital Christmas'.
2020 will be the year of the 'digital Christmas'.

The FaceTime Embracers

After what feels like an eternity of video calls, live streamed kids workouts and Zoom-based virtual pub quizzes, many have been left digitally exhausted: a nation of Zoom-bies, in fact.

But the prospect of not being able to see loved ones in real life will be enough to drag us back to our screen – expect a steady increase here as we switch off from the work calls and into family ones.

There’s no escape: 2020 will be the year of ‘digital Christmas’ as a study of 2,000 consumers shows that 86% expect Christmas 2020 to be online, with 41% of respondents saying that they plan to open gifts on Zoom/video call in order to share the moment.

And whether you choose to dress up for your calls, have a festive backdrop, rock a Christmas jumper or something else, doing it all online sure changes things, and has given room to innovation in the market. As a family, you can choose to all watch a movie together: Disney+ has Groupwatch functionality allowing us to sync a programme on up to seven screens, and Amazon has introduced Watch Party. If that’s not your cup of tea, how about engaging with an interactive Panto or – if you really need cheering up – Santa’s doing Zoom visits this year, too.

Marred by memories of small smartphone screens, clunky laptops and low-res tablet cameras that we all had to navigate in March, some families will have taken the opportunity to upgrade to premium tech purchases such as Facebook Portal or the iPhone 12 (no, not Apple’s new headphones, that’s way too much). At John Lewis, Chromebook sales alone are up 235% compared to the last year. Vouchercodes, the platform for discounts, predicted an overall decrease in consumer gift spend this Christmas, but a 10% rise in spend dedicated to consumer electronics – it’s all very telling.

So what does this mean for brands? While the siren call of jumping onto the digital Christmas bandwagon in your comms can be strong, it’s worth thinking about how to be helpful in this setting. What do families actually need, what would make this way of celebrating easier? I wouldn’t be surprised if services such as Zoom, HouseParty, gaming platforms and others open up a little bit more around the holidays or add some special features – similarly to what they did back in March when we first started the lockdown(s). Free access for certain groups? Festive backgrounds? Music? Extended call time? If we have to be in front of the screen for the holidays …how can it be just a little bit more magical?

Many families will be celebrating the true meaning of Christmas this year - togetherness and gratitude.
Many families will be celebrating the true meaning of Christmas this year - togetherness and gratitude.

The True Meaning Chasers

The emotional barometer of the nation has shifted over the last nine months. Our hearts and minds have opened, expectations lowered and – for many – we have assumed a greater appreciation for life’s simple pleasures. There’s also been a craving for the familiar, a real hankering for nostalgia and retro brands – brands that can transport us back to better times. Cottagecore (a romanticised interpretation of rural lifestyles) is a great example and, as any search of Instagram will tell you, has been incredibly popular among consumers.

I think this will extend to Christmas 2020 with many desperate to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas – togetherness and gratitude – something that is often lost in our modern fast paced world. This is supported by Tesco’s Christmas Report which found that 32% of consumers say traditions will be more important than in previous years, and 40% of 18-34 year olds believe that a traditional family Christmas is more important than ever. In a different survey, John Lewis found that the UK consumers plan to spend less but will be more thoughtful about what they give to someone, with a quarter planning to give a gift to their neighbour or a member of their local community this year – twice as many compared to last.

This search for meaning, the appeal of nostalgia, and the appreciation of community will all have an impact in how families spend Christmas, and will surely be reflected in gift buying too with a significant shift towards people purchasing presents with meaning, are sustainable, eco-friendly, support small businesses and are focused on wellbeing and connecting as a family.

We’ve been hearing about a shift in consumer attitudes for a while: first, the Millennials were touted as being particularly caring about companies’ values, then Generation Z and finally Generation Alpha (unfair towards Gen X, if you ask me). Marketing lingo notwithstanding, I strongly believe that after the wringer that 2020 has been, consumers of all ages will have ‘sped up’ towards evaluating businesses on their overall contribution to community, their sustainability and employment practices and the way they dealt with challenges they faced. ‘What were you doing in 2020?’ will be a consideration criteria we never knew we’d have – but one that many will embrace, alongside the more value and community-led holiday season purchases and traditions.

For most of us, Christmas just isn't Christmas without family.
For most of us, Christmas just isn't Christmas without family.

The Creatives

So, on one level, we’re all having to get creative this holiday season, and I don’t just mean Googling how to make a lovely homemade card or have a Zoom office party. It’s also about how to make the most of an unusual time – and figure out the maths of how many family and friends we’re allowed to see (not many!).

But on a different level – I do also expect some creative ‘rule breaking’ to take place around the holidays. A recent Good Morning Britain survey revealed that 80% of Brits said they are willing to break lockdown rules to see loved ones in person over the holidays. For most, it’s simply because Christmas just isn’t Christmas without family, and they will find a rationale for why it’s okay for them and reluctantly do whatever it takes to be with their loved ones over the holidays. Others will be led by perceived necessity – someone in the family may be alone, or suffering.

I’m not giving anyone ideas, but we have all heard stories of people willing to set up a business and employ the entire family on zero-hour contracts to legally congregate for a ‘working lunch’ on December 25, before running through the agenda. Crackers pulled? Tick. Paper crowns worn? Tick. Turkey carved? Tick.

It’s not my place to stand on either side of the ethics argument of whether or not ‘creative methods’ are okay and to what extent. As a writer must love all their characters, as a strategist, I must love or at least understand the people around me. What I can say I’ve observed is that people will be more inclined to trust, engage with or ultimately buy from the brands that have not judged them too harshly (in Tesco’s language – “no naughty list”). Families are doing their best. It’s our job to support them.

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