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Claire Beale on Advertising: Less glitter, and a tacit nod to tougher times


With the Bank of England now warning that the economy could slide into a triple-dip recession in the next few weeks, the stakes are higher than ever for the multi- million pound Christmas ad campaigns just being launched by Britain's biggest brands. How some High Street retailers perform over this crucial sales period will determine whether they survive to see another Christmas.

Yet rather than adopt the usual seasonal trappings of joviality and excess, beneath this year's advertising tinsel there's a sombre acknowledgement that for many of us this is going to be an austerity Christmas. The traditional glossy advertising extravaganzas that got us all excitedly reaching for the credit card in the good times have been replaced by stripped-back sets and a tacit nod to tougher times.

Out go those expensive smug-grinned celebrities and in come stressed-out mums struggling to make Christmas special on a tight budget.

There's still some feel-good sparkle, of course with Marks & Spencer and Debenhams shaking some glitter. But this year is about spending sensibly, with brands keen to be seen as in touch with consumers and sensitive to the economic challenges they face. At Boots we're encouraged to "give gifts that keep on giving," while stressed-out mums at Asda and Morrisons are keeping it all together (just) and counting the pennies at the same time. Meanwhile Sainsbury's pared back but homely vignettes with a folksy soundtrack contrast pointedly with the brash Jamie Oliver work of old.

Getting that balance right, between encouraging us to enjoy ourselves by spending our way to happiness and recognising that we don't have as much to spend as we'd like, is crucial for advertisers. Most are doing a pretty good job of meeting that challenge. Humour and big, gooey dollops of love are touchstones.

Tesco tells us "Christmas is a feeling not a season", while John Lewis urges us to "give a little more love this Christmas". Waitrose's entire strategy is built around a cut-price ad that has freed up an extra £1m to plough into local good causes.

Few of the ads have the impact guaranteed by a lavish shoot and a big-name celebrity but most do a good job of making a little go a long way, which seems rather appropriate don't you think?

Claire Beale is editor of Campaign