This Christmas, brands need to refresh the familiar.

Written by: Victoria White, Senior Strategist and Dan Bowers, Chief Strategy Officer
Illustrations and animations by: Oliver Cookson, Tim Ward, Ivan Langham and Nick Raven

Insights provided by the Human Understanding Lab

Picture the scene – happy shots of the family gathered together in garish festive jumpers. Semi-frazzled mum producing a perfect turkey dinner pretty much single-handed. Granny snoring loudly in the armchair. Brands have a long history of relying on familiar traditions (not to mention clichés) when it comes to Christmas. 

But this year is different. Our research has found that, for Christmas 2020, the usual approach just isn’t going to resonate with the way consumers are actually feeling.

With this in mind, brands need to throw out familiar festive tropes and rewire their approach to align with the new consumer mindset.  

At TMW we create Ideas that Move People – ideas that stimulate emotion and create motivation to drive new consumer behaviour – underpinned by a deeper understanding of human decision making and behaviours. This is provided by our in-house Human Understanding Lab, made up of trend and research experts, behavioural scientists, neuroscientists, and data scientists. We’ve used their custom research capability to explore how people are feeling about Christmas in 2020.

There’s caution in the air


When asking people what they were feeling about Christmas, we found four distinct mindsets emerged, with one clearly standing out as the most prominent. 



Who are they?

Marginally older skew.
Likely to be financially worse off from the pandemic but not as much as other mindsets.

What are they feeling about Christmas?

Still feeling nervous about the pandemic and the thought of things going back to ‘normal’. Consequently, they are cautious about making plans for Christmas and think that the festive season will be different to usual this year.


Ready to return

Who are they?

Demographically they mirror the population.
More likely to be financially better off or to have seen no change in their finances.

What are they feeling about Christmas?

Fed up with the pandemic and desperate for normality. They will be taking this mindset into Christmas with a plan to try and celebrate as their family usually would.



Who are they?

Made up of a younger demographic. 
More likely to be financially better off and to come from a city, especially London.

What are they feeling about Christmas?

Have used the pandemic to discover a new, more simplistic way to live that has resulted in making changes to their day-to-day life. They are looking for a Christmas that focuses on the less rather than the more. 



Who are they?

Younger than other mindsets.
Most likely to be financially worse off due to the pandemic.

What are they feeling about Christmas?

Suffering a negative financial impact from the pandemic, they are worried about how they will afford to celebrate Christmas in their current situation. 

Expecting a different Christmas this year

Our initial hunch was that people would be longing to revert to the old and the familiar this Christmas time – but our research uncovered a different story. We found a strong willingness to accept that change must happen and, importantly, that Christmas will not just carry on as normal.


A desire to reinvigorate and reimagine Christmas

So, there’s a clear expectation that Christmas will be different – but we wanted to understand exactly how it will be different. To do this, we tested a spectrum of narrative themes that brands could follow this festive season. What we discovered was a strong appetite to explore fresh ways to celebrate Christmas. The desire to embrace the chance to change, even around the most traditional of celebrations. 

Christmas narrative themes

Creating New Christmas Traditions
Establishing new traditions around how to celebrate Christmas. 

Drawing a Line Under the Year
Using Christmas to remember and mark the good about 2020.

A Sustainable Christmas
Delivering a more sustainable Christmas without the excess and waste it usually creates.

Back to Basics
A simpler Christmas rooted more in experiences than consumption. 

The Christmas Helper
Solutions for how to prepare, shop, get together and stay safe during a pandemic Christmas.

A Bonanza Christmas
Let’s finish a terrible year with the biggest and best Christmas ever. 

Bargains Galore
Delivering real value to be worn as a badge of pride, by providing the best Christmas bargains.

Reinforce the Familiar
Revisiting all that makes Christmas special for each individual family.

The Christmas narrative themes that came out on top, across all segments, were rooted in how brands can support people to positively embrace a different type of Christmas this year. Except for one or two outliers, the themes that were familiar were not quite as popular. But there were three top themes that indicated a strong desire to refresh Christmas this year:

  • Back to basics
  • Sustainable Christmas
  • Drawing a Line Under the Year

Looking at the results at a more detailed segment level allows us to understand the picture better. The two prominent familiar Christmas themes that appeared to deliver strongly were driven by the response of specific segments. This was to be expected as it reinforced their declared mindsets:

  • Reinforcing the Familiar was heavily supported by the Ready to Return segment.
  • Bargains Galore was preferred by the Struggling and Ready to Return segment – perhaps reflecting their willingness to hunt out bargains when planning for Christmas.

The weakest themes were Christmas Helper (offering support) and Bonanza Christmas – a narrative that invited people to finish off a terrible year with a bigger and better Christmas than ever before. This shows us that it’s time to move on from typical Christmas celebrations and reflect how new expectations have emerged as mindsets have shifted.


Brands need a new voice this Christmas

With a demonstrable desire for change, people are – as always – going to be looking for brands who share their views. They will seek out brands that can deliver a reworked and reinvigorated Christmas for them.

Brands must respond to this and will need to be brave and bold in finding themselves a new voice with something fresh to say about Christmas. This way, brands can demonstrate that they understand the need for the new by tangibly providing ways for people to achieve this, while also being proactive in helping people create a new type of celebration. 

For instance, brands could align their voice with the narrative themes that we found resonated the most:


Back to Basics

The pandemic has led people to revaluate how they currently live and look for simpler solutions going forward. We can use Christmas 2020 to embrace this, showing ways to enjoy a simpler celebration, one more rooted in experiences than consumption. 


A Sustainable Christmas

One of the upsides of lockdown was the positive effect on the environment – so we can build on this to make Christmas 2020 the most sustainable Christmas for years. Let’s look for ways to enjoy the occasion without the excess and waste it usually creates.


Drawing a Line Under the Year

Let’s use this Christmas to remember and mark all the good things that have come out of 2020. We can use the festive season as a chance to show festive support to key workers, tap into the reinvigoration of community spirit or just enjoy the simple pleasures of time with the family.

Human Understanding Lab Omnibus is a quantitative syndicated survey conducted twice a week. The survey is conducted online, interviewing a nationally representative sample of 2,000 GB adults (aged 18+).

Come and talk to TMW and find your new brand voice this Christmas.

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