FMCG brands can make an impact this Christmas, even with coronavirus constraints

By Liz Richardson

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: GettyImages/DGM007
Pic: GettyImages/DGM007

Related tags FMCG Christmas

Given that a ‘three-tier’ restriction system has recently been implemented across England, the likelihood of staple December activities seems rather slim. Everything from the crib service, Santa’s grotto, cracker-pulling wars - it’s all up in the air, as are the marketing plans of FMCG brands, says Liz Richardson, managing director and partner at HeyHuman.

Brands usually assign a significant portion of their marketing budgets to this time of year, often becoming festive fixtures in their own right – it just wouldn’t be Christmas without the John Lewis ads, after all.

Many brands are also active in-store and on the country’s high streets, surprising shoppers with samples, festive activations, and memories to build a rich seasonal experience. 

But cutting and pasting previous years' plans with a nod to ‘social distancing’ is something brands need to avoid. The most successful names will have understood the new consumer behaviours forged as a result of coronavirus, and have the flair to adapt Christmas rituals and traditions to tap into these new behaviours.

As the industry that is literally on families’ tables on Christmas day, it is FMCG’s job to lead the way, sprinkling joy in difficult times. Here are four ways that brands can do this.

More intimate socialising

It seems likely the rule of six will still be in place for the festive season, but even if not, we have become used to, and generally more comfortable with, more intimate socialising. Activities that cater to smaller groups will put people at ease and facilitate connection at a time when it will be most needed. Over the summer, brands like the AA and Haagen-Dazs showed us their socially distanced twist on the classic drive-in cinema model to make the experience feel new, exciting, and special.

christmas Deagreez
It is likely the rule of six will still be relevant at Christmas, says Liz Richardson. Pic: GettyImages/Deagreez

So, rather than focusing on restrictions, think of the rule of six as an opportunity to facilitate new moments of deeper connection for your customers. Perhaps the humble door drop is poised to make a return – a door-dropped, branded game of Charades from a suitable FMCG brand would provide some retro entertainment, and really drive home that feeling of camaraderie.  

At home glow-ups

Who doesn’t love dressing up in their finest sparkles over Christmas? While our social calendar may look emptier this year, there is no doubt that people will still crave the experience of glamming up that is so strongly associated with the festive season. At-home and pop-up beauty experiences have seen a huge spike in 2020 as people struggle to get appointments, or worry about the safety of visiting a local salon - FMCG can certainly muscle into this and offer that sense of occasion and luxury. 

Christmas dinner is the optimum opportunity for the glammed-up group photo (no matter how small this year), and any number of the festive-focused treat brands could offer a branded filter on social media, an AR or VR in-app experience, an on-pack QR code leading to an interactive photo opp. Basically, just something to amplify the in-home experience beyond its four walls, ramp up shareability and lend a little glitz and glamour to proceedings. 

Virtual gifting

While Christmas is often a time to come together, sadly this year many of us will remain apart. Although Zoom fatigue is at an all-time high, the majority of us will have to return to our early lockdown digital behaviours to connect with loved ones. Brands that can add a little novelty to these exchanges can create more memorable moments that bring people together beyond the usual video call.

If your brand is usually enjoyed over Christmas in a shared setting, how can you create a fun, virtual gifting experience? Mars’ Treat Town app is a great early example of something that could be repurposed and rolled out again around Christmas – it currently aims to create an in-home Halloween experience, helping kids to collect virtual ‘treats’ which they can then swap in a local store for real sweets.

Curated experiences

As people have spent more time at home this year, brands recreated familiar experiences as a way of acknowledging people’s need for safe entertainment. Names like Shake Shack and Bacardi offered curated packages that recreated the experience of enjoying their products in restaurants to great success. Not only did this help recreate familiar experiences, but also tapped into the scratch-cooking and cocktail trends that were synonymous with lockdown.

christmas jenifoto
Christmas should be viewed as an opportunity, even amid a pandemic. Pic: GettyImages/jenifoto

Is there a way that your brand can be packaged up in a curated experience that fills the need for safe entertainment this festive season? For the first time ever, Shake Shack gave customers the chance to recreate its beloved burger, at home – other FMCG brands can certainly take a cue here. Christmas is a time for giving.

The drive towards local

One big winner of 2020 has been the local store, with an unprecedented surge in visits as people’s usual shopping occasions were transformed. The trend seems to be here to stay, as people’s renewed appreciation for the range and quality in their local store, as well as a sense of community and safety, continues to drive frequent visits.

There is a huge opportunity for brands to tap into this channel, especially as HeyHuman’s own research has shown 98% of people are comfortable with face-to-face promotional activities in their local store, plus a further 82% are willing to engage with promotional staff there too.

If your brand invested in sampling and activations pre-COVID, this could be a huge opportunity to engage with potential customers in a space where they are receptive.

Christmas isn’t cancelled, nor will it feel ‘lesser than’, but many of us are realising it is going to be different. The brands that have been winning so far this year are the ones that have had an acute understanding of the new consumer behaviours emerging throughout the pandemic, and tapping into them to offer more – not just substitutes. FMCG brands are perfectly positioned to continue this in the festive season to facilitate moments of intimate, sometimes virtual, connection that will bring people together and make it a Christmas worth remembering for the right reasons. 

Liz Richardson is managing director and partner at HeyHuman, and a member of FoodNavigator’s Expert Advisory Panel.

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