Adlanders Reveal Christmas Cultures Around the World
Christmas means different things in different places. In some countries it means very little at all. Others celebrate on similar scales but in completely different styles. On top of that, Christmas obviously offers up massive possibilities for brands, both in revenue and advertising – after all, in the UK the holiday period has been dubbed the country's ‘Super Bowl’. Addison Capper caught up with ad folk from around the globe to see what Christmas means to them and how the ad industry gets to grips with it.
Colombia - Juan Pablo Garcia, General Business Director, Lowe SSP3
Christmas time in Colombia is in fact the most important season of the year in a country with no seasons. Beyond the importance of religious traditions, Christmas has the power to let Colombians live in a different country for a couple of months. The presence of conflict is often hard to forget or get away from, Christmas allows for a distraction from the hostility. The season reminds Colombians to continue hoping for a peaceful state, forget the ongoing war for a little while and celebrate with friends and family.
In Colombia, the most iconic Christmas ads evoke nostalgia and emotion through music. Classic radio spots and jingles are very common during the holiday months. For the last 10 to 15 years, Colombians have grown up with the same Christmas radio spots and everyone starts singing automatically as soon as they come on air. Beyond the traditional commercial advertisements, some of the most iconic Colombian Christmas campaigns in recent years are those for the Colombian Ministry of Defence, inviting guerrillas to demobilise and go home to their families. Growing up in homes where Christmas is the happiest time of year can soften even the hardest guerrillas.
Australia - Hilary Badger, Senior Creative, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne
Every Australian visiting Europe or the US at Christmas has had the same thought: ah, now I get the whole Christmas thing. Because these places are where Christmas the traditional way really makes sense. To feel connected to carols about sleighs, you need actual snow. And to enjoy plum pudding you need freezing cold weather, assuming anyone actually does enjoy plum pudding.
Australians have always given the traditional Christmas a good crack. We spray artificial snow on shop windows. Many of us shamelessly love a plastic fir tree, trimmed with sun-faded baubles. And every year we attempt carols by candlelight even if it doesn’t get dark until 9pm thanks to daylight saving, by which time most children are less wide-eyed with wonder than hysterical with fatigue.
We’ve always added Australian touches to Christmas, of course. It’s long been a thing to have plum pudding as well as a pavlova for dessert on the day. But lately Northern Hemisphere tradition has lost even more ground, which has to be due to the sheer awesomeness of Australia at Christmas. Snow and plum pudding seem a distant second to prawns and berries, blue skies and beaches. And plastic fir trees are especially lame compared with the alternative: native plants or proud non-tree trees like Clemenger’s own annual tradition. This year our tree was made of thousands of recyclable coffee cups.
And then there’s the increasingly un-European feel of our community. Australia put down its European roots in the grimmest, most shameful of ways. Nothing can restore our indigenous culture to what it was, but it’s at least positive that we can absorb, mostly harmoniously, so many new traditions. Thanks to Southern European, then Asian and now African and Middle Eastern immigrants, Australia is much more than its colonial past. This is becoming more and more obvious in the way we celebrate Christmas, for those Australians who do.
Brazil - Gustavo Soares, Creative Director, J. Walter Thompson Brazil
"Então é Natal, a festa cristã."
There is the chorus from Lennon and Yoko's ‘Happy X-mas, War is Over’, as translated into Portuguese by Simone, a local legend. Probably (and to our despair) her biggest hit, in an even cheesier execution than the original.
At Christmas you have your auntie enquiring about when you plan on having babies, your dad badly dressed as Santa, your drunk uncle repeating the untranslatable pavê joke endlessly and there is your own stomach, trying to make sense of the merciless Pantagruelian meal you have just devoured.
And in spite of all that, it's wonderful. Advertising plays a big part of it, the ads setting the mood to the evening. Big local brands have had their go in past years, such as Bauducco and Boticário doing amazing work for the holidays. But Christmas and Coke, having always been inseparable, reunited in the most flamboyant way this year.
It will be a special moment when my mom pauses Simone so we can hear our Coca-Cola ad. Everybody will be pretty high on spirits, so I expect a lot of emotion. It is over 4 minutes long and it tells you about a boy whose belief in Santa changes the life of an entire village. Drunk uncles, brace yourselves for crying.
Spain - Juan Sevilla, Creative Director, LOLA
Christmas in Spain is as omnipresent as anywhere, but for me, more than a commercial or religious time of year, it’s celebration time. Its origins are religious, and some people take that part really seriously, but the festive, party atmosphere takes over. People take full advantage of the days off (which includes Christmas, New Year and the Epiphany (this year on January 6th) and hit the streets. They go out drinking, dancing, over-eating, singing and non-stop visiting with friends and family. It’s a time to be with your crew, enjoying simple pleasures and for people who live outside of Spain to come home.
Advertising in Spain at Christmas time isn’t as big of a tradition as it is in other countries like the UK or the States. There are two brands, the Christmas Lottery and Freixenet champagne, that do big campaigns every year and get talked about a lot, but no one is waiting with such big expectations as they do in other markets.
Maybe that´s because we’re too busy out celebrating.
The Spanish Lottery ad below was made by Leo Burnett.
South Africa - Kabelo Lehlongwane, Deputy Director of Strategy, FCB Johannesburg
It’s Christmas eve and the sun is all kinds of dominant. I’m at my Dad’s place in the township and the whole gang is here. Uncles. Cousins. The yard is littered with varying degrees of brat (I love my nieces and nephews, I promise). We’re outside having a braai. A braai is like a barbecue that’s only about 1600 times more offensive to vegans. The beer and whiskey is flowing freely.
The neighbours inexplicably have their TV on full blast. Through no fault of our own, my Dad’s ‘Greatest Hits of (insert 80’s RnB and/or Pop icon here)’ is routinely interrupted by ‘Celebrate the Mother of All Christmas Deals at Take-A-Lot dot com’ and ‘Get red hot deals on all Samsung Tablets, only at VodaShop’ and other such retail droning.
I take a cursory glance at my Facebook feed and every time I look, there’s someone flogging a digital flier to some party. If the artwork is anything to go by, each of these parties holds the promise of scantily clad girls who will force feed me shots of Skyy Vodka plus a line-up of DJ’s whose music I’ll either be too cool or too drunk to dance to. I experience what can only described as a heat wave of FOMO.
I look around and realise this family get-together has almost nothing to do with Santa or The Sweet Baby Jesus Lying in His Manger. Yes, we’ll all be dragged to church in the morning but even there, there will be no carolling to speak of. And with any luck, we’ll be out of our church clothes and into our short-sets in an hour. Back to the serious business of braaiing.
In fact, if it were not for Christmas-styled retail ads chiming in from my neighbours’ 4000 decibel TV, I wouldn’t even know it was Christmas eve. It feels like half the reason advertisers even adorn their tills with tinsel or make ads during this time of the year is remind South Africans that it’s Christmas in a bid to induce some kind of spending frenzy.
The Christmas decorations are a little lazy and kept to a minimum. Apart from the brats, no one has any realistic hopes of getting a gift of any nature. I can’t really speak for white South Africans, but I can’t imagine Jonathan’s house being decked in artificial snow and reindeer on the roof. The only marked difference in Jonathan’s world would be the gifting. White people part-take in this more than Black South Africans
As a Black South African, my summers have always been a period of social activities, music, friends and family that have been crudely smeared with the obligatory Christmas Tree. It has lights. It’s plastic. Much like the advertising during arguably the biggest period for unimaginative retailers. And like most South Africans, they seem to be caught between a red hot summer and an ideal that relies heavily on a picturesque fireplace in order to generate any kind of warmth.
Japan - Akira Shimomura, Planning Director, Ogilvy & Mather Japan
In Japan Christmas starts right after Halloween.
Meticulously decorated Christmas trees pop up at every shopping complex. A jazz version of Silent Night becomes the background music played inside the lift. But despite the festive mood, Christmas was never an official holiday in Japan. Only 1 per cent of the population in Japan are of Christian religion.
On the other hand, the commercial success of Christmas is massive. The economic impact of Christmas in Japan is reported to be about US$ 5.5 billion. Of course, children get the latest games and toys from their parents, but the main spending is between younger couples exchanging gifts and dining out on Christmas day.
For many years, international brands having taken advantage of Christmas. Coke has always been a regular Christmas advertiser, owning the festive moment with a Christmas version of its share happiness campaign. KFC has created a ritual to buy fried chicken barrels to eat home on Christmas night. Tiffany makes Christmas a romantic moment for couples with new ideas in gifting.
Japan has fully embraced the idea of Christmas and has made it a very unique and special ‘unofficial’ holiday.
Ireland - Rose Paget, Account Manager, Guns or Knives
Like many other nationalities, the Irish have a small number of traditions that have become a rite of passage over the festive season; The Late Late Toy Show, Bono busking on Grafton Street on Christmas Eve, the annual pilgrimage to Mass, making sure a bottle of red lemonade is in stock at home.
While we wouldn’t have the same expectations from brands in comparison to John Lewis, many local Christmas TV ads have a life cycle of at least three to four years, with a few exceptions who roll out a new ad each December. A few classics make a welcome return every year including the great Barry’s Tea radio ad, which still manages to tug at the heartstrings after over a decade.
In recent years, it’s been refreshing to see brands turning the spotlight on those who are in real need over the festive period, encouraging giving and spending of a different kind – a new kind of festive, corporate responsibility, which is great to see and long may it last!
Raising a glass to you and yours this Christmas.
Sweden - Markus Lindsjö, Creative Director, CP+B Scandinavia
The Swedish Christmas is an important holiday. Because after a long and dark fall we all really need to relax and recharge our batteries.
Everybody agrees on this. But in reality Swedes are never as stressed as before and during Christmas. We call the feeling Christmas spirit.
We celebrate with our loved ones on Christmas eve, the 24th. Christmas day, the 25th, is the one day of the year when it’s ok to do absolutely nothing. Or maybe I shouldn’t say nothing. Most Swedes spend the day watching ski jumping and Ivanhoe on the TV. Nobody has any idea why this is important and when this tradition started, but since we are well behaved, we keep doing it. On the evening of the 25th we eat pizza in order to compensate for all the Christmas food.
Of course, Christmas is mainly for our kids. That's why we let them wait the whole day before they get to open any presents. And while waiting, they also have to watch an old compilation of Disney shorts. From the sixties.
The advertising world is all about tactical messages before and during Christmas. Buy! Cheap! Christmas Sale! And everybody’s looking for the official Christmas gift of the year.
This year it’s a robot vacuum cleaner.
This is a Christmas stunt CP+B did for Stena Line, the biggest ferry company in Europe.
Norway - Ine Kim, Communications & Social Media Manager, FinchFactor
I never really realised how big Christmas is in Norway until I moved abroad. Then, all of a sudden, I was the crazy Christmas lady who's always a bit too much. After all, any country that robs its people from daylight throughout a majority of the year will embrace the excuse to go a bit overboard with lights, sparkles and decoration. Visit Norway in December and every single window will be lit up by shining Christmas lights in the shape of stars or 'julestake'. For me, this is the biggest contrast with, lets say, the UK or The Netherlands. It's not primarily a big commercial spectacle, but truly a part of the ordinary household on an individual level.
As a Norwegian you have a very personal relationship with Christmas because of the engraved traditions. The various collective rituals and customs, passed on through generations, make us feel attached to each other - as a society and as different individuals.
In many ways, Christmas in Norway is a unison experience, where most people tend to do the same things. It kicks off with advent - I only stopped receiving a gift calendar from my mother this year (I left the nest almost ten years ago so that says something). Every Sunday throughout advent, many families gather around to light a candle in the 'Advents krans', and you're busy baking cookies to make sure you will be able to provide the 'mandatory' seven sorts of Christmas cookies when the holiday starts.
I've had friends and family over during Christmas from the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Brazil, Korea and Curacao. Their feedback? Everything is over the top. A lot of food. A lot of presents. A lot of 'hjerte rom' - room in your heart. It's become a bit of a Norwegian Christmas motto, to show 'hjerterom' during the season.
Most Christmas ads play on these heavy traditions, whether through mock-offs of classic TV shows, getting you excited about traditional dishes or standard rituals like getting back from church to a house filled with aroma. As Norway is quite a long stretched country, and many people spend hours travelling back to their families, it's a big season for typical 'driving home for Christmas' types of messages. But all in all the ads stick to these general 'getting excited about Christmas' themes, as anything too 'commercial' tends to be met with harsh critics from the Christmas loving Norwegians.
China - Ng Jit Hoong, Vice-President, DDB China Group, Managing Director, DDB Group Shanghai
Christmas is not a public holiday in China. With the exception of those who celebrate the occasion for religious reasons, the majority of Chinese people do not understand, nor have any inclination of Christmas. In fact, in smaller cities, they begin putting up Chinese New Year (CNY) decorations rather than the Christmas tree.
While we see a number of malls installing amazing decorations for the festive season, the underlining meaning of this is all about promoting sales. Such behaviour has also moulded consumers in China who understand that Christmas signifies a year-end sale. Without the deep-rooted understanding of the origins, if there’s a celebration, it is usually a social event rather than a private one with family. Young revellers get friends together for a night out to celebrate Christmas more as just an opportunity to have a fun evening.
How do brands react to Christmas? Besides retail brands that might see the opportunity to cash in on the festive season, most brands focus on CNY as their main push for driving incremental sales. Christmas is rarely in any marketing agenda and most marketers in China would put their focus and budget into CNY as that would be culturally relevant to consumers here.
Germany - Oliver Frank, ECD, VCCP Berlin
German Christmas. It does sound like a quirky advertising idea in itself. A black and white santa, no smiles, trees aligned like a military parade.
However, truth is, you might be not far off guessing that Germans take Christmas more serious than other cultures.
Which might have to do with the fact that we celebrate Christmas on the evening of December 24th, and not in the morning and in our pyjamas, like anglo-saxons do.
We dress up. We put on suits, our best dress, wardrobe, make our kids comb their hair and look like an heir to a throne we don’t even have to offer. On the eve of December 24th, most of us go to church first, sit through clerical speeches and singing, making our kids wait to an unbearable level until they explode before they are allowed to tear away the wrapping paper of their presents under the Christmas tree once we come home.
Thing is: With the evening tradition, plus added winter darkness, comes a certain sense of gravitas. Christmas in Germany is heavy, and probably an event with the most serious and deep reflection on how we are blessed to live our lives. Unlike in other cultures. Christmas is less a celebration for Germans, but more a memorial day. In church, we pray for the ones who are in need, we think of the people we have lost, we take a moment to look at ourselves through the eyes of humanity. No pinata here. And then we exchange presents as our sign of mutual appreciation, sing some Christmas tunes, and indulge, because it’s Christmas, after all, innit?
However heavy Christmas might be for Germans – when it comes to advertising, we have witnessed an inspiring shift. For long, Germans have not been able to really bond with the anglo-saxon red-and-white cheerful celebration of Xmas – naming the Coke truck parade here. However, with the Brits inventing a tradition of big brands sending out inspiring and heart-warming messages like John Lewis and Sainsbury’s in the run-up to Christmas, gutsy German brands and great creative agencies have managed to do the same and might have just started to a establish a new tradition: If you got something to say to the world as a brand, Christmas might be the right time to be heard. Becauese people are tuned to a frequency beyond selling. It is he time to get the right words out.
Germany saw this year an unprecedented avalanche of ambitious Christmas ads by German brands. Some tried to trigger controversy and clicks, like Edeka. Some stayed beautifully true to the true core of the German Christmas tradtion, like Heimat with Otto, when it comes to thinking about the people we lost and doing what you might not be thinking of doing any other time of the year – make somebody happy.
Yes, Christmas ads will become Germany’s Superbowl ads, and I am looking forward to it because it will motivate all creatives in our country to put their minds to coming up with ideas to deliver one of those beautiful messages that rarely are asked for in a brief during the rest of the year.
France - Damien Bellon, Creative Director, BETC Paris
In France we don’t have the tradition of big TV productions for Christmas as in the UK. For a long time things didn’t get more exciting than prints showing piles of chic handbags in the shape of a Christmas tree, complete with a dusting of fake snow.
One reason for this could be that all TV advertising for supermarkets and department stores was banned under French law until 2007.
Super bowl in the US and Christmas in the UK are two major events in the world of advertising, and beyond. Here in France it’s a bit different, rather than being focused on a time of the year or an event that type of anticipation would more likely be built up around certain brands that create what we in France call “Sagas” – series of ads built on the same creative concept, examples from our agency is the work we do for Canal+ or the Evian babies.
Still it doesn’t come near the John Lewis count down – also a 'saga'.
Christmas ads are now picking up big awards in Cannes - adam&eveDDB hit the grand slam with Monty the penguin and Harvey Nichols (I spent it on myself).
This year the Mulberry Christmas ad is definitely up there and it seems now that every creative agency wants to be part of the big game and brands are seeing the business opportunities that come with the creative xmas hits.
Here in France we certainly don’t have the same line-up as you do in the UK.
Publicis have done some nice work for Orange. After the 'The Wise Man' for Canal+ a couple of years ago, the broadcaster was back this year with a cute (?) warthog.
Christmas advertising is certainly growing in France, inspired by the UK, and an increasing amount of briefs for big TVC are landing on the creatives desks.
The selling machine is on and once again we will probably end up spending as much as we will eat over Christmas.