Portfolio project

Opinion Piece for Brand Design Agency

Start Design is a leading design consultancy, helping businesses meet customer expectations by designing experiences across digital and physical spaces. I’ve helped the agency with its thought-leadership as part of a content marketing strategy that aims to reinforce Start’s positioning at the ‘pace of change’. Working closely with the UK CEO, I created a series of articles to drive web traffic and promote sign up for other thought-leadership content.

Read an example below.

Brands, it’s time to ditch the Christmas Ad.

Getting consumers to understand a brand’s wider purpose is crucial to building value. That’s why it can’t just be left to the Christmas Ad to communicate. Instead, brands must embed their purpose into every retail moment, all year round.

Today’s consumers may fleetingly park their cynicism to shed a tear – and maybe a share – for a lonely old man on the moon. But unless you give purpose to purchase at every retail moment every day, come the New Year, they’ll not only forget but won’t believe your big commitment. That’s when they’ll take their loyalty elsewhere.

Christmas ads are now well and truly part of the festive build-up. Spots by John Lewis and Sainsbury’s are watched and shared hundreds of thousands of times, their release eagerly anticipated and content mauled over. Christmas Number One is no longer just synonymous with whether Adele tops the charts, but which ad is the nation’s most ‘liked’.

Ads with meaning

But will our love for this new kind of schmaltzy Christmas blockbuster last forever? Or are we getting tired of a festive ritual that has many of us rolling our eyes at the shameless sentimentality, or worse, feeling manipulated and a little more cynical as a result.

Microsoft loves Apple: really? Let’s see if that sentiment lasts much beyond Boxing Day. And shouldn’t we be raising an eyebrow at brands piggybacking social issues? Yes, Christmas is tough for many people – but do retailers really have it in their hearts to change it for them? Even the man on the moon is taunted with it as he watches others’ perfect festivities – John Lewis style – through his new telescope. At least he gets to skip the Christmas ads. (And doesn’t live in Germany, if Edeka’s take on Christmas is anything to go by – which incidentally went viral in the days after its release. Eye-roll.).

A Meaningful Purchase?

And are they worth the multi-million pound investment? Interestingly, research shows that big festive ads don’t necessarily influence where people purchase. Mog’s antics may give Sainsbury’s a warm brand glow now – but it will fade as January blows in, according to a Netmums poll. Over 70 per cent mums surveyed said a retailer’s Christmas ad would not persuade them to shop there. Over a third said that Christmas ads do not influence where they shop all year round.

It’s doubtful then, that seasonal ads help brands get their wider purpose across to shoppers the rest of the year. Which is a shame, because consumers prefer brands with meaning. Research by Havas shows that those brands that are perceived to have a positive impact on consumers’ quality of life, or on society as a whole, gain 46% more share of wallet than those that don’t. And the return for conveying this meaning is huge. ‘Meaningful brands’ according to Havas, deliver 100% more KPI outcomes – for retailers this includes purchase and repurchase intent – and outperform the stock market by 133%.

Defining Experiences

So brands that share their wider purpose throughout the entire retail experience will increase the inclination to buy, build deeper connections with consumers and drive loyalty. Sharing this purpose can’t just be a function of above the line activity; we need to find ways to embed it into every retail moment – digital, physical, online and offline.

The physical store has an unfair advantage here, giving us a wealth of opportunities to influence purchase in this way. A physical experience can reinforce bigger messages through revelatory moments that show customers the effect a purchase may have.

This was at the heart of our approach to Oxfam’s store redesign. A visit to Oxfam’s humanitarian warehouse inspired us to create a humanitarian toolkit for stores using the same materials Oxfam uses to save lives, such as crates usually used to deliver vital supplies, tarpaulin used for temporary shelters and corrugated iron used to make water tanks. A tap promotes Oxfam’s ‘water saves lives’ message whilst also merchandising donated clothing. Product hanger and price tags contain direct messages and connect shoppers to the impact that purchase will make. Personal stories from the people that Oxfam has helped around the world connect people to the impact shopping with Oxfam can make. The result is a store that evidences the fantastic work Oxfam does, helping them meet ambitious fund raising targets.

Whether your brand purpose is to make customers’ lives better, or to improve the lives of others, the retail experience needs to highlight the positive impact – both personal and societal – that buying into your brand will have. Giving purpose to every purchase in this way can help to create a retail experience that defines why customers should choose you over the competition. It’s about taking every opportunity to build trust in what you stand for in a way that’s relevant and compelling all year round. Christmas comes but once a year – don’t let your brand’s message do the same.

In the New Year, I’ll be sharing StartJG’s Four Rules to create successful brand expressions and experiences. Contact me to get a copy: kevin.gill@startjg.com







Siobhan Fitzgerald



Tunbridge Wells

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