Caroline O'Donoghue: Four ways to advertise Christmas in a pandemic

Caroline O'Donoghue puts her advertising industry experience to use and compiles a list Christmas ad pitches for all the supermarket marketing in Ireland
Caroline O'Donoghue: Four ways to advertise Christmas in a pandemic
Supermarkets may have to rethink their advertising and marketing strategies for Christmas this year. Picture: Andy Gibson

A friend of mine is writing a Christmas advert at the moment for one of the big supermarkets. 

“It’s difficult to strike the right tone,” he said of the process. “Because Christmas ads are about staying in, being with the people you love, and eating indulgent food. And that’s all anyone has been doing since March.” 

I’m fascinated by this problem. How do you advertise Christmas when all people want this year is a bracing walk, a too-full schedule, and a carrot stick with a bit of hummus on it so they can finally lose the quarantine fifteen? 

How do you advertise Christmas presents when so many people have lost their job? How do you plan a sentimental and high concept seasonal ad where Gran cracks a cracker with her postman (who is also the ghost of her late husband) when even the sight of anyone over 80 now fills us with anxiety?

Well, I didn’t spend four years in the advertising industry for nothing folks, so here’s my completely free list of Christmas ad pitches for all the supermarket marketing teams of these fair isles.

1 Marks and Spencer:

M&S, once the behemoth of high street luxury and imitation cashmere cardigans, has slowly declined in the last decade, to the point where it now feels more like an abandoned day ward for female insanity than a place where you’d spend a quid on a nectarine. 

The flickering strip lighting, the absence of anyone manning the tills, the smashed-in bag of Cheese Tasters on the floor where a five year old evidently decided they’d had enough. 

If you want to know true desolation, visit the clothes bit of an M&S. For their Christmas advert, I recommend simply showing a well-lit Marks and Spencer’s and a title card that reads “We fixed it”.

2 Dunnes Stores:

Dunnes is now what M&S used to be, only better in every conceivable way. 

It has somehow managed to combine the artisan wonder of the English Market, with its little islands of independent cheese and burly protective arms of James Whelan butchers, with the nuts and bolts efficiency of a shop where you can still buy scouring pads and Weetabix.

The only problem with Dunnes is that you can’t go in there for a bottle of milk without spending approximately eighty euro, a serious issue in these trying economic times. 

For this, I recommend a Christmas advert that directly references the scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, where Charlie Bucket is standing with his nose pressed up to the sweet shop’s window while The Candy Man Can plays. 

The Dunnes Man scatters chutney and Wagu beef on the Christmas shoppers of Ireland, while the laid-off masses shiver in bed with the incarcerated elderly, drinking cabbage soup and dreaming of the day they win a trip to the factory and a lifetime supply of black sesame cheese crackers.

3 Tesco:

Tesco is cheap and their stuff is mostly pretty good, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re British and we don’t trust them. It’s time that Tesco included the Irish customer in their advertising, or at least make some attempts to show they understand our point of view. 

To this end, I suggest they hire Paul Mescal to stand in one of their shops and languorously stroke the multipack cans of Club Orange, followed by an extended shot of him rubbing Ballymaloe relish on himself. 

When Paul gets home from his Christmas shop, he’ll elegantly rinse off the relish in his parents ensuite. “I hope the immersion is on,” he’ll whisper. 

The ad will trend on Twitter instantly, chiefly because it capitalises on Ireland’s love of both Paul Mescal and hearing about the immersion.

4 Lidl:

There was a time when Lidl was seen as somewhat exotic, a bit like going on a cheap holiday because Ryanair had begun a service to a random European city that lists its “statue garden” as one of its main attractions. 

Now however, Lidl is quite everyday, like an au pair, or knowing who Angela Merkel is.

Unfortunately, a trip to Lidl is probably the closest thing many Irish people will come to a foreign holiday this year, so I suggest Lidl really lean into this by showing a happy family wandering the aisles and picking up things. “Oskars Surstromming!” a delighted child bleats.

“They’re the best fermented herring fillets you can get,” nods Mum, chucking it into the trolley. 

Everyone goes home to a dinner of black bread and sour cream. Mum and Dad snuggle down into their separate single duvets bizarrely placed on top of a double bed, and dreams of a sturdy welfare system.

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