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GUEST COMMENT Christmas Shopping begins on social

Some of the UK’s most prominent retailers seem to think so, shifting their efforts away from the festive television spectaculars that have come to dominate the season in recent years. M&S ditched its annual cinematic flair in favour of a product-focused campaign with exclusive social content.

Waitrose also chose to eschew the emotional output that has saturated the Christmas ad landscape, instead choosing to go for parody ads of John Lewis’ tear-jerker; the perfect socially-shareable content. Lidl similarly used its outdoor advertising to take a stab at competitors, with the resulting creative used on social, while its Instagram takes a leaf out of M&S’ book.

Retailers are increasingly banking on the power of social media to raise public awareness and increase their brand profile. Iceland’s much publicised #NoPalmOilChristmas ad is prime example. Not only has the video been viewed by over 15 million people and shared over 860,000 times on Facebook alone, but there was an outpour of support from the media and celebrities alike urging the public to sign a petition to air the ad on television. The result? Over 900,000 signatures gathered to date.

But what does all this spell for the future of Christmas advertising? Have we been overloaded with and desensitised by Christmas ads? Or is this shift all part of a new way of delivering content to consumers? Speaking to Marketing Week, Nathan Ansell, Director of Marketing for Clothing and Home at M&S indicated how pivotal a channel social has become for the retailer: “In the world of modern marketing a lot of the entertainment value comes through social sharing and we just wanted to change our approach and be a bit more commercial.”

Brands embracing the commercial possibilities of social are doing so, in part, as a result of the declining numbers in TV viewership. Ahead of the annual Upfronts in May, the New York Timesreported that TV ad spending had begun to drop, estimating it will continue to fall at least 2 per cent each year through 2022. Brand marketers are shifting more capital to the likes of Google and Facebook, as these platforms offer more targeted advertising opportunities, especially among younger demographics which are increasingly distancing themselves from traditional TV in favour of online streaming services, such as Amazon Prime Video. Social platforms have not been immobile either; they’ve wasted no time filling in the free video space, with Facebook Watch and IGTV gaining ground by the day and creating alluring propositions for advertisers.

It comes as no surprise that brands can achieve greater reach and engagement through social. The influence of social media is in fact outpacing that of TV, if our own behaviour is anything to go by. Facebook IQ and Tobii Pro Insight found that, during an eye tracking study, 94% of participants kept their mobile on-hand whilst watching TV, focusing attention on TV only 53% of the time and frequently checking Facebook, especially during ad breaks. Combined with the fact that UK consumers spend an average of two hours per day on social media, the impact of social cannot be underestimated.


Facebook, Twitter and the like may have started out as channels simply used to build brand awareness and increase engagement, but now they are branching out to converting and enabling direct sales. With mobile commerce ever-increasing, this feels like a natural next step in the evolution of social media.

eMarketer estimates that 59% of global e-commerce sales occur on mobile devices, with the figure set to skyrocket in the coming years. According to Diply, a whopping 81% of shoppers have purchased a product after seeing it on social, with participants rating social media as the first place they visit to look for inspiration prior to purchasing, while GlobalWedIndex found that in the UK and US around 53% ecommerce sales converted via social, and around 34% of offline transactions started with a social touchpoint.

This effect is more acute when looking at gifting. Speaking to We Are Social, GlobalWebIndex’s Strategic Insights Analyst, Olivia Valentine, said 3 in 10 survey respondents agreed social media will play a role in helping them determine what to buy people for Christmas this year. Instagram seems especially key in the lead up to the gifting season, with 25% of UK respondents indicating they use the platform prior to making a purchase because it allows them to get a better view of the product.

The convergence of social and payments first took off in the APAC region, with WeChat leading the way, but the West is catching up fast. The hyperconnected consumer wants seamless transition from social to purchase all in-platform.

To that end, all major social media channels are hard at work to make this a reality. Instagram launched a tagging feature, allowing brands to tag items and link directly to that product on their mobile store. Facebook has already commenced direct commerce testing in areas that are not complicated by logistics, including dinner reservations, salon appointments and even holiday bookings. Pinterest has launched Lens, a new feature with built-in object recognition technology that allows users to take a photo and be served related pins. Fulfilling direct social commerce seems to be the current priority across the social media landscape and things seem set to take off in a big way in the next few years. Unsurprisingly, eMarketer predicts that by 2020, social media ad spend will have exceeded that of TV.

So, what should brands do? To begin with, writing off any one channel is never the answer. TV and social are not opposite forces. In fact, they complement each other perfectly. Reporting on ad spending for the upcoming Academy Awards, Variety said that TV content can drive consumers to seek out information via digital and social media. While TV is ideal for reaching out to a broad group of viewers, encouraging them to seek information online, social media is perfect for targeting specific audiences, creating a perfect balance.

Though true social commerce is still far from reality, let alone mass adoption, we increasingly spend more and more of our lives online, therefore the shift we see brands take to allocating more spend on social ads is to be expected. Any brand looking to connect with the hyperconnected consumer of our times, will need to integrate social media into their sales and marketing strategies, ensuring all stages of the social shopping journey are occupied with relevant content, in line with other elements of marketing (TV and beyond). As for the Christmas ad, no it will not disappear from our TV screens altogether. But without a social strategy supporting it, it will simply not be enough to deliver the objectives it’s seeking to fulfil.

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