Advertisements in the time of Covid. What not to do at Christmas.
October 15, 2020

Christmas is the favorite time of children all over the world. Lights, parties, gifts, and good food. All this magic returns to envelop us every year with its warmth.

But Christmas is not just a children’s party. There is another category of people who do more during the Christmas period than in the rest of the year. We are not talking about Santa’s elves or Sainsbury’s cashiers.
We talk about advertisers.

Every year our communication channels are filled with muffled commercials imbued with good intentions, typical of the culture that “everyone is good at Christmas”. Banquets of loving families, choirs of white-dressed children, and lovers in a cabin under the snow. Images that seem to praise progress and the exaltation of human values. Unfortunately, however, we know, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Is Christmas communication always wrong?
There are some best practices, not just Christmas of course, that could remove brands from the risk of a colossal communication flop. It is enough to assume three precise attitudes towards reality:

• To face the present
• To be different
• To grasp the change

We at Hydrogen, without wishing to be too presumptuous, have made a bet on the future of advertising at Christmas 2020. What will change? What could change? But above all, how to best practice?


The crisis caused by the current pandemic will not fade for several months. This means that next Christmas will also be overwhelmed by the same uncertainty that we are experiencing now.
The threat of a possible lockdown is always upon us and imagining a Christmas indoors away from loved ones does not seem to be a mere utopia. In short, “Christmas with your family, Easter with whoever you want”? Not exactly.

The idea of spending the entire Christmas holidays under lockdown brings with it two elements of serious social difficulty. Elements that not only institutions but also advertisers should keep in mind.

Loneliness: during Christmas time the perception of loneliness is always greater. Social, institutional, and brand communications tend to enhance the beauty of Christmas understood as the celebration of families, meetings, and hugs. A lonely person cannot have this. This leads these people to suffer more under the holiday season. We can only imagine the devastating effect that total closure would have on these people. Which wouldn’t only hurt lonely people. We would all try a certain amount of anger and envy in seeing happy families enjoying panettone on TV.

The economic crisis: we have already experienced this in recent months. Closing all commercial activities under the Easter period led to enormous losses in the economic sector. Doing it around Christmas, the favorite time of traders and tourism companies would be devastating. As imaginable, the turnover at Christmas time for any business doubles or triples compared to the rest of the year. Unless you have a bathhouse in Riccione, you are just waiting for Christmas to sell and sell-off. A merchant forced to close during the holidays, eating every day opulent and joyful Christmas advertisements would digest the situation very badly.

In a full lockdown, television and social networks are the closest tools to citizens. Brands need to take social dynamics into account before deciding which commercials to air and how to communicate with people in such a difficult time.


Being empathetic towards the difficulties to be faced in this period is not the only element to keep in mind. But besides being correct, what should communication have to speak better to people? Let’s look at the three practices:

1. Dealing with the present: we reveal some background, in many cases, different advertising agencies have started working on the Christmas 2020 spots since last January. Almost twelve months ahead of Christmas. As we all know, this part of water under the bridge has passed in abundance since January. For example, in January, if we needed it, we wouldn’t even know where to buy a surgical mask. This says a lot about how much things have changed. Accelerating times is part of our market culture that somehow tries to burn the competition by trying to go faster (here a previous article about the problems caused by the time factor). However, one problem remains: chasing the future means letting the present slip away. To put it in a colorful English expression “If you have one foot in the past and one foot in the future, you’re pissing on the present.”

Facing the present means being ready to accept the stimuli that come from society day by day. Observe its fast changes. Facing the present also means being prepared for the worst.

2. Grasping change: linked to the ability to face the present, grasping change is the second attitude to have to face this crisis.
CoVid-19 has hit our economy like hail on a cornfield. The harvest is destroyed and very little has been saved. Those who had stocked up on resources in the past, for the moment, are making a living. Everyone else throws years of work away.
Many things have changed dramatically and the opportunities have not died, they have simply changed. Carrying out a careful analysis of the target means accepting the fact that people’s expectations and desires change according to the times. There is nothing to do, you have to have the courage to change.

3. Be different: the biggest risk that every advertiser takes is not to expose themselves too much. It is the usual fear of the difference that authorizes us to remain anonymous and flat, trying to imitate the flock and avoid anything that may be different. We have already seen it during the last lockdown and we risk seeing it shortly. We will create nice and effective slogans and we will teasing propose in advertisements. The real challenge is to get out of the chorus to tell what really is in people’s heads and hearts. Although this could cost effort and research. If people carry a load of stress, anxiety, frustration, and distrust, there’s no point in trying to get around it with a good sentence. We need to find new keys to reading and dialogue. A communication channel to talk to people. Language varies from individual to individual because the emotional and linguistic channels with which we tune in are different. In the agency, the study of the different communication channels and linguistics is of daily interest. Some time ago we also created a special on the evolution of language. Brands should capture these channels and diversify, orient themselves, and ultimately communicate with those in front of them. Customers are not boxes to fill or wallets to empty. Customers are our best business partners.

In short, from “At Christmas, we are all good” to “Christmas we are all healthier” the step is short.


So what will we see on TV next Christmas? In Hydrogen, this question was born almost as a joke but we realized that maybe it was worth talking about. With or without lockdown in progress, Christmas 2020 will be marked by the presence of Covid. An element that has now become constant in our society.

The advertising schedule, devoid of any consideration of the best practices mentioned above, could lead to two types of scenarios:

1. let’s pretend nothing has happened: in the worst case, the advertisements conceived and created in January will be broadcast. At that time we remember very well how the world was. Nothing new then. We will see the usual things, which will risk squeezing our hearts to the point of crushing it. In short, a total flop. Something that certainly should be avoided.

2. let’s pretend that people are happy despite everything: even, in this case, the scenario would not change much. Instead of pretending that Covid does not exist, you can pretend to consider Christmas a beautiful party even in full lockdown. All closed at home, perhaps without a job, probably alone or miles from home, but equally happy. We will see, why not, videos of children enjoying the panettone while video calling their grandparents. Or they unpack the gifts that Santa Claus has carefully entrusted to some shipping company that, in full lockdown, will make its employees work like computers. Because there is a mission to fulfill: to bring his Christmas present to every child in the world. Crowds of deliverymen happy to drive for miles under the snow shouting “At Christmas, everything can be fine”. In short, to paraphrase “Il Gattopardo”: everything would change so that everything remains the same.

What’s wrong with these two elements? It lacks a minimum sense of realism. As well as a dose of courage and empathy.

During the past lockdown, many of us promised ourselves that we would never, ever have to go back to normal. Precisely because it was the normality that had led us to that situation. In short, replicating the two factors listed is simply a myopic re-proposition of that unwanted normality.

The change comes from the courage to look around.
First, you accept reality as it is, only then do you try to change it.

Christmas is the feast of the birth of a great man and the rebirth of every man. Well, this is the real opportunity to be seized. Celebrate this anniversary as a real, great, and new opportunity for our society.

The message of Christmas is to love the spark of eternity that is inside each of us. To do this, however, you need to have the courage to look at each other in the eye. To enter the darkness that inhabits each of us and illuminate it. Finding a comparison, a channel for dialogue.
Starting a relationship with a person different from us means first of all asking ourselves: how can we make sure that the heart of our neighbor can find peace and smiles?