Knowing how and where to talk to consumers – and with the right message and tone – will be critical for retailers in the second peak season of the pandemic.

NEW golden quarter logo black (Nov 2021)

Sainsbury’s festive ad launched on Sunday trumpeting ‘A Christmas to savour’ – a tone commonly adopted across UK retailers’ golden quarter marketing in 2021.

Following Covid-19 restrictions throughout the 2020 Christmas period, brands and retailers understand that most customers are eagerly anticipating this year’s festivities. 


This mood is reflected in Sainsbury’s television ad, which depicts the traditional family Christmas Day scenes that were put on ice one year ago.

Marks & Spencer’s campaign also centres on the fun and magic of Christmas, adding some sparkle this year after a more charity-focused approach in 2020.

“Our customers tell us that they want to have a bigger and more magical Christmas than ever,” says Sharry Cramond, marketing director at M&S Food, which is running an ad featuring Percy Pig and a festive fairy, voiced by Tom Holland and Dawn French respectively.


Drinks retailer Majestic Wine is hearing similar messages, with customer director Matthew Gaunt saying that research showed “people were just looking forward to getting back to seeing friends and family and having the Christmas they didn’t have in 2020”. 

Striking the right tone

Life might feel like it’s returning to normal, but that’s not entirely the case. There are new pandemic-influenced consumer behaviours to consider, more online shoppers, and fresh challenges and opportunities attached to all this.

Some indices show pent-up spending demand among UK consumers, but caution is still a watchword for other households.

Smaller budgets are a reality for some due to furlough or redundancy, while a hike in living costs adds further pressure.

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at online retail trade association IMRG, says many retailers adopted “we’re here for you” style messaging during the height of the pandemic in 2020, providing a supportive voice in the crisis.

However, he suggests that there’s a feeling “normal service has resumed” and a different tone to retail communications now.

He says pandemic shopping patterns, such as more frequent home deliveries and shipping delays, have changed people’s experience of online shopping and – in some cases – “removed the joy” previously associated with receiving a parcel.

“With retail, it’s supposed to be fun and a nice experience – you find something you like, you get it and you enjoy using it,” Mulcahy explains.

“There’s a need to get back to that kind of messaging after lurching from one crisis to another. I’d argue that people have had enough of [the bad news] and there is perhaps more of a need to get back to the joy of retail.”


Gaunt adds that Majestic opted for “nothing big, soppy and emotional” for its Christmas campaign. Instead, it focuses on what the retailer believes its audience want to know about: quality of range, expert service levels and where their nearest stores are.

“We have followed our customers; they are feeling positive but in the context of difficult economic conditions for some people,” he explains.

Online competition

British Retail Consortium figures show that footfall to stores is still down around 17% on two years ago, so competition between retailers online looks set to intensify.

The way retailers use their digital assets will play a vital role in the success of marketing, with consistent messaging required across several channels over a multi-week period.

“It’s not about having exactly the same thing in all the different channels; it’s actually about using all channels to their individual strengths” 

Robbie Black, M&S

However, Robbie Black, head of brand communications at M&S Food, says such consistency “isn’t about matching luggage”.

“It’s not about having exactly the same thing in all the different channels; it’s actually about using all channels to their individual strengths,” he says.

“But the product is always at the heart of what we do – it’s at the heart of emails, the heart of photography and the heart of the film.”

Cramond adds that TV marketing has “an unparalleled reach” but it is crucial for festive campaigns to spread across multiple channels.

M&S, for example, teased out its seasonal campaign on TikTok the day prior to a TV launch, with a reported reach of 19 million.

“What’s really important about advertising is that you communicate what’s special, what’s different, what are the products your business has to offer,” she says, reiterating the importance of putting product or service front and centre of campaigns on all channels.

On TikTok, for example, where M&S has more than 130,000 followers and is encouraging individual store teams to make “fun” viral videos, the commercial side is not forgotten.

“We make sure the creative we do has a real business reason behind it,” Cramond explains.

Although it’s an important time of year for the wine category, Gaunt says Majestic’s first major advertising for nearly a decade is about “building a brand over a long time”. However, within that, his team has built in flexibility in terms of deployment and channel usage.

“It has to be digitally attractive, catchy and ideally make someone smile”

Matthew Gaunt, Majestic Wine

“We might want to talk ‘store near you’, ‘shop local’, party service, gifting or ‘mix any six and save’ – so we’ll phase that into a messaging plan,” he explains, suggesting that this is where email, leafleting, social and other channels can be used tactically.

For festive campaigns specifically, Gaunt says segmentation, targeting and the positioning of the brand are crucial. “It has to be digitally attractive, catchy and ideally make someone smile.”

Such success with golden-quarter marketing can make it a Christmas to savour for retailers, as well as consumers.

Want to find out more about how you can win during this golden quarter? 

Then register to watch Retail Week’s Golden Quarter Morning Masterclass this week on Black Friday (November 26).

The content includes:

9.30-9.35am – Welcome from Retail Week Head of Commercial Content Nicola Harrison

9.35-10.15am  Panel discussion: A supply chain nightmare before Christmas

We’ve all seen the headlines. Retail supply chains are groaning under the pressure of delivering sky-high volumes of online orders to consumers’ homes and the requirement to get products into store networks around the country without the delivery drivers to meet the demand. Meanwhile, the complexity around imports and exports as a result of Brexit means more paperwork, time and money.

How can retailers keep their supply chains running and get product in, out to stores and into the hands of customers wherever and whenever they want to receive it?


  • Jeremy Cobbold, Chief Supply Chain and Planning Officer, The Entertainer
  • David James, Group Supply Chain Director, Boohoo Group
  • Sean Wallis, Supply Chain Director, The Perfume Shop
  • Vincent Barnes, Industry and Solution Strategy Director – Fashion Retail, Infor

10.15-10.45am An audience with The Very Group

The Very Group’s Electrical Category Director Victoria Aldrich talks about how to win this festive season.

Already one month into the golden quarter, Retail Week speaks to Aldrich about the trends she has already seen, strategic insights and what Very is anticipating for the remainder of the peak season.

In this ‘An audience with’ chat, Aldrich also talks about the prevailing changes in consumer behaviour from the past two years and what this has meant for The Very Group’s strategy and investments. With one eye on the future, Aldrich will explain how she expects the golden quarter period to evolve in years to come.


  • Victoria Aldrich, Electrical Category Director, The Very Group
  • James Knowles, Head of Content Innovation, Retail Week

No time to watch today? We’ve got you.

You can watch the content on demand at a time that suits you. But you have to register first.