It’s that time of year again. In 2021, the Christmas ads seem more sentimental than ever before; we’ve seen cute characters, emotive song covers, and tears-in-your-eyes moments aplenty. It’s clear that advertisers are really upping the ante to try and get their audience to feel something. Because the more we feel, of course, the more we buy. And after last year, they really need us to get buying again.

But let’s ask ourselves this; What’s going to make our audience really feel something? What do they care about? Our Student Pulse research shows that Gen Z are favoring brands that have a greener image, and who advertise charitable gestures and sustainable purchasing incentives. They’re looking for more than just a talking carrot – it’s the meal donation to families in need that counts. 

Let’s take a look at some of the big names that are breaking away from traditional marketing and have taken a fresh approach to the advertising space in recent years:


Patagonia have made waves in recent years with their anti-consumerist approach to advertising. Remember “Don’t buy this jacket”? Of course, they do want their customers to buy the jacket, they just want them to choose one sustainable, long-lasting option – and abandon all the rest in their basket.

What gave this concept substance, and still does, is that Patagonia have never been afraid to put their money where their mouth is. Every Black Friday, for example, they take a stand, most notably in 2016 when they donated 100% of their proceeds to environmental charities, a gesture that resulted in record-breaking sales. The takeaway? Shouting about your values will gain you attention and respect – just make sure you’re taking action to back them up.


Staying on the anti-consumerist theme, sharing app Olio smashed all advertising expectations this festive season by releasing a TV ad shining a light on our damaging culture of waste.

Olio takes the key elements of a Christmas ad – cute kids, emotional cover of an unemotional song, etc. – and then turns them on their head with a landfill site backdrop. Impossible to ignore, the ad urges consumers to “Share more. Waste less.” which is precisely what the Olio app is hoping to achieve. At a time of year when we’re being told to buy buy buy, this campaign cuts through and forces us to question our behavior. It’s a classic and effective advertising technique – go against the norm to get yourself noticed. And in this case, the message certainly fits the delivery.


We already know they do things differently in Sweden, but Stockholm-based retailer Asket did something pretty radical for Black Friday this year. Rather than partaking in traditional marketing, price-slicing or frenzied in-store sales, Asket shut down their online and offline stores all together and instead directed would-be shoppers to resources about garment care. 

True to their sustainable ethos, Asket refused to sell a single piece of new clothing, instead giving consumers some very tangible, very useful skills that will last a lot longer than a new pair of jeans. The result? Something that feels educational but not patronizing, the perfect way to inform an audience about something near and dear to their hearts.


British supermarket Co-op scrapped their multi-million dollar ad campaign for 2021, instead opting to shout about issues of food waste and redistribution.

On 26 November, the supermarket ran the UK’s first ever live TV advert to showcase the work done by Community Fridges, a local project aiming to stop food waste and feed the people who need it most. Co-op are upping their funding for initiatives like this, whilst ensuring their customers that shopping with them means supporting a good cause. The result: positive steps for local communities and plenty of good press. Win-win.

These are all great examples of how to be disruptive in your sector and effectively communicate your brand values. Not only that, but talking about issues that your audience cares about on a personal level is a great way to get them engaged with your brand and help create a feeling of trust that could ultimately bring students to your institution over others.

So don’t be afraid to think outside the box and do something different, whether that’s running a hard-hitting social media campaign, or getting your students involved through rewarding incentives. Just make sure that you’re talking about issues that you’re actually taking meaningful action towards, as no one wants to be accused of jumping on the bandwagon!

For more information on how we can support you in developing your brand values and communication, get in touch today.