Emotional Engagement Ad Analysis: Essential ingredients to make a great Christmas ad (and avoid a turkey)

Advertising is most effective when it elicits an emotional response and engages the viewer on a personal level. Realeyes compared fourteen of the most popular Christmas ads this year to see how consumers engaged emotionally with the brands. By tracking people’s facial expressions, they identified the most effective elements that resonated emotionally with customers across different ads – as well as those aspects which fell flat.

‘Tis the season. The lights are on, the shops are crowded, your colleague may or may not be blaring obnoxious music in the office - and the ads are themed to a tee, designed to tug on our heartstrings and (if one is being unseasonably cynical) our wallets. Christmas is an emotional time of the year – Grinches are frowned upon and emotional connection is the word of the day, be it with family and friends, strangers, or even said colleague with the penchant for Boyz II Men’s ‘Silent Night’.

So, the three essential ingredients to a great Christmas ad – based on the relative success of this year’s crop – are humour, a dynamic narrative, and cultural resonance. On the other hand, ads failed to have an impact if they neglected female engagement, delivered an overriding rational message, or dwelt too long in their story-telling.

The data was collected using Cint - the global panel exchange platform for procuring and managing sample and data collection. The exchange provides access to the opinions of over 10 million individuals in 57 countries, all recruited through over 800 different panel owners using Cint’s panel management technology. Realeyes analysed the data collected, and the clear winner was Harvey Nichols’ ‘Sorry, I Spent it on Myself’, which emerged as the ad with the most emotional connection amongst the 2013 crop.


In keeping with Harvey Nichols’ previous offerings, the advert combines subversive humour and a simple, but strong, narrative structure in an extremely successful mix. The irreverent suggestion that people should spend money on themselves rather than on others is both amusing and not wholly distasteful really, resonating with the audience. Viewers’ engagement rose consistently with every disappointing present opened, perfectly matching the anticipation-into-punchline set-up repeated throughout the advert

Aldi’s “There's A Lot to Like” ad, which came joint second, also employs a humorous and structured approach. Although it does not pack the emotional punch of the Harvey Nichs’ advert, it nevertheless keeps its audience engaged by being short and sweet, and funny with peak emotional engagement coming after the weary-looking Father Christmas making his own wish. There is no time for the joke to grow dull, and the ad maintains its momentum to score quite highly in several categories. The overall EmotionAll score in the first chart is a combination of the scores for attraction, retention, engagement and impact (see chart up).Both ads use well-known Christmas carols in the background, heightening their emotional resonance as viewers recognise the familiar strains of Silent Night (thankfully not the Boyz II Men version) and 12 Days of Christmas. The sights and sounds of a quintessential (if unusually idyllic) British Christmas go a long way towards enabling that emotional connection with the consumer, something which nearly all the ads take into account.

Morrison’s effort, ‘Go on… it’s Christmas’, taps into our collective consciousness by featuring ubiquitous TV presenters Ant and Dec in front of a large spread of food. A very lively gingerbread man sings along to a Morrisons’ own customised version of Beauty and the Beast’s ‘Be Our Guest’. Not only is the tune eminently catchy, but it is perhaps less immediately recognisable than the Christmas carols, leaving you with the impression that you know it, but not where from – which is all the more effective at maintaining engagement. Of course, the extensive shots of delicious food help – food provokes an immediate spike in happiness amongst viewers (as do pretty girls in lingerie amongst male viewers – which feature in both the M&S and Debenhams’ adverts). Mouth-watering dishes and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in M&S’ “Magic and Sparkles” are not, on their own, enough to significantly improve or carry an ad’s performance, as the likes of Lidl, with their “Christmas Magic”, found out.

Similarly, a weak narrative structure also lets down several of the adverts. Ads with no storyline, or an otherwise weak or unclear plot didn’t score very highly. Debenhams’ “Wishes Made Fabulous”, for example, allegedly tells the tale of a couple’s romantic Christmas reunion – did you know? Despite pulling out all the stops, complete with haunting music, beautiful people wearing continually fewer clothes, and snowy atmosphere, it culminates in a glossy ad that fails to make an impact emotionally.

It is also one of the only ads that engaged men’s attention more than women’s. Women’s engagement drove performance in most of the other adverts, so this failure is very much felt across the scoreboard for the department store. Conversely, Harvey Nichs’ is the least gendered and the highest scoring ad – its storyline designed to appeal equally to both genders and all ages. Adverts such as Iceland’s and Asda’s “Snowman” remain mostly functional in terms of advertising, despite token gestures towards the season in the form of snow or mince pies. Their matter of fact price-cutting and money-saving messages evoke little feeling, even if they are more relatable than Debenhams’ and M&S’s more atmospheric and aspirational advertising. Their sensible approach is reflected negatively in their poor emotional scores. Emotion is a crucial element of the festive spirit, and hence, we suspect, essential to its advertising. Emotions are the key to successful video adverts, and indispensable to making people connect with a brand. This is especially true of Christmas advertising, as the season itself invokes that emotional spirit that is the marketer’s goldmine. Ultimately and unsurprisingly, customers reacted more positively to adverts evoking emotion - sentiment definitely trumps rationality at Christmas time, it seems. ‘Tis the season indeed.The adverts analysed were; Harvey Nichols 'Sorry, I Spent It On Myself', Aldi - 'There's A Lot to Like', Morrison's - 'Go on... It's Christmas', M&S - 'Magic and Sparkles', Iceland - 'The Christmas Ad', John Lewis - 'The Bear & The Hare' Waitrose - 'The Story Of Giving', Harrods - 'Christmas at Harrods.com'. Boots - 'Young Santa', Tesco - 'Christmas Through the Ages', Debenhams - 'Wishes Made Fabulous', Asda - 'Snowman', Lidl - 'Christmas Magic' and The Co-operative - 'Everything you Need'.

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