What makes a great Christmas campaign? UK agencies look back at their favourites from 2016

A scene from Alzheimer's UK's 2016 Christmas campaign.

With the ad industry currently immersed in creating the campaigns that will dominate our screens this festive season, we asked RAR member agencies to name their favourite pieces of marketing from last Christmas. While many of the usual suspects – John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and so on – featured heavily in the feedback, some hidden gems were also highlighted among the tinsel:

David Bowers, Lo + Behold -

I don't think Christmas campaigns need to be particularly clever or technical; they just need to resonate, which is the hardest thing to do. M&S probably nailed it last year for their target market but the best all-rounder for me was Kevin the Carrot from Aldi. Bang on-brand but with a wide appeal, its timing was perfect, sending up John Lewis campaign at the point where it looks like the department store giant is running out of ideas.

Matthew Lockhart, Web-Feet.co.uk -

Air Canada's #ACGiftofHome was a great social campaign which was nicely emotive and specifically targeted towards the target audience.

Rebecca Peel, Elmwood –

I think, provocatively perhaps, that Black Friday is the single best piece of Christmas marketing in the UK, driven by Amazon. Campaign-wise, in the US, Jet.com ran a brilliant campaign - its 'Careculator' works out how much you should spend on your friends and family based on your social media activity and their likes and interactions with your posts. It also tied in beautifully to their overarching 'spend less this Christmas' campaign.

Simon Morris, Bareface -

I loved the M&S Mrs Claus campaign - a real customer experience campaign that connected with the audience and shifted the focus from the traditional male Santa figure. Alongside this it refocused the message to that of the act of giving and the pleasure it brings.

Allyson Griffiths, iCrossing –

We particularly liked M&S's 'Mrs Claus' campaign, supported by a number of smaller, influencer-led initiatives to showcase particular product ranges like gift-wrap. The insight of women being primary gift givers combined with the cultural focus on equality led to the advert resonating well with consumers and the brand saw an increase in women's clothing sales for the first time in 6 years. A fantastic example of when insight, creative and performance marketing collide to really strengthen a brand's bottom line.

Joana Ferreira, Fast Web Media –

I think TK Maxx's advert was great as it was also funny. Brands are putting a lot of effort into turning their Christmas ads into a story, something that is getting bigger and bigger each year. But like most things, when every brand is trying to do the same, it all ends up looking, feeling and sounding the same. So it would be great to see something a bit different this year, rather than all brands trying to bring a tear to our eyes, or create a character that people will want to buy as a Christmas present!

Inge de Gooijer, The Wonderland -

I thought Alzheimer's Research UK’s "Santa forgot Christmas" campaign was very powerful.

Paul McGann, Brass –

Sainsbury's 'The Greatest Gift' campaign captured the festive mood well and appealed to me. With stop-frame animation, a great song, James Corden's voice and the sale of movie merchandise in-store to raise funds for Great Ormond Street charity, it really pulled all of the emotional levers!

Luke Critchley, CSI Media -

I liked the Selfridges campaign which incorporated online and traditional methods, I distinctly remember their ‘discover Christmas’ feature on the website. This involved lots of photos, videos, slideshows, making it very engaging and easy to interact with.

Ed Hill, Space and Time Media -

Predictably, the John Lewis advert. As a media buyer, the idea of investing so heavily into creative and production values that bought media is almost entirely redundant is anathema to me. However John Lewis's pursuit of this model has been so successful that they have the entire country anticipating and talking about their advert and then choosing to seek it out and share it. They've managed to build themselves into the traditions we all share surrounding the Christmas period, like a latter-day Eric and Ernie. That sort of thing can't be given a monetary value and it's an investment that can't quickly be undone. Even if they didn't do any marketing at all this Christmas, we'd still all be talking the lack of an advert and revisiting previous years' versions. It's genius.

Kieron Weedon, BWP Group –

Asda's social hijack of the John Lewis Christmas ad, promoting children’s trampolines minutes after their TV ad aired, was my favourite.

Stephanie Earle, Fat Media -

We loved the Argos Christmas campaign, featuring brightly coloured Yetis. Not only was it fun and memorable, but it also showcased the range of products Argos has to offer, and hinted at their fast and personal service. While of course the television advert was the key medium, the accompanying PR stunt, with Yetis skating through London and handing out presents to passers-by, helped to raise awareness and grow anticipation of the coming advert. With Christmas adverts becoming increasingly competitive, a real-life teaser was a great way to get people talking about Argos.

Sophy Wells, Prophecy Unlimited -

Space NK's '25 Days of Beauty'. A simple idea, built on the consistent tension between the requirement to purchase for others and treat yourself at Christmas, beautifully executed. I've not seen any performance data but it must have created a tangible uplift to their sales.

To search for an expert retail agency, visit the Recommended Agencies Register.

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