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Toyota, Frito-Lay and Publix ranked the most effective US ads for December

Frito-Lay created one of the best ads of the 2021 holiday season.

What makes an ad resonate with its target audience? What are the factors that can help an ad leave a lasting impression in the minds of its viewers? System1 has developed a star-rating system which factors in a broad set of data to answer these questions. John Evans, Chief Marketing Officer at System1, told us which ads received the highest ratings last month — and why they stood out from the crowd.

System1 rates ads according to metrics that predict long-term brand growth (’Star Rating’) and short-term sales growth (’Spike Rating’) — each between one and five stars. These measures are validated using the independent IPA database and also against real sales data at a category level.

The Star Rating captures the emotional response to an ad. Only 1% of ads on the system scores five stars. A one-star ad will have zero effect on brand growth, while a five-star ad will have an exceptional impact (up to three points of market share gain, depending on investment). Often, the work that receives the highest ratings comes as a surprise to everyone.

10. Chase - 'Home Alone,' 3.5

Chase’s ad riffs on Home Alone, with Catherine O’Hara losing yet another Kevin - but this time it’s comedian Kevin Hart. The nostalgic casting and familiar faces make this first holiday ad for Chase come in at 3.5-Stars. The sudden shift into a promotional spiel about cashback facilities dampens the good vibe a little, but in a category which averages a measly 1.8-Stars, 3.5 is an excellent result.

9. Post - 'Create With Pebbles,' 3.9

Post’s Flintstone-themed Pebbles cereal looks to inspire young creators with this busy, upbeat ad. Will parents welcome their kids making a Pebbles volcano? The ad’s hoping everyone’s having too much fun to care. Heavy use of voiceover and jump-cuts make this less likely to capture broad-beam attention, but the joie de vivre in the ad pushes it to the brink of 4-Stars anyway.

8. Salvation Army - 'Hope For Good,' 3.9

A really strong use of brand assets in this month’s highest-rated charity ad. The red Salvation Army kettles for donations are a familiar sight to most Americans - in this ad, a boy peeks inside and gets a look at what his donation means for the people who rely on the Salvation Army’s help. It’s a simple but effective concept which avoids the usual sad stories and puts the emphasis firmly on the good the charity does. That helps the ad score well on both short- and long-term measures, a difficult trick for a not-for-profit.

7. Disney Cruises - 'New Adventure,' 4.0

It’s the magic of Disney - but on a boat. You’d imagine the Disney brand is doing most of the work here to push this simple ad to 4-Stars, but don’t discount the appeal of cruises in general. Norwegian Cruises and a rerun Carnival ad also scored well - it’s a sign that the sector is ready for a comeback after the dreadful publicity it received early in the Covid-19 pandemic. Disney has the existing brand equity to give it some tailwind, but the strong scores all around show that people feel good about returning to the ocean wave.

6. Samsung - 'Holiday Opens Up With Galaxy,' 4.0

A Christmas story about a lovestruck… phone? It’s not just an original take on romance from Samsung, but a refreshing approach for a phone ad. The category tends to involve fast paced showcases of new features. In this ad, though, there’s plenty of hardware on display, but it’s involved in a choreographed dance routine to the Backstreet Boys. Quirky and highly appealing, with a happy ending and high short-term impact - this is a departure from category norms which works for Samsung.

5. Lowe’s - ‘Christmas Commercial,’ 4.3

Human families go home for the holidays, and in this ad so do the inflatable santas and snowmen on their lawns — ’home,’ in this case, being a Lowe’s store. It’s a cute idea and the final reveal is surprisingly heartwarming. A fine example of how to advertise what your brand is and does while simultaneously conjuring up a little holiday magic, too.

4. Walmart - ‘Family Portrait,’ 4.3

While other brands focus on telling stories during the holiday season, Walmart’s ad is all about moments. Those are often captured in photographs, but pictures often aren’t able to capture all of the joy, laughter and drama that goes on behind the scenes. It’s a warm, funny ad, boosted by a joyous cover of I Got You Babe — a familiar song to help attract the kind of broad-beam attention that ads need in order to make a lasting impression.

3. Publix - ‘The Attic,’ 4.4

Another sentimental tale, this time from supermarket Publix. The ad features a little girl who sees a snowman lawn decoration trapped in a neighbour’s attic, and who then begins a quest to set him free. The snowman’s captor — a grumpy old man — turns out to be more sad than angry, and (of course!) the girl’s gifts help him rediscover some holiday spirit. There’s rising happiness in the ad as the story unfolds — though with so much story to pack into 60 seconds, there’s not a lot of room for the brand, and so brand fluency is a little lacking.

2. Frito-Lay - ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,’ 4.7

Everything’s over the top in Frito-Lay’s’ festive ad, and that includes the branding. When you start off with Jimmy Fallon skating your logo onto a frozen pond, it’s pretty clear that your tongue is firmly in cheek. That playfulness helps Frito-Lay get away with moments that would otherwise be as cheesy as a fistful of Cheetos. Fallon’s star power and enthusiasm is also infectious, turning the ad into a joyfully silly sing-along and delivering the final ‘Happy Holidays!‘ with real conviction.

1. Toyota - ‘The Bookstore,’ 5.1

Toyota’s holiday ad tells a powerful story of giving and community which doesn’t shy away from invoking some negative emotion. In fact, the ad opens with a tragedy: a local bookstore that gets damaged by a fire. Enter our heroine — a little girl who rallies her community to pitch in and help the owner of the burned bookstore. Toyota vehicles (as you’d expect) play a role, but the branding is discreet and takes a back seat to the human emotion. Even so there’s strong fluency and short-term impact, as well as a five-star score for long-term effect in a category which often neglects human stories.

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