The Drum has studied System1’s database to see what the highest performing UK ads were in November. The winner may not surprise you...
Jon Evans, chief marketing officer at System1, explains how the ad industry’s darlings aren’t always the most effective work in the eyes of the Great British public.
System1 tests ads on measures that predict long-term brand growth (Star Rating) and short-term sales growth (Spike Rating) – each between one and five stars. This is then validated using the independent IPA database and sales data.
The Star Rating captures the emotional response to an ad – viewers are asked what they felt about it and how strongly. Evans talks us through the top 10 performing ads in the UK in November below.
November’s top ads
10) Notonthehighstreet: Gift The Extraordinary
Star Rating: 4
We kick off the list with our last 4-star ad from a Christmas ad debutant, online gift specialist Notonthehighstreet. Its first effort is a very traditional Christmas ad, all about – as you’d expect – the unusual gifts that can make Christmas special. It hits the right spot emotionally, but probably its most impressive achievement for a lesser-known brand is its exceptional Brand Fluency score – almost everyone seeing it got who it was for.
9) Tesco: Nothing’s Stopping Us
Star Rating: 4
Another fast-paced, madcap Christmas ad caused mild controversy by showing Santa with a ‘vaccine passport.’ There was a small bump in sadness among our viewers at the reminder of the pandemic but, in general, they greatly enjoyed the ad and its Queen soundtrack. It’s an ad that takes an insight – the determination to have a good Christmas this year at all costs – and squeezes the most smiles possible out of it.
8) Vodafone: Give the Gift Of Connection
Star Rating: 4.1
Vodafone’s Christmas ad is promoting a different kind of gifting – encouraging people to give back their old and unused mobile phones so the brand can refit them and pass them on to the underprivileged. ‘The Gift of Connection’ gets most of its emotional impact from this scheme, but there’s also a rather nice visual trick to catch on repeat viewings, with the phone-givers reflected in mirrors and shop windows wearing Santa suits.
7) Joules: Live Merry and Bright
Star Rating: 4.1
Hats (and everything else) off to Joules for a Christmas ad that looks and feels like nothing else this year. The British clothes brand chucks out the tinsel and trees for a short clip of friends celebrating Christmas with a spot of skinny dipping. It’s a joyous and unusual ad that stays on the right side of cheeky – a great look for a small brand competing with very big names.
6) Guide Dogs: Sponsor A Puppy
Star Rating: 4.4
It’s not going to win any awards for its production values, but Guide Dogs will get plenty of donations out of this direct response ad, the only charity spot in the Top 10 this month. Christmas is a great opportunity for charities, but very few of them use it to make feel-good ads like this story of how guide dog Milo turned his owner’s life around. There’s plenty of sadness in the ad to tug the heartstrings (and get people texting), but crucially it’s all resolved for an overall positive experience.
5) Smyths: If I Were A Toy
Star Rating: 4.5
Smyths’ version of the Beyoncé song is back for another year, and once again performs well with a solid 4-star score and very strong short-term metrics. It’s a good example of how important the soundtrack is to an ad – there’s no particular narrative in this animated parade of toys, so all the momentum comes from the music getting louder and happier.
4) M&S Food: Percy Pig Comes To Life
Star Rating: 4.6
M&S’ most effective Christmas ad in years is all thanks to its much-loved Percy Pig character. Percy is brought to life by Dawn French’s feckless fairy and is immediately whisked on a tour of M&S’ Christmas food range. Percy is really only a framing device for some classic M&S ‘food porn’ – but the presence of such a great brand asset helps the ad score higher.
3) Morrisons: Make Good Things Happen
Star Rating: 4.7
One of this year’s most original ideas is Morrisons’ Farmer Christmas, a character who is to Christmas food what Santa is to presents. A whirlwind tour of Farmer Christmas’ farm includes plenty of strong visual jokes and also works as a reminder of Morrisons’ tie-up with British farmers and all the fresh festive food it makes in its stores every day. Food, fantasy and fun are the touchstones of Christmas 2021, and Morrisons covers all three.
2) Sky Cinema 2021
Star Rating: 4.9
Grocery ads dominate this month’s festive line-up, but they don’t have it all their own way. Sky Cinema’s ad is simple but effective – a supercut of great moments from its impressive library of classic Christmas films. Elf, The Grinch, Miracle On 34th Street and more flash by, creating an overall impression of good cheer and good memories. An ad like this is all in the editing, and Sky uses its line-up with panache, landing just shy of 5-stars.
1) Aldi: A Christmas Carrot
Star Rating: 5.4
Kevin The Carrot confirms his place as the King of Christmas ads and the most valuable festive brand mascot this side of the Coke trucks. The month’s only 5-star ad, ‘A Christmas Carrot’ introduced Ebanana Scrooge and took him on a journey of redemption with Kevin in tow. The ad sparkles partly because of the wealth of background touches – social media loved Cuthbert The Caterpillar getting arrested.