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Creative Works Christmas Marketing

We tested Christmas ads on real shoppers, celebs failed to shine this year


By Ian Forrester, CEO

November 14, 2023 | 8 min read

Ian Forrester, CEO and founder of creative ad effectiveness platform Daivid, takes us through the UK Christmas ads that most resonated with audiences.

Asda - Buble

/ Havas London

They say Christmas comes earlier every year. And that’s certainly the case this year, with the launch of ‘Snapper’ – John Lewis’s festive offering and the unofficial start of the Xmas season – among the last few Christmas campaigns to come out last week.

It’s been a turbulent year, so it’s no surprise brands wanted to spread a little Christmas cheer earlier than usual. We at Daivid tested each ad on a panel of Xmas shoppers to find this year’s Christmas crackers. This included measuring the intensity of emotions people felt while watching, how much attention they generated and the likely business impact. We then gave each ad an overall effectiveness score.

The ads with the highest scores were:

1. Coca-Cola’s ‘The World Needs More Santas

2. Lego’s ‘Holiday Hero

3. Boots’ ‘Give Joy

Each of these ads stepped out of the Christmas norm with unique creative ideas, evoking some of the rarer Christmas emotions.

Coca-Cola took the crown after eliciting the second strongest emotional response from viewers, with 72.5% feeling at least one positive emotion intensely. Its assertion that everyone can be a Santa by showing kindness and consideration tugged on the heartstrings, evoking more unusual feelings such as inspiration and admiration, in addition to the more usual emotions of warmth and joy. It also benefited from the third strongest attention score, capturing interest from the off using an intriguing scene of Santa washing his jacket in a laundrette.

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Lego won the battle for brand recall, with 93.8% of viewers correctly attributing the ad to the brand. It’s not hard to see why, with the ad literally teeming with life-sized Lego toys brought to life by the imagination of the kids playing with them. It also complemented feelings of warmth and joy with inspiration and nostalgia.

Boots’s spot also enjoyed excellent brand recall, the second highest at 88.3%. Frequent branding and the giving of Boots gifts ensured viewers knew whose party they’d come to. The idea of Santa getting presents and the epic North Pole journey the mother and daughter embark on also evoked high levels of amusement and admiration.

Shelter’s ‘Good As Gold’ (joint 5th) also scored very highly for attention and emotional impact but was let down by poor brand recall (62.6%).

Meanwhile, you’re no doubt wanting to know how John Lewis performed this year with Saatchi & Saatchi taking over from Adam&EveDDB after 14 years; there was huge pressure on the agency. But ‘Snapper’ was not a disappointment, finishing joint fifth in our chart – with the highest score for a John Lewis Xmas ad since 2018. John Lewis has created the template for what a Christmas ad should look and feel like.

And to a certain extent, this year’s ad stayed within this tried-and-tested template – evoking intense feelings of warmth, aesthetic appreciation, and joy. But it also tried to do something different by portraying a venus fly trap as a Christmas tree, which amused (+98.6% v norm) and surprised (+183.4% v norm) many people. However, it also confused (+211.4% v norm) and even scared some (165.7% v norm), which ultimately cost it a place in the top three.

Among the ads that didn’t make the cut, surprisingly, were those featuring celebrities. Only one ad featuring celebrities finished in the top 10 (M&S Food in sixth).

Rick Astley came out of the woodwork for Sainsbury’s, Michael Bublé for Asda and Graham Norton for Waitrose – to name but a few.

And for those in the bottom half of the table, we saw the same old Christmas tropes wheeled out. Christmas parties, tables with mountains of food, and snow-laden streets all convened to create the familiar frozen sea of Christmas sameness. To be effective, ads must be memorable, but with every brand using similar storylines and evoking similar emotions, many ads melded together in viewers’ minds.

This was accentuated this year by many ads launching during the same week of November. With this glut of similar content landing at once, it is no wonder viewers struggled to see the woods for the brightly lit Xmas trees. On the flip side, M&S’s ‘Thismas’ tried to do something different, with various celebrities denouncing various festive traditions they dislike. The ad missed the mark, with 27.7% of viewers feeling one or more intense negative emotions. Chief among these was confusion, awkwardness, and contempt at this supposed ‘attack on Christmas.’

Was it a good idea for so many brands to launch so early? Well, if it was a bad idea, all the Christmas ads (tested, as they were in November) would overindex on negative emotions.

But we found the strongest ads that stepped outside of the norm didn’t suffer from this. Meanwhile, the ones that focused on Christmas cliches generated high levels of anger (+33.4% v norm) and contempt (+42.1% v norm).

Launching early and reminding everyone of eating too much on Christmas Day in November may not be the best idea. Bah humbug!

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