The Five Points on a Christmas Ad Star

The city is lit up, the quiet hum of Christmas songs is building into a full strength sing-a-long, and everyone is either buying or selling a Christmas tree. But the first clue that Santa and his reindeers will soon be headed our way is surely the unveiling of the long-awaited Christmas TV ads.

Along with most of the UK, I wait with anticipation every year to see what furry companion or strangely heart-warming friendship John Lewis will pull out of the sack. Or what root vegetable the supermarkets will each miraculously bring to life this year. Yes, the ads can be somewhat predictable, but isn’t there something so heartfelt, nostalgic, and uplifting about them when they are done well? I dare say even the Scrooges of the world have been known to shed a tear.

2023 proved a mixed bag. While some brands excelled, others lost their way a little – focusing more on which famous faces and products they could feature, and less on the magic of Christmas. For me, those nailing it made me feel warm and fuzzy, hopeful and inspired.

So, what have these Christmas ads done right? The wildcard success of Charlie’s Bar, a pub in Northern Ireland that invested £700 on a Christmas advert that was received to resounding applause, demonstrates it’s about a lot more than spend. At See clients come to us for evidence based creative development learning and our experience leads us to believe that, at Christmas time, it comes down to 5 key points.

1. Wear your heart, act your values

Christmas is a sentimental time. It’s a clear opportunity for brands to create meaning and tell us what they care about. My favourite ads don’t just put their products front and centre, they go much deeper to show us their values brought to life through action. Lidl comes in strong here – telling the story of an adorable racoon’s arduous journey in returning a lost stuffed monkey. It’s a sweet story that also points to Lidl’s toy bank, a powerful and impactful initiative working to ensure all the children in the local neighbourhood receive a gift this Christmas time.

2. Champion community and companionship

I’m a firm believer in brands being a beacon of hope at Christmas, celebrating togetherness and generosity. Charlie’s Bar knows what we’re talking about, a drink down the pub being the quintessential mechanic for human (and canine) connection.  Coca-Cola’s “The World Needs More Santas” strikes the right tone too, inspiring us to be kind and look after one another. Similarly, Aldi welcomes back Kevin the Carrot, reminding us through a jovial Charlie and the Chocolate Factory style story – told through animated vegetables (there they are!)– that Christmas is for sharing. Finally, Amazon takes a more emotive approach, presenting us with the scenario of a triad of older lady friends sledging down the snowy mountain because youth is a state of mind and joy is shared.

3. That’s us! Relatability

In any advert that we research at See, success depends on both the message and execution being relatable. From resonating with what Christmas means, to bringing to life people’s messy realities. McDonald’s amusingly depicts festive moments, like awkward Christmas socials and kids blundering their way through their Nativity show. Waitrose’s opening scene kicks off with the panicked frenzy of guests arriving early for Christmas dinner. All genuine anecdotes, rooted in insight, that everyone can relate to.

4. Do YOUR Thing

It’s all well and good doing all the above, but the ad still needs to fit with your brand to feel credible and authentic. Coca Cola’s DNA is visible in every turn of its ad – through the bold red, its inextricable historical association with Santa, the iconic truck, and the family dinner table embellished with its quintessential glass bottles. KFC upholds its uniquely humorous tone of voice – teasing us with real customers’ pleas for turkey, to then reject them unequivocally. It’s a clever play, centred on customers – but choosing to stay true to its faux combative brand personality.

5. Ho, ho, ho! Be Humorous

Being amusing or funny brings added twinkle- it’s the star on the top of the tree, the spark that lights it all up. Depth doesn’t need to be so serious. In Boots’ ad you accompany a young girl and her mum on a frosty voyage to the North Pole, to give Santa his much deserved (and needed) gift. Flight compression socks. Light-hearted and humorous, but at its essence an encouragement to give back at Christmas. Wit can also be woven in through culturally iconic Christmas references. My favourite part of the McDonald’s ad (which also involves a person in an inflatable dinosaur costume for added giggles) is the scene with the cue cards – a knowing nod to the infamous Love Actually scene.

What ads that are successful have in common is the human story – told in a way that is relatable, compelling, and on brand. Through the message and execution, they go beyond their product to make you feel something, (often something sob inducing). They show an unfeigned understanding of what the festivities and their brand means to people, uniting the ideal with the real to take us on an emotional journey that demonstrates something of the magic of the season. 

To conclude, the best thing a brand can do when creating a Christmas ad is get to know their consumer, their cultural context and the world around them. The best way of doing that?


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