Analysis of top 35 Christmas ads reveals six ways brands can optimise long-term impact

Aldi, Coca-Cola, Sky and Lego are the most consistent brands scoring long term effectiveness from their Christmas ads, with key patterns linking their success.

For marketers, it’s never too early to start thinking about seasonal ad campaigns, and advertising effectiveness measurement platform System1 has offered evidence-based insights into how to best optimise the commercial impact of festive ads this coming Christmas.

The ad testing database analysed the top 35 ads from the past three Christmas seasons, unwrapping the secrets of successful holiday period advertising using its IPA-validated Star Rating system to measure viewers’ emotional responses to creatives, offering a rating from 1 to 5.9 based on an ad’s ability to drive long-term growth.

It found that although November and December have historically had better quality brand-building adverts than other months in the UK, the festive season makes the shelf-life of these adverts much shorter - so how can marketers best shape their Christmas adverts for maximum long-term impact?

Jon Evans, Chief Customer Officer at System1, said: “Christmas is the annual event for UK advertisers and many are already in the midst of planning their 2023 campaigns.

“The data and tips we’ve compiled will help brands and agencies alike as they work to develop creatives that will increase profits and market share growth.”

How brands can ensure a happy holiday season

System 1’s “12 Rules of Christmas” report outlined the key elements for a successful Christmas ad, based off past adverts’ success:

- Effective Story Arcs: Taking viewers on an emotional journey and ending the story with happiness at a high is a recipe for success, exemplified by this Heathrow Airport ad from 2022.

- Cultural References: Showing a brand is moving with the times can go a long way to effectively entertaining an audience for commercial gain. Cultural references like these from Aldi and Tesco proved to be effective in capturing attention.

- Festive IP: Leveraging existing IP with a track record of triggering positive emotional responses helps viewers feel at home with a brand, put into practice below by Asda with Elf and Barbour with Paddington Bear.

- Purpose: Purpose has proven to be a useful tool when placed at the core of Christmas adverts, however, brands need to choose the right cause or partner to seamlessly weave into a relevant storyline. M&S pulled this off when it promoted its Neighbourly Foundation in an ad from last year.

- Fluent Devices: Recurring brand characters and scenarios, like Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot, create strong brand recognition and encourage viewers who feel an affinity towards a particular character or scenario to align themselves with that brand. Driving brand recognition helps elicit a stronger emotional response and thereby encourages viewers to support a business on a long-term basis.

- Music: Just like some movies become famous for their soundtrack, adverts are capable of doing the same. Music speaks to viewers’ hearts and melodic music in particular is an effective right-brain feature in ads. Coca-Cola’s “Wonderful Dream (Holidays Are Coming)” tune is a staple of its classic, recurring Christmas spot which regularly earns it a strong Star Rating.

Consistently high performing brands

Identified to regularly implement the above strategies, the following brands consistently achieve high Star Ratings from their Christmas campaigns, serving as potential inspiration for marketers looking to up their ads game.

Top 10 brands for average Christmas advert Star Rating

- Aldi 5.7-Stars

- Coca-Cola 5.6-Stars

- Sky – 4.9-Stars

- Lego – 4.8-Stars

- Lidl – 4.7-Stars

- M&S – 4.7-Stars

- Disney – 4.6-Stars

- Morrisons – 4.6-Stars

- Argos – 4.4-Stars

- Tesco 4.4-Stars

- Barbour – 4.4-Stars

- Boots – 3.2-Stars

Stephi Brett-Lee, Senior Director of Brand Communications at Asda, said: “Christmas matters so much to the fabric of the nation. Borrowing a recognisable and beloved character – Buddy the Elf – to put at the centre of our 2022 Christmas campaign and in-store activations helped us capture the hearts of audiences and drive sales during the biggest trading period of the year.”

Britt Iversen, Executive Strategy Director at Havas London, added: “We should always strive to make people feel either better, or better informed. And for us at Christmas, we wanted to help everyone get the real Christmas feels. Instead of talking about happiness, with Elf we literally brought the entire box of baubles.”