Christmas treats: a roundup and rating of early global holiday ads

It’s Christmas all over. Again. Even as we come to the end of what has felt like an interminable year, it’s hard to believe that 12 months have elapsed and we’re back to talking about holiday advertising.

Yet here we are. And this time around there’s an almost palpable sense of urgency among marketers and agencies as they look to salvage something—anything—from what has been a miserable 2020.

But while there are some passing references to the pandemic, this batch of spots is more notable for its relative normalcy. They mostly contain tried-and-true aspects of holiday advertising: sentimentality, tales of sometimes harrowing journeys back to loved ones and a sprinkling of humour. Oh and Santa. So many Santas.

Here, then, is our by no means official round-up of some of the most notable holiday ads we’ve seen since the holiday starting gun was fired about two weeks ago.

We’re also assigning each ad our “emotional quotient” score, the result of a proprietary formula in which we divide the emotional resonance of the ad by the category and multiply it by… Nah, not really. It’s a completely subjective score based on whether the ad gets us in the feels.

Now, onto the ads…

Coca-Cola: “Christmas 2020” by Wieden + Kennedy London

Coca-Cola routinely sets a high bar with its Christmas advertising, and this year’s spot is no different.

Directed by New Zealand director Taiki Waititi (Jo Jo Rabbit, The Mandalorian) the two-and-a-half minute spot takes viewers on an emotional journey that includes scenes set on an offshore oil rig, forests and mountains as a father heroically attempts to get his daughter’s letter to Santa (who finally appears driving a Coca-Cola truck instead of a sleigh).

The emotion quotient: You just can’t beat the bond between fathers and daughters when it comes to wringing out emotion. A solid 9 here. 

John Lewis & Partners: “Give a Little Love,” by adam&eveDDB

The John Lewis Christmas ad is as much a Christmas tradition for Britons as crackers and the Queen’s message, and its arrival is always accompanied by a wave of media coverage and dissection. This year’s commercial (a joint effort with its supermarket arm Waitrose) arrives at a difficult time for the retailer, but it’s a whimsical addition to a solid canon of holiday ads.

Soundtracked by a new song from the Brit Award-winning soul singer Celeste, the ad is inspired by the kindness shown by the British public during the pandemic. It’s notable for its visuals, which ping-pong between human actors and eight different animation styles—all connected by a thread of giving.

The emotion quotient: The song is perfectly suited to play on the heart-strings, but the whimsical nature of the ad prevents it from achieving true emotional resonance. We give it a 7.

Aldi Australia: “Synchronized Santas” by BMF

Christmas advertising tends to lean hard on sentimentality, but grocery retailer Aldi Australia is gleefully upending conventions with this ad featuring a group of Santas performed a well-choreographed routine in a public swimming pool.

What does it mean? Who knows. But it’s kinda fun watching a group of fat men in lycra suits cavorting in a pool. Also, Southern hemisphere Christmas advertising, with its lush green trees and shorts-clad actors, is always a bit jarring, isn’t it?

Emotion quota: It’s a group of Santas dancing in a pool. Unless the performers are a family member, this warrants nothing higher than a 1. We suspect Aldi would have it no other way.

Aldi UK, “Kevin the Carrot” by McCann

Kevin the Carrot has been a fixture of Aldi UK’s holiday advertising for the past five years, because apparently nothing says the holidays quite like root vegetables.

Still, this is a visually appealing ad that follows the anthropomorphic carrots attempts to make it home to his family for Christmas with the help of a friendly hedgehog and the Big Man himself.

The emotion quota: There’s an obvious nod to the Spielberg’s E.T. that puts it squarely into emotionally resonant territory. Still, it’s hard to feel a strong emotional connection to a carrot. We give it a 4.

Macy’s: “In Dad’s Shoes” by BBDO

A young girl puts on her father’s shoes to get a sense of what he’d like for Christmas, and before you can say Freaky Friday, she becomes her dad, Dave.

The ad follows the young girl as she goes around the neighbourhood completing her father’s errands and being greeted by various shopkeepers. There’s some nice physical acting by the young girl, showing her struggling to adjust to walking with her new size 11 feet.

The body switch gives her a true sense of what her father goes through during the holidays, which helps her determine the perfect gift for her father for Christmas. And it’s the most dad gift of all.

The emotion quota: It’s more charming than emotionally resonant. We give it a 5.

No big theme here. The ad starts with a brief reference to the horror show that has been 2020, before transitioning to a feel-good ad complete with an an upbeat soundtrack.

It shows joyful family gatherings complete with good food, goofy headwear (hello reindeer antlers), party games and lots of drink: in other words, the building blocks of any good holiday celebration.

The emotion quotient: There’s nothing overtly emotional about the ad. Quite the opposite, in fact. At the same time, though, it’s a reminder of the type of holiday gathering that just might not be possible for some families as the pandemic rages. For that reason, we’ve giving it an 8.

Chris Powell