Christmas ads that connect with Canadians

It may be a very different kind of holiday season, but not even COVID can change the fact that this is the busiest time of the year for advertising.

Brands of all shapes and sizes have pushed new creative into a hectic and crowded media landscape. But what do consumers actually think and feel? What connects with them in this most unusual of holiday seasons?

The Message reached out to Brainsights, a Toronto-based neuromarketing data and research company, to understand how holiday ads play on Canadians’ subconscious (the company provided similar insights last year).

Brainsights’ brain wave measurement technology records consumer attention, emotional connection and memory encoding every two milliseconds. They average these responses over all consumers studied for a given ad in order to understand how it performs for consumers.

The “Emotional Strength” score is the peak emotional connection a spot reaches across consumers. Brainsights provided us with scorecards on a series of international holiday ads based on how strongly they connect across consumers.

Below, we provide the results of the first wave, using a percentile ranking system*. Brainsights’ analysis on this first batch of creative showed how emotional strength is largely associated with three themes: community/unity (Gap, Quality Street), certainty/ritual (Starbucks, Quality Street) and time with loved ones (Banana Republic and Sam’s Club, even if the latter takes the form of brotherly teasing).

Here are the results, collected in early November:

Gap: “Dream the Future”

The apparel brand’s 60-second, upbeat, inclusive and diversely-cast spot is a dance tribute to unity.

Emotional Strength Score: 98

Sam’s Club: “Forgiveness”

Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman are back at it, this time in a rival charity appeal in the Sam’s Club holiday spot. The humorous banter in support of charity lands strongly with Canadians.

Emotional Strength Score: 93

Banana Republic: “Love The Present”

The U.S. apparel retailer presents vignettes of people cherishing the important moments with loved ones, backed by an acoustic cover of Heart and Soul. It’s a poignant reminder in a turbulent year,

Emotional Strength Score: 92

Starbucks: “The More the Merrier”

The iconic Red Cups get an update in this short (15-second), blissful ad from Starbucks, communicating the certainty of holiday ritual when uncertainty abounds.

Emotional Strength Score: 91

Quality Street: “Something we all share”

The Nestle brand’s U.K. spot lights up an apartment building with the colours of Quality Street, connecting a disparate group of people over the shared love of the sweet holiday treat.

Emotional Strength Score: 80

And one that did not connect…

TK Maxx: “The Lil Goat”

The TJX Company marque cast a cute goat to showcase its wares, reminiscent of Lincoln’s Goat Yoga spot from 2019. But, like Lincoln last year, the spot falls flat with Canadian consumers.

Emotional Strength Score: 4


*Percentile ranks of the spot’s emotional strength score. Emotional Strength is the highest level of connection recorded in a given spot, compared to video connection benchmarks from Q4 2020.

More than 100 general population adult English Canadians were brain scanned for each holiday ad from the period of Oct. 31 to Nov. 12. Each wore a brain wave reader (electroencephalography) to measure their levels of attention, emotional connection and encoding to memory.

David Brown