More Christmas ads that connect

This may be a year unlike any other, but the holiday season is still busy in terms of advertising. Once again this year, The Message has partnered with Toronto-based neuromarketing data and research company Brainsights to understand how Canadians respond to holiday ads from around the world. 

Brainsights doesn’t ask people how they feel about an ad, instead measuring their subconscious reactions. Its brain wave measurement technology records consumer attention, emotional connection and memory encoding every two milliseconds. It averages responses from all consumers studied for any given ad in order to understand how it performs.

The resulting “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.

Below, Brainsights founder and CEO Kevin Keane provides the results of the second wave (see the first wave here), using a percentile ranking system.* According to Keane, Brainsights’ analysis on this second batch of creative uncovered the power of escape and imagination, even in isolation (Apple, Burberry), as well as the powerful pull of nostalgia (McDonald’s) and familiar comforts (Plenty).

The use of music is particularly on point in many of these ads, said Keane. That was the case regardless of whether the music was the star itself (Apple), or a strong secondary character to set the mood, either by connecting with our childlike glee (“Forever Young” for McDonald’s), or reflecting the unavoidable pain of family get-togethers (“Love Hurts” for Plenty), or blissful escapism (“Singing in the Rain” for Burberry).

Plenty: “#XMess”

This British spot might be the funniest holiday ad released this year, with a strong focus on the many distorted faces of its main character reacting to absurd—but not altogether out of the ordinary—scenarios of holiday gatherings. It tells us that in a messy year of uncertainty, one thing remains certain: the messiness of holidays with family.

Emotional Strength Score: 99

Apple: “The Magic of Mini feat. Tierra Whack”

Tierra Whack sings in an over-sized scarf before grooving with her mini-me in this playful Apple spot for the HomePod mini. The notion that we can connect with technology in isolation and be comfortable in conversation with ourselves connects particularly strongly with Canadians this year.

Emotional Strength Score: 96

Burberry: “It’s about that fearless spirit and imagination…”

The luxury goods brand remixes Singing in the Rain set to models in Burberry gear dancing through empty streets in London’s East End as football-sized hail rains down on them. It works. The beautifully choreographed piece invites viewers to suspend belief and escape, a welcome distraction from the stress of 2020.

Emotional Strength Score: 93

McDonald’s UK: “Inner Child”

The spot pulls at the heart strings as it charts the relationship between a sweet, earnest mother and her standoffish teenaged son. McDonald’s is the antidote to his festive resistance, melting the frostiness between them and reminding us that we can let our guard down and connect with our inner child—especially this time of year.

Emotional Strength Score: 92

 And one that did not…

Samsung: “The gift for Gaming Fans”

Set to a throbbing electronic beat, this Samsung product spot does little to capitalize on the growing interest in gaming.

Emotional Strength Score: 1


Still to come… a final wave of holiday ad testing on the brains of Canadians, as well as a summary of what connected with Canadians this holiday season.


*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. To date, 34 holiday ads have been tested.

More than 100 general population Adult English Canadians were brain scanned for each holiday ad from the period of Nov. 13-30. Each wore a brain wave reader (electroencephalography) to measure their levels of Attention, Emotional Connection and Encoding to Memory.