OPINION4 December 2020

Christmas ad season in a year like no other

FMCG Media Opinion Retail Technology UK

Christmas adverts in 2020 are less distinctive than previous years, but some have made people feel positive during a time of uncertainty. By Lynne Deason.

Amazon christmas ad 2020_crop

This year’s TV ads show us that there are many ways to crack the Christmas advertising effectiveness nut. According to Kantar’s annual research into the top performing Christmas ads, brands have leveraged many different approaches in this year’s festive campaigns.

We’re seeing nostalgia, escapism, humour and fantasy. Some brands reference a ‘year like no other’ head on, while others have taken a more subtle approach. We’ve also seen brave new campaigns from brands like Amazon tackling Covid-19 and diversity and inclusion in ‘The Show Must Go On’, a divergence from its singing boxes of previous years.

The question is, did advertisers hit the mark? Sadly, it’s not all joyful; the least effective ads are upsetting people in view of the current crisis. Any attempt to reference coronavirus was always going to be challenging; some brands have triumphed, others, although well intentioned, have been misunderstood. 

Kantar’s research looks into which ads work best among 3,002 UK viewers using our LinkNow creative development tool. The research reviews the critical factors that prove whether an ad is effective, if it will create predisposition to purchase in the short term and if it will contribute to the brand’s success longer term. Affectiva’s facial coding technology determines the power of an ad to provoke emotion and the nature of that emotion.

Looking at the results, some might be surprised at the winners and losers.

Coca-Cola delivered smiles in massive doses, with its ads taking first and second place in this year’s top performing festive ads. ‘Trucks’, the most nostalgic of Christmas ads that first graced our screens in 1995, takes the number one spot. People in the UK love this ad. In our 2019 research, we saw that it is part of the cultural fabric of Christmas and triggered very powerful emotional responses and a feeling of joy that the Christmas season has begun. As nostalgia brings comfort in a time of crisis, enjoyment of the ad was heightened even further in 2020, with 39% enjoying watching the ad a lot, versus 29% last year.

‘The Letter’, which sees a father go on an epic journey to deliver his daughter’s letter to the North Pole, is also an emotionally provocative, highly enjoyable, well-branded ad. It doesn’t quite hit the same high notes in terms of building love towards the brand, but it’s still highly effective.  

We are also seeing humour used to good effect this year. Laughter is one of the best medicines in times of stress, yet over the last 20 years in UK advertising, it has been used less and less.

Tesco’s ‘No Naughty List’ leverages humour in one of 2020’s top performing ads. This is the only Christmas ad this year that’s in the top third of ads for being enjoyable, emotionally provocative and actively engaging. It’s also very well branded, although it doesn’t quite match last year’s stellar performance. People appreciated the light-hearted approach and many agreed with the idea that everyone deserves to indulge themselves this Christmas.

TK Maxx’s ‘Lil’ Goat’ ad is also amusing and distinctive, while Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot continues to win the hearts of the nation and reinforces looking out for each other and being with those we love.

On the other hand, the jokes in Lidl’s ‘A Christmas You Can Believe In’ don’t land quite as successfully. While those of us in the industry appreciate the intended humour, the micky-taking and having a ‘stab’ at competitors wasn’t fully appreciated by the wider public.

Amazon made the brave decision to put the impact of coronavirus at the heart of its creative. The uplifting ad inspires us to keep the ‘show’ going and is deemed the most appropriate ad in the current crisis – 50% of people felt it was very appropriate versus a study average of 33%. Where the show stops for the ad, however, is the integration of the brand, which is in the bottom 5% of all ads tested, and one of the bottom performers this year on this measure.

Overall, this year’s ads are less attention-grabbing, lacking some of the involvement and distinctiveness that we saw in some of the most effective ads in 2019.

Our research shows that it’s hard to make people feel more positive about Christmas when surrounded by so much uncertainty, yet Coca-Cola, Tesco, Amazon and Aldi all give us that little lift for very different reasons. 

Lynne Deason is head of creative excellence UK at Kantar

Pictured: Still from Amazon’s Christmas advert 2020