Once again, the battle for the title of best Christmas advert has been raging among retailers. With spending on festive campaigns during the last quarter of the year expected to reach £6.4 billion in the UK alone, Christmas ads are a bigger business than ever.
But which ads got it right this year and which didn’t quite hit the mark? We’ve taken a look at some of the best and most popular festive advertising offerings of 2018 to see which we think worked – as well as to find out which brands need to change things up next year.
Not going for a Christmas song actually goes a long way when the sentiment still fits. Amazon’s gone with The Jackson 5’s Can You Feel It, trading on the anticipation of the season and the tantalizing prospect of an unopened present.
The company has also reused the singing boxes premise from last year, and I can’t help but feel like some of the personality has been lost by not making them a little more animated. Last year they piped up with giggles and excitement as they travelled to their destinations, whereas now it’s all about the song.
As a global brand, they’ve done a great job of being inclusive across demographics, but they’ve yet to tackle the problem that they’re a brand that sells other brands’ products, and everyone ordering from Amazon this year is going to rip open the packaging and rewrap their presents in something more festive.
As far as Christmas adverts go, this is probably the one that was given the least thought. Not to say that is a bad thing though, as the advert is well targeted to JD Sports’ demographic.
The “least thought” comes in the form of a very basic studio filmed Christmas backdrop scene. The only dialogue is the term “I am JD” spoken by various sporting celebrities including Anthony Joshua, Jesse Lingaard, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Jaden Smith. They are spread out amongst young models wearing a range of sports brands that are sold under the JD banner.
It is a simple and effective formula - get well-known celebrities to wear your clothes - which is bound to resonate with their target audience. Some might say it’s the influencer tactic contained within an advert setting, but would they say it’s a Christmas ad?
What is going on?
A lot. I feel they’re trying to cram a lot of ideas into a minute-long advert. Christmas food, Christmas party outfits, Christmas Jumpers, presents, children playing in the snow etc.
It reflects the idea of people coming together and enjoying the festive season but doesn’t have one clear message other than “everything you need to bring Christmas home”. EVERYTHING. They are shouting “look at everything we have you can get from us” instead of focusing on one storyline that says “hey we do this better and we’re the best choice for this”.
I can’t help but wonder if the overload of products is too much and if they might have been better using a single sentiment to base their ad on.
I'm a sucker for a traditional-style Christmas advert that reminds me of all the great movies from the festive season. However, Currys PC World was definitely last on my list of brands I would expect to pull traditional out of the advert hat.
The advert really does make you think of Charles Dickens-esque Christmas stories, complete with carol singers, a busy pub, great fashion and - of course - a Christmas kiss. But it isn't an advert you've seen before, thanks to the upgraded nature of it.
As well as all the festive bells and whistles, the ad features drones, noise-cancelling headphones, tablets, TVs and more technology, adding a modern twist. This juxtaposition actually works really well and is quite entertaining, especially as it steps away from the brand's usual style of adverts.
Unfortunately, there isn't much of a story behind it, so it doesn't tug at the heartstrings and you don't really care about it. It's pretty and fun but, overall, fairly forgettable as it doesn't do anything wrong or particularly right. I'd be interested to see what Currys PC World can do with the same sort of idea next year.
Argos has gone for pinning all of the potential frustrations of Christmas on ‘The Christmas Fool’, a crossover between Dobby the house-elf and the Cheshire Cat.
I suppose my annoyance with the little blighter actually proves its effectiveness, and Argos is well-presented as a quick solution to the last-minute panics that can spring up in the holiday season.
They score double points for ditching their packaging on deliveries, so viewers can see the products, and it being an advert and the run-up to Christmas, rather than the day itself. Minor point deduction because this advert appears to give the Christmas Fool god-like power over the weather, causing it to rain rather than snow. Kids do not need something new to be afraid of.
This is arguably the most well-known advert on our list but it’s hard to say if it is for the right or the wrong reasons - or if it is really a Christmas ad. The advert, which was banned for it’s reported political outlook, was the subject of many an office conversation.
The advert focused on the character, Rang-Tan, who was an Orangutan that was creating a mess in a young girl's bedroom. The girl questions the reason for the animal being in her room after she manages to get him to leave. It then quickly turns to a rainforest scene, which focuses on deforestation for the creation of palm oil.
The advertising standards governing body believed it to be politically backed due to the involvement of Greenpeace (The hashtag #sayNOtopalmoil gave it away). The subsequent banning of the ad may have been the exposure it always wanted as every news agency picked it up and the views racked up on all the social platforms.
Year after year, John Lewis’ Christmas advert is highly anticipated by both marketers and consumers. Like the Coca-Cola Christmas Truck and their "holidays are coming" big theme, it is widely expected to be a topic of conversation for many. However, after Iceland’s banned palm oil advert that got the nation talking on social media, John Lewis had even bigger shoes to fill when their advert debuted.
Their Christmas adverts have always followed a theme – family values, kindness and empathy for others and always include a big song covered by a different artist. This year, however, they have chosen a famous person to be the centre of their advert, Elton John, and was the second time they have used John’s "Your Song" in a festive offering, first covered by Ellie Goulding.
This year’s theme is "some gifts are more than just gifts" and it's the first year the brand isn't promoting a line of products related to the character they have created to feature as the main lead (Moz the Monster, Monty the Penguin). Although it keeps with their themes of compassion and family values, there is no reason for Elton John to have been cast. In fact, the impact of the message would have been much more heart-warming if they had cast a non-celebrity and used the same message.
Many people’s reservations about it being good is due to their apparent use of Elton John that promotes Elton’s life backwards to the first time he receives a piano, leading to his prosperous career. Many viewers mentioned it feels like promotional material for his biopic film coming out next year "Rocketman" and coincidently was released a day before his final "Farewell yellow brick road" tickets went on pre-sale.
Highly anticipated, when it first debuted it got very mixed reactions from happy viewers to confused viewers and angry viewers:
What?!! It breaks me! Makes me think of what my mum did to help mould my future and what I'm doing for my girls without even knowing it. Its so well written! #johnlewischristmasadvert
— Janine Bond (@janinebond24) 3 December 2018
THE JOHN LEWIS ADVERT COST SEVEN MILLION POUNDS. SEVEN MILLION. POUNDS. JOHN LEWIS. ADVERT.
IT DOESN'T EVEN HAVE A CALL TO ACTION.
— 603 Copywriting (@603Copywriting) 23 November 2018
Regardless of it’s less than creative approach, it has still been named as the most talked about Christmas advert of 2018, surpassing Iceland’s and its look at the widespread impact of environmental issues. However, the best Christmas advert has been given to Iceland.
When most people think of Waitrose, they tend to think of an upper-middle-class shop selling posh food where you can get a pint of milk for a fiver. This Christmas, however, Waitrose has shown itself to have a personality and it has really humanized the brand.
While they've released a few short adverts over the festive season - all of which will elicit at least a small chuckle from viewers - I have to say that my favourite is the one they released following the John Lewis advert debut.
As a partner with John Lewis, Waitrose was able to show the Elton John ad within theirs. The advert shows a daughter showing her parents the John Lewis offering only to have her parents hit fast-forward and skip through the entire advert before asking if anyone wanted stollen. Following the same format as the other Waitrose adverts, this one ends on an elongated shot showing the food being talked about while the conversation continues as a voice over.
It's a lot of fun to see these two big brands not taking themselves too seriously and Waitrose offers a great alternative to the forced sentimentality of the John Lewis advert. However, the lack of any real festive storyline or feeling means that it still falls a little flat.
Saying that, it definitely made me want to go to Waitrose for some stollen, so it definitely did its job.
Lots of Christmas adverts go the sentimental route, meaning others try to stand out by playing on the party aspect of the season. Littlewoods has gone for a circus atmosphere, using a Panic! at the Disco cover of the opening song from The Greatest Showman and telling viewers to "Own the show this Christmas".
The whole thing comes across as being quite empty, showing products in rapid succession without ever focusing on them or giving you time to think if you want to buy them.
There’s also a shot of a man juggling. He isn’t juggling Littlewoods' products – he’s juggling baubles because he’s desperately trying to keep the idea of Christmas in your head while the sixth best song from a musical released last year is shouted at you by one of the hottest bands of 2007.
Only lasting 20 seconds, at least it’s brief.
KFC is not really well-known for Christmas adverts, so it was nice to see the company put something out that actually tied to the festivities. It isn’t easy for a fried chicken brand to muscle in on Christmas but KFC has found a way.
The clever ad focuses on a chicken walking through the snow with seemingly not a care in the world. The chicken eventually meets a Turkey, which we know has more to care about at this time of year, and they have a stand-off. The chicken wins the stand-off and the turkey walks off in shame. Then the words "Turkeys come and go...but chickens are to stay".
This is a brilliant way for KFC to market themselves inside and outside the festive season so we have to tip our hat to this effective tactic.
Cadbury’s Christmas advert is simple, yet effective. Playing on the tradition of a Secret Santa gift exchange, Cadbury’s show that their range of chocolate is suitable for anyone in any situation.
From their classic bars to boxes of Hero’s to their advent calendars, they are successful in their messaging that their chocolate can be sent to anyone (just maybe not vegans, or those that are lactose-free…).
The idea of a Secret Santa is also a genius way to get people thinking about their product as a present for someone they may not know well, such as if you have been included in the office Secret Santa and, unfortunately, you end up with Barry from floor four who you've never spoken to.
Chocolate, whatever its form, is a great addition to a stocking filler or a Secret Santa present, so Cadbury hits the mark there.
Tesco is a bit of an unsung hero this Christmas. Its advert isn't anything big and spectacular, but it really does hit the nail on head and is relevant to everyone, as well as a bit of fun.
Rather than creating an image of the "perfect" Christmas, Tesco has highlighted the point that everyone does the festive season a little bit differently while saying that that's totally okay.
The advert features shots of different people preparing for December 25th or eating Christmas dinner. Every person or family is doing things little differently, from cooking their turkey to staying in rather than going out, highlighting the fact that Christmas is what you want it to be.
Of course, it includes plenty of shots of great looking food - including some perfect Yorkshire puddings - and there is plenty of subtle product placement. You've also got the image of a Tesco delivery driver, underpinning Tesco's continuous message that "Every little helps".
While the advert isn't groundbreaking, the message is nice and inclusive, as well as a bit of fun.
A great way to sneak some emotion into your add is with an animal, and what better animal to use at Christmas time than Santa’s very own reindeer?*
While Santa picks up a delectable mince pie at every stop, the reindeer are left without anything until he spies a McDonald’s and grants the brand a Christmas miracle – someone ordering their carrot sticks.
This strikes the middle ground for me. It’s cute but not explicitly emotional. The product is clear, although it’s not a product exclusively available from the brand. I’d have liked something that traded on McDonald’s food as a treat during a busy period, like when people are rushed off their feet shopping. As it is, a so-so outing from the company.
*Penguins. Penguins are better.
Sainsbury’s comes in with a family feel for their Christmas advert this year. It is an easy, surefire way to resonate with customers as Christmas is about families of all different types.
The advert opens with a small child alone on stage, dressed as a star whilst singing the New Radicals "You only get what you give". The curtain behind her opens and her confidence and that of her watching mother increase along with the tempo of the music. More children enter progressively through the song the stage show becomes more grand and colourful.
The crescendo is the girl is lifted to the top of a large Christmas tree whilst the crowd and mother look on in awe. It is one of the more tear-jerking entries on our list and for that very fact it is a great tactic to get inside the mind of customer and get them on side, especially as the message is a simple but effective one.
I had to watch these adverts three times before I understand what was going on. Let me explain….
One of the main people in the ad has bought a Christmas present (or a few) for someone else, and you then see signs around their home, or their belongings that make the original person happy (or smug) because they know the person will like the presents they have bought.
This totally devalues the spirit of Christmas and gift exchanging. Instead of making the receiver of the presents happy, the focus is more on the giver being smug about the fact they know their presents are good presents.
It makes it about feeling good about yourself because you’ve chosen the right present rather than being focused on the enjoyment of the receiver. The advert essentially turns buying Christmas presents into a competition, just to make yourself feel good. I’m sure no one will mind if they receive some novelty socks again this year, because, well, we almost expect them. It totally removes the idea of the real gift being the thought behind what they receive.
This is my least favourite Christmas advert this year.
TK Maxx's advert is based on its festive competition rather than a grand festive storyline. The idea is that customers will win a year of Christmas gifts if they find a neverending stocking in-store or online, which is the full focus of the advert.
To make the idea more exciting than simply having your year's worth of presents delivered via Royal Mail, the advert shows a family being followed around by a snake-like Christmas shopping for a full year. While the idea of a slightly creepy stocking burping Christmas gifts at people might not appeal to everyone, there's nothing particularly wrong with the advert.
It's fairly inoffensive, has some jokey bits and is mostly pretty forgettable. The only thing making the advert interesting is the promotion, although the competition isn't likely to make people go to TK Maxx especially, so that may a be a bit of a miss on the brand's part.
This ticks all the boxes for me. It uses a cover of a pop song cover in the vein of John Lewis but uses original lyrics to tell a story about a mother-daughter relationship.
Christmas is used as the turning point for the daughter to see her mum in a new light while sneaking in some classic choir singing. Choir singing might be the fast track to my heart when it comes to Christmas, due to my love of John Lennon’s Happy Xmas (War is Over).
Boots also did a great job of subtly integrating its products by having them support the action in the advert (hair styling, wearing perfume, getting ready for a night out) rather than be the explicit focus of it.
Top marks, Boots!
LEGO was ranked toy of the century and has only gained in strength since then. For their advert, they focused on children and their ability to create different things with their product.
The premise of the advert is LEGO creations from the point of view of children versus their parents' point of view. Simple builds of cars, X-Wings and a host of other vehicles are turned in to life-sized items and transformed into real surroundings.
The parents look more amazed than the children as they are transported from the normality of their homes to these cinematic vistas. This is hammered home by the fact that this is what the children experience constantly when playing with LEGO.
The tagline for the ad is "It's not a brick, it’s their wildest wishes". This is a perfect advert for both children and adults as it has buy-in for both parties. Bravo LEGO.
What makes Christmas Christmas?
This makes you think about what you need over the festive period. Family, friends, enough food in the fridge to feed everyone and enough money on your meter to cover the bills when all those Christmas lights are consuming the electricity.
When M&S first previewed their ad and promoted it in store, it was seen by many as sexist. For men it was "must have... dress to impress" with a man wearing a suit, but for the women’s promotion, it was "must have... fancy little knickers" with a woman standing in her underwear.
This caused a lot of debate between how M&S represented both how men and women are seen and what they should buy for Christmas time. However, their full ad, with many more "must haves" show the chaos of Christmas that at one point we’ve all experienced:
- Must have music
- Must have party
- Must have sleep
- Must have in-laws to impress
- Must have a bit of Bridget (Jones)
Etc. Overall, they almost get the true reality of what happens at Christmas and what people generally need.
We couldn't really go through all these Christmas adverts without taking at look at Aldi's offering - or offerings, as really, we need to look at two of their festive adverts.
This year saw the return of Kevin the Carrot, which was welcome news for all the Kev fans out there. It's refreshing to see a brand that has seen success with an idea and rather than trying to top it, have carried on with the same premise. It's no wonder then that Aldi has seen such high demand for all their Kevin the Carrot merchandise once again.
The first advert Aldi released was a parody of Coca-Cola's Christmas truck, only this time the truck is orange and is being driven by Kevin through snowy landscapes. In a fun twist, the advert mirrors the Italian Job and sees the truck skid partially off the road leaving Kevin hanging off a cliff.
While the advert itself isn't all that special, it got people talking, which is the real aim of the game. It was also a great introduction to Aldi's Christmas campaign.
The second Aldi advert takes on more of a traditional style with a bedtime story being told over the action - Jim Broadbent's soothing tones definitely add to its appeal. The ad shows the carrot family in trouble, as they have been captured by Pascal the Parsnip.
Luckily, Kevin comes to the rescue and saves them, with a touch of fun innuendo thrown in. Of course, the ad ends with the obligatory shot of Santa's sleigh, just to add to the festivities.
While the add isn't really special, it's a bit of fun and continues with Aldi's penchant for slightly irreverent humour. It obviously did the trick too as even the Pascal soft toys had people fighting in the aisles of their local supermarkets.
However, it isn't just these two adverts that make Aldi's Christmas campaign, arguably, the most successful of 2018. Their reactionary mini ads - such as the Elton John parody after the release of the John Lewis advert - have been a big talking point, which is exactly what you want as a brand.
Essentially, Aldi have got the biggest thumbs up and the most ticked boxes out of all the ads this year - in my view at least.
Let us know what you thought of this year's festive adverts!
By Joanna Carter
Joanna Carter is a digital marketing executive and the blog editor at Smart Insights, overseeing all blog content and social media. She has over 5 years of marketing and content writing experience, working across B2B and B2C industries. When not working, you can find her creating new recipes, wild swimming or writing her lifestyle blog. Follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.
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