Giving Thanks for Brand-building Ads

Our round-up of the best advertisements focusing on togetherness

The holiday season often brings out the best in advertising. Brands showcase stories featuring characters, dialogue, melodic music and other right brain features. They aim to make audiences feel warm. It’s a smart approach, as advertising that makes people feel happy supports long-term growth.

Unfortunately, as Orlando Wood’s book Lemon outlines, creative effectiveness in advertising has been in decline for years, with an increasing number of ads favoring fast-paced rhythmic soundtracks, abstract product shots, words overlaying the ad and voiceovers. It’s typically more difficult to evoke positive emotions in people using this style of advertising. Perhaps harnessing the spirit and magic of the holiday season year-round is the answer.

At System1, we’re thankful for the agencies and brands that are working to shift advertising back towards long-term brand building. They understand creative effectiveness and incorporate elements that elicit an emotional response. Some of the highest-scoring ads in our Test Your Ad database are those that showcase togetherness and make audiences feel as if they are part of the scene.

Take a look at some of our favorites:

Flavor Table



Known for its spices and seasonings, McCormick scores 4.9-Stars by blending footage of families preparing dishes together and gathering at their tables during the holiday season. The ad appeals to the right brain, as it offers a clear sense of place and betweenness. A mother and daughter bake cookies while relatives and friends clink their wine glasses in a cheers and pass plates of food to one another. While voiceovers are a left-brain feature, the one featured in this spot is comforting and reinforces the messages of togetherness, memories and home, thereby creating a sense of nostalgia.

Reindeer Games



Microsoft’s ad is a masterclass in building suspense and the emotional payoff that this can deliver when the storytelling is expertly executed. It follows a bunch of kids racing to a friend’s home full of excitement that “he’s gonna do it!”. “He” turns out to be a kid with a disability who is going to set a high Xbox score using Microsoft’s Adaptive Controller that is designed for gamers with disabilities. One key creative decision is never showing the game – the focus is on the player, how his friends react and the sense of community they have.

The ad scored 4.1-Stars among the general public and the highest possible score, 5.9-Stars, among people with disabilities using our custom sample testing. This uplift, or “diversity dividend” is possible when advertisers tell the stories of under-represented groups sensitively and well. Our Feeling Seen USA report offers additional insights for brands and agencies that want to get inclusive advertising right.

Pass the Green Bean Casserole



Thanksgiving-themed ads get a small window in which to make an impact, but if done right, they can support brand growth. In Campbell’s ad, we see Cream of Mushroom Soup transform into a green bean casserole that’s passed from guest to guest at many different Thanksgiving tables. A classic tune from Bing Crosby sets the scene and even though the bird’s eye view means we can’t see the diners, we feel the betweenness through their helping hands. No wonder it scored 5.1-Stars – it’s a relatable and heartwarming spot that makes viewers feel happy.

Helping Hand



This 2017 ad from the automaker highlights how nostalgia can yield strong creative effectiveness scores. Set in the late 1960s, a couple in their Volkswagen van stop to pick up hitchhikers on their way to the Woodstock Music Festival. They join the crowds to enjoy the music and when it begins to rain, their van becomes a safe, dry place for other fans to rest. The soundtrack pulls from a well-known Beatles song about friendship, while knowing glances and touch between characters play to the right brain’s preferences and result in a strong 4.7-Star score.

Love Stories: 'Not Quite’ Aunty’s Sumac Chicken'



While the UK doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, food is the focus at every holiday table, so we’d be remiss not to share Tesco’s long-running Food Love Stories campaign. Tesco is committed to showing a broad range of people and recipes, with each ad putting the spotlight on one person cooking the food they love with ingredients from the retailer.

This particular ad stars three British Asian men working together to prepare their aunt’s Sumac Chicken recipe during COVID lockdown. The ad does well among the general public, scoring 3.3-Stars. Among British Asian viewers, the ad leaps up to a 5.5-Star score, again showing a diversity dividend because it makes one group feel seen. Download our Feeling Seen UK report to learn more about the “Star Performers” leveraging diversity to secure high creative effectiveness scores.


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