Holiday Advertising Handbook: Six Tips for Creative Effectiveness

The weather outside is finally less frightful. And while the warmer weather is a much-needed change, it is by no means time for any brand to only think about having “fun in the sun.”  

I don’t mean to be a party pooper but now is the time to also be thinking about a part of the year, that at least in the US, can account for a staggering 25% of your company’s revenue for the entire year!  

Before you know it, the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season, AKA Black Friday, will be upon us.  

The marketing teams that start planning their creative well-ahead of the winter months will be singing “all is calm, all is bright” as the hectic festive period gets underway. Last year’s holiday season was an exceptional one for advertisers, so I’ve outlined a few best practices that brands can follow to develop creative that delivers exceptional short-term sales results and long-term brand-building potential.  

The Recipe for a Successful Holiday Ad

Whether your ad is celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or another holiday, there are several strategies that you can mix together to create an effective commercial, including:  

  • Hang your story arc with care 

Storytelling is an effective everyday strategy for agencies and brands but is especially key during the holiday season. Successful ads use strong story arcs, building tension and negative emotions such as sadness to take viewers on an emotional journey. When these feelings are replaced with happiness by the end of the ad, the audience feels more emotionally engaged. Look for a creative testing platform that pinpoints viewers’ emotions so you can see whether your story arc is yielding the right response and identify peaks and valleys in positive and negative emotions. 

  • Create a sense of community 

The pandemic accelerated a trend towards community-led Christmas/holiday campaigns. High inflation rates are further encouraging brands to shift the focus of festive season ads away from blatant consumerism and gifting. Instead, more advertisers are bringing memorable moments to the forefront. Ads that showcase friends and families spending quality time with one another and neighbors offering a helping hand, like in the case of Wegmans and Toyota, often hit high scores when they also consider other creative best practices. 

  • Unwrap nostalgia to warm audiences 

Especially in difficult times, nostalgia, like a bowl of soup, can bring comfort. Seeing classic traditions and fond memories on-screen taps into positive associations. Leverage nostalgic characters, songs and references from the past to bring happiness to a high.  

  • Go festive with your Fluent Devices 

A Fluent Device is a recurring character or scenario that is used as the primary vehicle for drama and entertainment across multiple ads. Need inspiration? Look to M&Ms, which knows how to create winning stories around its spokescandies. System1’s research finds that campaigns with Fluent Devices are much more likely to report profit gains than those without them. The key is consistency. To benefit from their brand building power, advertisers need to invest in Fluent Devices throughout the year, not just during the holidays. 

  • Make magical moments 

Everyone wants to believe that magic is all around during the holidays. There’s no better way to cultivate a positive emotional response in viewers than to introduce some magical elements to the characters and storyline. Don’t be afraid to blur the lines between reality and fantasy. People don’t mind suspending belief at this time of year, especially for the length of a commercial.  

  • Get your carolers to sing a hit 

Holiday songs return to the charts year after year. Their popularity highlights that music speaks to our hearts, especially music with a discernible melody, which appeals to the right brain. ​Brands should use holiday hits to their advantage. Recognizable songs (Mariah Carey’s chart topper perhaps?!) that fit into the story arc will evoke feelings of nostalgia and happiness, thereby supporting long-term brand building.  

Follow these tips and you too can make the holiday shopping season the most wonderful time of the year and dare I say it, a true winter wonderland? Ok, I will stop with the cheesy holiday song references now.  

Do you want to predict and improve the commercial impact of your upcoming holiday advertising? System1’s Test Your Ad platform highlights the short- and long-term potential of your creative with easy-to-understand metrics. Add on Guidance to dive into insights from our team of creative effectiveness experts. 

Access our recent webinar “The Gift of Great Christmas Creative.” 

View the recording