Is This The Greatest Christmas Ad Of All Time?

Last month the British marketing pundit Mark Ritson asked “What about the Long, Long, Long Term?” He was talking about the power of top-drawer creative to define brands for years or decades after the campaigns have ended.

But he might have been talking about the campaigns that simply… don’t end. When Hershey’s “Christmas Bells” spot for Hershey’s Kisses first aired in 1989, it turned up between reports of the Fall of the Berlin Wall and amongst videos for Milli Vanilli and Paula Abdul. The kids who tore the wrapping off Game Boys that Christmas might well be wrapping a Switch for their own children this year. And still the Ogilvy-produced ad endures – it’s the longest continuously aired commercial in Hershey’s history, a survivor of a different and perhaps simpler era in advertising.

But it’s not some evolutionary throwback. When this 15-second ad aired on TV for its first showing this year, System1 Ad Ratings was there to pick it up and test it. And the results show exactly why it’s endured for almost three decades. The ad is an emotional beast.

“Christmas Bells” scored 5-Stars in our Ad Ratings test, indicating exceptional long-term growth potential (something it’s surely proved many times over already). In itself that’s no mean feat – only 1% of commercials on TV manage it. But it scored at the very top end of the range, a 5.9 Star ad. Only a tiny handful of the 28,000 ads we’ve looked at in Ad Ratings achieve that.

And it scored a double, also getting into the top bracket of our Spike Rating, a predictor of short-term sales impact. It scored 1.70 – 1.00 is average, 1.50 is very strong indeed. The ad may be old, but its power to make viewers happy and drive sales of Hershey’s has not diminished.

Indeed, it might well have been enhanced by the passage of time. At Christmas, some brands overcome their reluctance to repeat ads, and let familiarity work its emotional magic. It’s a formula that works for Coke, with their “Holidays Are Coming” ad, and chimes with our research at System1 into the power of Fluent Devices – repeated elements in ads which drive the story.

Whether or not it’s gained in power over the years, “Christmas Bells” has a lot of emotional clout now. And for an ad made before the World Wide Web was a glint in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye, it’s a remarkably digital-friendly creation. It’s short. It uses sound beautifully, but doesn’t rely on being audible. It’s delightfully simple, immediately recognisable, and very tastefully designed.

As a Brit with an incomplete sense of US Xmas traditions, when I first saw “Christmas Bells” I honestly assumed it was a new ad, designed for a digital-first campaign and run on TV as an afterthought. As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong! But it underlines how this is an ad that transcends media – a genuine emotional evergreen, like the Christmas trees it celebrates.

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