Seasonal Advertising vs Everyday Advertising

Christmas isn’t just about decking the halls—it’s a global game-changer for sales and advertising. In the UK, festive ads alone drove an impressive £85 billion in seasonal sales last year, with a quarter of total ad spend dedicated to spreading holiday cheer. But with the rise of creative competition, are brands putting too much stock in Santa’s sleigh?  

Meanwhile, across the pond in the US, Christmas advertising is on the rise but still plays second fiddle to events like the Super Bowl. Despite this, the festive season saw a 4% uptick in ads compared to the previous year. This shift also showed that the US is catching up with the UK, achieving the highest average Star Rating for long-term effectiveness yet, thanks to increased investment in creative quality.  

Yet, as the tinsel settles, it’s worth asking: are we putting too many eggs in one Christmas basket? With New Year campaigns often falling short on effectiveness and the holiday hoopla lasting just two months, perhaps it’s time for advertisers to rethink their annual strategies. 

Let’s Look at the Stats

Despite the staggering sums spent on advertising throughout the year, it seems a good chunk of that investment might as well be tossed into the wind. In the UK, a whopping 66% of ads in 2023 only managed to muster a low to modest brand-building impact (that’s a 1- and 2-Star Rating). Shockingly, just 3% of ads soared to the heights of exceptional long-term growth potential (5-Stars), equating to about a 3% share gain. It’s like John Wanamaker’s ghost is haunting us with his infamous quote:

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half” – well, now you know!

The tale doesn’t sparkle much brighter when it comes to short-term sales potential. Surveying sales and immediate responses in the 8-10 weeks post-ad launch, a whopping 43% of ads just barely made a dent. It begs the question: are advertising strategies hitting the bullseye or are brands simply shooting in the dark, hoping for the best ROI?

In the US, the advertising landscape follows a similar pattern, with 76% of 2023’s ads failing to drive significant long-term growth, and nearly half of all ads achieving low to modest short-term sales impact. But who cares? Christmas will do all the hard work, right? Not quite.

It’s true that Christmas showcases some of the most effective advertising of the year in both the UK and the US. In November 2023, 12% of all 5-star ads in the UK aired during this period, compared to 5% in the US, following a similar trend from previous years. However, when we look at the average performance of all ads aired by month, the difference isn’t as dramatic as it seems.

The reason? There’s a massive influx of ads during Christmas, with countless brands vying for attention on our screens. While this surge brings plenty of exceptional creative work, it also results in a fair share of poor performers. The sheer volume dilutes the overall impact, making the month-to-month differences less pronounced than they initially appear.

In the UK, the jump in ad effectiveness is more distinct, but that brings its own set of challenges. With more brands creating top-tier ads, the competition heats up. Launching a 4- or 5-Star Christmas campaign isn’t just a choice; it’s a necessity. Cutting through the holiday noise becomes increasingly tough, making standout creative work essential to capture attention. So, the question is, why are fewer brands crafting 5-Star magic when the competition is cooler?

Striking the Right Balance

If advertising during Christmas could magically boost sales year-round, we’d see brands flocking to our screens for just two months, then disappearing into hibernation. But alas, that’s not how it works. Ad presence remains consistent month to month, with only a slight 3-4% deviation from the norm during the festive season in both the UK and US in 2023. Seems like there’s no holiday shortcut to perpetual success!

But the wonders of Christmas advertising have significant allure – it’s like a festive jackpot, right? But why settle for just seasonal rewards when there’s potential for year-round success? Here’s a revelation: when we analysed the top 5-Star Christmas brand campaigns of 2023 and compared their Christmas activity, including activation and performance campaigns, to their average performance across the year, the results were a bit of a holiday plot twist. Turns out, annual campaigns fall nearly 2 Stars short of their Christmas counterparts. Now, considering that the average Star-Ratings in the UK and US hover around the mid-2-Star threshold, it’s not exactly shocking, but it’s definitely an eye-opener. Seems like the scale of investment in creative ad quality tends to lean heavily towards Christmas, leaving year-round creativity a bit neglected.

Often, this is the unfortunate outcome of left-brained, performance-led marketing strategies dominating throughout the year. According to Orlando Wood in his insightful books “Lemon” and “Look out,” this approach tends to produce flat, product-focused, abstracted, and human-less work that struggles to grab attention or spark engagement. Christmas on the other hand tends to tip the scale in favour of right-brained creative features such as characters, narrative, melodic music, a clear sense of place and human connection, all of which drive engagement for long-term commercial success.

Now, don’t get me wrong, performance campaigns have their time and place. Many brands need them to promote seasonal offers, new products and occasion-specific usage all year round. But let’s be real, they often get the short end of the creative stick compared to beloved brand campaigns. It’s like they’re the sidekick in a superhero movie – necessary, but rarely stealing the spotlight.

Here’s the silver lining: brand and performance marketing don’t have to be at odds with each other, as Mark Ritson pointed out in his Marketing Week article about the Long and the Short of it. This wisdom holds true, especially during the festive frenzy of Christmas. Those top-performing brand ads (4-Stars and higher) not only light up the long-term scoreboard but also deliver in the short term (Spike Rating).

But this isn’t just a Christmas miracle. Throughout the year, a staggering 88% of all 4- and 5-Star ads achieve above-average short-term sales potential. It’s like the marketing mantra of “work smarter, not harder” – nurture the long term, and the short-term falls into place. Sadly, it’s not a two-way street.

Not all brands fall into the left-brained performance trap. In fact, many excel with Star quality work year-round. Take Amazon, for instance. Despite winning Campaign magazine’s “Christmas Turkey” award for their 2023 global Christmas campaign ‘Joy is Shared’, it was a smash hit with consumers. It achieved a stellar 5.9 Star-Rating for long-term effectiveness, boasted exceptional short-term impact, and delivered the highest levels of emotional intensity of any Christmas ad last year. But Amazon’s magic isn’t just for Christmas. Here are a few of their top-performing ads that dazzled beyond the festive season:

Red Riding Hood – Promoting early holiday deals: 5.1 Star Rating | Exceptional Spike Rating

Priest & Iman – Highlighting Prime next-day delivery: 5.6 Star Rating | Exceptional Spike Rating

Sharing is Caring – Featuring the Amazon Echo: 4.7 Star Rating | Exceptional Spike Rating

In 2023, Amazon hit an annual brand average of 4.2-Stars with an outstanding short-term Spike Rating. This proves that creativity doesn’t need to take a holiday, even during Christmas. What sets Amazon apart? Their campaigns are refreshingly simple. They stick to consistent themes like ‘Sharing’ and ‘Joy’, weaving relatable narratives around human connection, universal truths and the triumph of the everyday hero. Even when promoting a product or seasonal offer, it’s the characters, storyline, and melody that steal the show. Not only did their Christmas campaign outshine the festive 4-Star average in 2023, but their yearly performance comfortably soared above the 2023 retail average of 3.4-Stars.

Reaching for the Stars All Year-round

Let’s reframe the narrative about seasonal advertising versus everyday advertising. It’s not a boxing match; it’s a partnership. They shouldn’t operate in isolation but rather work together toward the same goal: driving exceptional sales and building the brand. Consistency is key, treating both with equal care and investment for maximum output. Here are three key takeaways for keeping your creative game strong year-round:


  1. Aim for the Long-term

Whether you’re promoting a flash sale or reassuring consumers that you’re there for them in any situation, it’s crucial to keep your long-term goals in focus. Just take a page from Amazon’s playbook: they’ve mastered the art of storytelling to drive short-term impact while keeping their eye on the long game. The secret sauce? Crafting enduring brand strategies.

Consider Kit Kat’s timeless motto, ‘Have a break, have a KitKat’. They’ve been refining and reshaping it since 1958 to suit different occasions, audiences, and scenarios. While they could simply showcase their chocolate bar and call it a day, that’s not their style. They’re focused on building a lasting brand. So, what’s their strategy? They infuse their ads with character, narrative and setting, seamlessly blending their product into the story. It’s a testament to their commitment to a long-lasting marketing strategy.

Argos also provides a stellar example of a long-term brand strategy that seamlessly blends seasonal campaigns with everyday work. They’ve introduced two brand characters, also known as ‘Fluent Character Devices’—Connie and Trevor. These two make regular appearances on our screens year-round, even starring in their festive campaigns. Fluent devices, like these characters, excel at engaging audiences with a brand. Consider the Meerkats for—they’ve transformed what could be a dull topic into something delightfully entertaining and comedic. These characters serve as storytelling catalysts, but more importantly, they skilfully reinforce brand identity, ensuring that the emotional connection hits the mark. While many brands unveil character fluent devices during the Christmas season, few carry them through the rest of the year, adapting their strategy to different points in time.


  1. Go Against the Grain

Standing out during the Christmas season can feel like trying to find a snowflake in a blizzard—there’s just so much creative flurry and top-notch quality swirling around. Cutting through the noise becomes a high-stakes game, with the pressure to deliver exceptional work reaching peak levels. So, how does one stand out in the crowd? It’s all about zigging when others are zagging. This can take two forms: either strategically advertising when your competitors aren’t, or taking a good hard look at category trends, seeing what your rivals are up to, and then doing something completely different. Take the travel category, for instance—it’s a picturesque paradise of beautiful scenery shots. While these ads often evoke strong emotions, they tend to blend together, lacking that distinctiveness that sets a brand apart.

In 2023, TUI decided to shake things up in two major ways. Firstly, they took the road less travelled by launching their inaugural Christmas campaign, featuring summer holidays with a comedic yuletide twist. While most in the travel industry typically wait until after the holidays to rekindle thoughts of travel, TUI boldly aired their ad a bit earlier, carving out a distinctive and surprising debut. Secondly, they ditched the usual playbook of showcasing picturesque destinations and instead unleashed a troupe of elves to spin a tale. Not only did this approach cut through the festive noise with characters never seen before, like elves frolicking on sandy shores and dodging calls from Santa, but it also served as a rare gem within the travel category—animated characters are a novelty in this realm.

  1. Pre-testing

If you want to guarantee that your seasonal and everyday campaigns hit the mark, there’s a surefire way to do it: test them with real consumers before launch. This approach kicks bias to the curb and consults the only people who truly matter—your consumers. Pre-testing should be baked into your annual strategies, giving you ample time to fine-tune and optimise your creative output, rather than scrambling to test something two weeks before liftoff. According to a study by Peter Field, as cited in Marketing Week, pre-tested campaigns outshine their untested counterparts, driving share growth and maintaining pricing power. It’s really a no brainer.

Pre-testing serves as an invaluable opportunity to gauge whether your assets are aligned with consumer needs, whether you are striking the right balance between long-term brand building as well as short-term sales potential and whether you are leveraging distinctive assets clearly and frequently enough. You don’t have to leave your advertising success to chance.

Create with Confidence

Whether you’re focused on seasonal advertising or day-to-day campaigns, System1’s Test Your Ad platform is here to help. You can quickly benchmark your creative performance against long-term impact, short-term effectiveness and branding strength—all within just 24 hours. Our creative guidance module provides valuable insights, analysing category trends and past brand ads to ensure your advertising consistently delivers results throughout the year.