The 2018 Xmas Ads: What Worked

Combining our FeelMore50 and System1 Ad Ratings tests, we’ve rated over 100 UK Christmas ads this year, predicting long- and short-term impact for them all through consumer emotional response. Here are the trends that mattered and the lessons to learn from them.

In this blog post, we’re looking at what worked for brands this Christmas. If you want to know what’s on the Naughty list, go here to look at the less successful trends.

If you want our team to take you through the results in person or on a call, please get in touch!


FLUENT DEVICES: A Fluent Device is a repeating element in an ad that drives the storyline and builds effectiveness – like Comparethemarket’s Meerkats or the “Should’ve Gone To Specsavers” slogan. The race to make the biggest social media splash each year means advertisers have neglected them at Christmas. But they’re a powerful and popular tool. With Heathrow’s Bair Family topping the emotional chart, Aldi’s Kevin The Carrot sparking shopper riots, and Coke’s Christmas trucks as popular as ever across umpteen outings, perhaps marketers will be less wary of re-using IP.

Lesson: A good character is for life, not just for Christmas. Don’t waste strong ideas.

REPEATS: Some brands this year simply repeated older commercials. There are no hard-and-fast rules around wear-in and wear-out, but generally a good emotional ad stays good. Morrison’s Free From story of a brother’s kindness found a spot in our Top 10 retail ads last year and this. Warburtons’ Muppet Show extravaganza was a success in 2015 and this year was the highest-scoring Christmas ad in Ad Ratings (even though it never mentions the word!).

Lesson: Christmas ads are like Christmas jumpers – if it makes people smile, use it again next year.

JOY: Warburton’s Muppets ad scores so highly because the brand remembers that Christmas – especially on TV – isn’t just about meaning or even magic. It’s also about big, boisterous entertainment. The best of this year’s ads rediscovered some much needed joie-de-vivre. Sainsbury’s and Asda were the highest placed retailers because their ads were riotous, messy, spectacular FUN, with moments to make everyone grin.

Lesson: There are loads of paths to 5-Star emotion, and they don’t all involve the tear ducts. Enjoy yourself – it’s Christmas! 

FAMILY: For the brands which stuck to heartfelt storytelling, family beat out fantasy. The bears’ homecoming is an obvious example – but Boots landed in the retail Top 5 with a 3-Star mother/daughter story, and the BBC once again combined top-drawer effects with a parenting parable.

LessonIt might be corny, but family stories are still a tried-and-true route to good Christmas advertising and relevant to almost any brand.

ORANG-UTANS: Iceland’s rebadged Greenpeace film was “The Ad That Stole Christmas”  – a “Rage Against The Machine” moment for the traditional festive ad, calling its founding principles into question…. for a week or two. Our data showed that the ad won’t do Iceland much long-term good – people may well remember the message and might even do something about it, which is great news for Rang-Tan and his friends. But they’ll most likely forget the brand. When we tested a conventional ad for Iceland’s palm oil free mince pies, nobody mentioned the Rang-Tan ad.

LessonPeople still want to feel good at Christmas – a really powerful call to action can break through, but it won’t always take a brand along with it.

That’s all for this year. For our retail ranking, check out the FeelMore50 site, and to see how Christmas ads performed in your category, sign up for our Ad Ratings free trial.  

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