The Gift of Effectiveness: The Top 12 UK Christmas Ads of 2023
Every year brands unwrap merry and bright stories for the Christmas season, hoping to dazzle the public with festive fantasies, delicious dishes, catchy tunes and fan-favourite characters.
And now, we’re revealing the Twelve Ads of Christmas – the top 12 Christmas ads of 2023 based on viewers’ emotional response data captured via its Test Your Ad platform. This year’s theme? Consistency pays. Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot returned to the top of the list in the most fiercely fought Christmas ad season we’ve seen, with more ads than ever achieving the highest possible test score. Coca-Cola’s annual classic ‘Trucks’ ad took second, and Amazon’s sledging old ladies were third. There were also best-ever Christmas ad scores for Morrisons and M&S Food and a debut in the Top 5 for The Works.
How We Rank Christmas Creative
In Test Your Ad, each ad is given a Star Rating from 1-Star to 5.9-Stars, a measure predicting their potential to drive long-term brand growth. Overall, only 1% of ads land in the 5-Star range. To rank the ads which gained the maximum 5.9-Star Rating we used a secondary measure, Spike, which predicts short-term sales impact.
Last year was record-breaking for Christmas ads. In 2022, 16 brands’ Christmas campaigns achieved 5-Stars, with five of these hitting the highest rating of 5.9.
And somehow marketers have topped it in 2023 with even higher scores. This year, System1 tested more than 50 Christmas ads and 20 secured 5-Stars, with seven scoring 5.9-Stars.
The Top 12 Ads
The top ads are ordered by Star Rating. Ads level on Star Rating are ordered according to System1’s Spike Rating which predicts short-term sales impact.
1. Aldi – “Kevin and the Christmas Factory” (5.9-Stars)
Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot returns to the top of the rankings this year, with a storytelling masterpiece based on the classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that’s also got a couple of audience-pleasing cheeky jokes. It ends on an upbeat, generous note thanks to the brand’s tie in with Neighbourly.
Aldi is the most successful British Christmas brand. People love to see Kevin return each year, and there’s enormous effort that goes into making the ads as entertaining as possible. That’s reflected in their extraordinary consistency and stellar results. It’s the fifth year in a row that the Kevin ad has hit 5-Stars, and the brand’s second maximum score in a row.
2. Coca Cola – “Holidays are Coming” (5.9-Stars)
Traditionally brands have felt pressure to come up with something new at Christmas. Very few follow the path that Coca-Cola does. The brand was one of the first to realise an ad is for life, not just for Christmas, and they keep reaping the rewards of their investment in the legendary trucks.
This year, Coke comes in second with its holiday perennial “Holidays Are Coming”, a 28-year-old campaign. Coke release the ad every year and it has never failed to achieve a 5-Star score in testing.
3. Amazon – “Joy Ride” (5.9-Stars)
Amazon’s global campaign Joy Ride is not only a hit in the UK, scoring the maximum 5.9-Stars, but also in the US, where it landed at 5.8-Stars. One of the reasons it performs so well with viewers around the world is that it’s built on a simple storyline that every adult can relate to: getting older and reliving the magical memories of our youth.
The ad, set to The Beatles’ “In My Life”, features three older women watching kids sled down a hill. But thanks to Amazon, they no longer have to be bystanders to the winter fun. With seat cushions from the retailer, they can comfortably sled down the hill, which brings back memories of doing so as young children.
System1 and ITV’s Wise Up! research found that just 23% of ads feature a character 55 years or older. And when they are featured, too often they are inaccurately portrayed using stereotypes. However, this is a best-in-class example of how to feature older people and entertain them, along with the wider population.
4. The Works – “Unwrap Real Value Gifts” (5.9-Stars)
For many parents, the joy of Christmas is seeing their kids’ reactions to gifts from Santa and themselves. This Christmas ad from retailer The Works bottles up the feel-good vibes by showcasing the real reactions that children have to opening affordable toys, books, games and crafts from The Works. They’re delighted and so are viewers, as the brand is yet another to hit the highest effectiveness score.
It’s also welcome gift amidst the cost-of-living crisis, encouraging families to embrace the authentic spirit of Christmas by creating priceless moments without breaking the bank.
5. M&S Food – “2023 Christmas Advert” (5.9-Stars)
Like Kevin the Carrot, M&S Food have given audiences a couple of years to get used to their brand character the M&S Fairy. And now that the Dawn-French voiced Fairy is a hit, she’s able to drive the brand to their first ever maximum 5.9-Star score. For once the emphasis is on storytelling, with new characters Left and Right Mitten voiced by actors Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds respectively. The ‘food porn’ the brand does so well is saved to the end. In effectiveness terms, that’s the right choice this year.
6. Morrisons – “Christmas Advert 2023” (5.9-Stars)
Morrisons and agency Leo Burnett earn 5.9-Stars by putting the spotlight on one of the hidden helpers of a family Christmas – the humble oven glove. A host of animated gloves sing Starship’s classic 80s ballad “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” as they shepherd their precious cargo from oven to table.
The gloves dance, sing, sway, make heart signs and are generally adorable. That’s literally all there is to the ad, and to put anything else in would have been a waste. It’s a masterclass in perfectly executing a simple idea – one that won’t have broken the bank for Morrisons in budget terms but which works superbly at any length or on any platform.
7. Barbour – “Shaun the Sheep x Baa-Bour” (5.9-Stars)
Animation studio Aardman are no strangers to making great work – both films and adverts. And Barbour also know how to bring the festive feels. In 2022, the brand’s Paddington Bear-inspired commercial achieved 5.3-Stars. This year, with the help of Aardman, they secure the final maximum score with the help of Shaun the Sheep.
Bitzer the dog is determined to fix the farmer’s damaged jacket and recruits the entire flock of sheep to stitch new patches over the holes, replace the zipper and re-wax the garment. But their repair work needs a bit of work. Thankfully Barbour can supply the farmer – and the entire crew – with new clothing that’s built to last. And with a 5.9-Star score, the brand-building impact of the creative will also be long lasting.
8. Sky – “UK Christmas Advert 2023” (5.8-Stars)
The cinema is a magical place that transports people to other worlds. Sky bottle up this feeling in their 60-second advert highlighting classic films like Back to the Future, Elf, Risky Business and Ghostbusters. It’s a sure way to evoke nostalgia in viewers and bring them on an emotional journey, with clips of beloved characters at key turning points in their respective works. There’s romance, action, comedy and more, and it’s all backed by a melodic soundtrack, a spirited rendition of “Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman to drive even more emotion.
9. Lidl – “A Magical Christmas with Lidl” (5.8-Stars)
The name of the effectiveness game is the right brain, and Lidl prove they understand the most impactful creative features with this tale of a raccoon that wants to join in on the joy of the festive season. The advert has lots of elements that appeal to the broad-beam attention of the right brain, including catchy melodic music that you can sing along to, characters with agency, including the young child whose monkey ornament breaks and the plucky raccoon who dodges danger to bring a toy monkey to him for Christmas, a clear sense of place and scenes unfolding with progression. Combined, these features help Lidl hit a near-perfect score all while reminding viewers to donate to their Toybank to provide gifts to children who need them most.
10. Disney – “A Wish for the Holidays” (5.7-Stars)
Disney reaches into its bag of heartwarming IP and gifts viewers a beloved song, “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from its film Cinderella. Melodic music is an effective advertising feature that captures the broad-beam attention of the right brain. In the ad, we see people around the world and across different cultures celebrate the holidays as they sing the song in the native language. The multilingual rendition gives the ad a global feel.
Observant viewers will also notice a nod to Disney’s partnership with Make-A-Wish. The brand has supported the foundation for more than 40 years, helping to grant more than 150,000 wishes globally.
11. Sainsbury’s – “This Christmas, one little girl asks one BIG question” (5.7-Stars)
An excellent use of storytelling tension from Sainsbury’s – is the little girl going to ask the Santa question over the loudspeaker in the grocery store? Fortunately not, and workers and parents breathe a collective sigh of relief. Her inquiry is all about what the man in red has for dinner. This is an ad with a really clever story framing as a way to show lots of tasty food – those elements combine to bring Sainsbury’s their highest score for several years. Plus a surprise appearance from singer Rick Astley delights audiences.
12. Tesco – “Become More Christmas” (5.7-Stars)
Not everyone is a big fan of the holidays. Tesco take this fact and put a creative spin on it with a story about an eye-rolling teenager who’s surrounded by people getting into the festive spirit in a big way. Backed by OMC’s catchy hit “How Bizarre”, the advert showcases dad sampling some Christmas treats at his local Tesco and then transforming into a life-sized tree, much to the embarrassment of his son. Meanwhile, mum’s now a snowwoman.
But the icy barrier begins to crack when the teen sees a video of a star tree topper he made when he was younger. The pine needles begin to peek out from the sleeves of his jumper – will he be able to resist the Christmas spirit taking over?
The touching turning point of the narrative is when dad reveals he’s kept the tree topper all these years. We see the son transform into a tree with the same star placed atop his head. It’s an unexpected but charming and humorous plot that shows how Tesco helps consumers “become more Christmas”, even those who may at first seem a bit Scrooge-like.
12. Vodafone – “Feel the Connection this Christmas” (5.6-Stars)
It’s rare for a tech brand to do this well at Christmas so party hats off to Vodafone for finding a way to demonstrate a product feature and tell a lovely, feelgood story. Every child dreams about catching Santa in the act and the brand brings that relatable scenario to life with a twist. The lights are strung, the stockings are hung, the milk and treats for Santa and reindeer are set out and the wireless camera is set up. It’s a superb combination of product and emotional impact.
Overall, it’s been a really close Christmas ad battle that’s been won with the help of consistency. Our recent wear out study proved that far from wearing out many good campaigns actually wear in. Coca-Cola continues to leverage its trucks year after year. Meanwhile, Aldi, M&S Food and Duracell feature their Fluent Devices to drive stellar results. Even the brands with all-new ads make sure they’re consistent in their brand promise – Amazon tell a beautiful story with a very clear commercial message.
See all the Christmas ad results in our Test Your Ad platform in the Topical Ads category “2023 Christmas Ads UK”.