Christmas Ads: The Top Ten

Christmas is the biggest time of the commercial year – not just for the giant retailers whose ads dominate discussion, but for smaller brands too. So at System1 we test everything we can: this Top 10 comes from over 60 different campaigns we’ve rated in the last three weeks. It’s the definitive guide to what made the nation feel more this Christmas.

And after 2018, when Heathrow Airport was a surprise chart-topper with their adorable bears, this year saw the big names came roaring back with their best ads for a long time.

A quick reminder of our predictive metrics –

Star Rating is our prediction of an ad’s potential to grow its brand long-term, given investment. Only 1% of all ads get 5-Stars.

Spike Rating is our prediction of an ad’s short-term sales impact. It’s an indexed score – the higher above 1 it goes, the better – scores of 1.33 and above are considered excellent.

1.  John Lewis And Partners / Waitrose And Partners – “Excitable Edgar”

The Score: 5.8 Stars / 1.51 Spike

The Story: A loveable dragon gets carried away with its fire-breathing and almost ruins Christmas.

Last year John Lewis and Partners changed its tune, bringing in Elton John for the Cannes-winning “The Boy And The Piano”. But the public weren’t as keen as the critics – it got a decent, but not brilliant 3-Stars. This year, for the first time, they teamed up with sister brand Waitrose and Partners, and the fresh outlook obviously did the trick. “Excitable Edgar” is a glorious return to classic form, the brand’s first chart-topper since 2013’s “Monty The Penguin”. Well worth getting excitable over.

It was our Ad Of The Week – go there for a more in-depth analysis on what makes Edgar such a winner. The short version – an enchanting, perfectly realised world, and exceptional acting from the human (and creature!) leads, make this one of the most ‘right-brained’ ads we’ve seen.

2. Amazon – “Everybody Needs Somebody”

The Score: 5.4 Stars / 1.63 Spike

The Story: A soulful singalong with plenty of Amazon’s smiling parcels.

Until Edgar set viewers’ hearts aflame, Amazon led our chart. The retail behemoth has shown it can beat bricks-and-mortar stores in every other aspect of their business – it was only a matter of time before it hit on the perfect Christmas formula too. This is the third year where their global ad has starred their grinning parcels in a singalong, and you can see the incremental improvements each time – the parcels are a lot more expressive and comical now, making a powerful Fluent Device for Amazon.

Global ads are often bland and lacking in humanity, but there are exceptions, and judging from the emotional reaction, Amazon’s holiday ad looks like it could become a new tradition.

3. Joules – “Christmas At The Click Of A Button”

The Score: 5.4 Stars / 1.51 Spike

The Story: Wallace And Gromit’s inventions engineer the perfect Christmas… almost.

Every year at least one smaller brand proves it can take on the big Christmas ad players. This year’s effort from online retailer Joules put more famous names to shame – but they had seriously good help, from the ever-popular Wallace And Gromit.

Hiring celebrity guest stars doesn’t always pay off – where Joules can feel very encouraged is their short-term Spike score, an excellent 1.51, which suggests the ad will prompt plenty of short term activity, assuming they can get it seen without a big TV budget.

4. Disney – “A Disney Christmas 2019”

The Score: 5.0 Stars / 1.41 Spike

The Story: It’s Christmas. It’s Disney. It’s Disney at Christmas. (There’s not much story, if we’re honest.)

You don’t need big ideas when you have characters like Elsa, Buzz Lightyear, and the heroes of Marvel and Star Wars on your side. Not to mention a certain mouse, of course. Disney’s ad riffs lightly on “The Night Before Christmas” but it’s the hit characters who are driving the emotional response up.

5. Tesco – “Delivering Christmas”

The Score: 5.0 Stars / 1.70 Spike

The Story: A Tesco Delivery man goes back in time and finds himself the toast of Christmas past.

Tesco’s best Xmas ad in years has a brilliant high concept – Back To The Future, but with a Tesco delivery van. Cultural references can make a good ad something special, and this one proves it – plus Tesco have managed to take a step into the fantastic without taking the focus off their customer service and down-to-earth staff.

6. Argos – “The Book Of Dreams”

The Score: 5.0 Stars / 1.52 Spike

The Story: A Dad’s drumming dreams come true thanks to the Argos catalogue (and his daughter gets a go too)

Spare a thought for Argos, who score their first 5-Star ad in the strongest year for Xmas ads in ages. “The Book Of Dreams” is the Argos catalogue, though the book itself takes a back seat to the Dad’s joyful nostalgia and a star turn from his puzzled, then enthusiastic kid. It’s also the first – and perhaps only – 5-Star ad to include a minute-long drum solo.

7. Cadbury’s – “Secret Santa”

The Score: 4.8 Stars / 1.31 Spike

The Story: Hidden chocolate makes Christmas special.

Linking chocolate to generosity has been a rich theme for Cadbury’s this year – they’ve hit 5-Stars with their Dairy Milk “Fence” and Cadbury’s Fingers spot along similar lines. This year’s campaign is a variation on the one they ran last year, with sneaky Santas hiding chocs for friends and colleagues. It’s proved just as popular on its second outing.

8. McDonalds – “Reindeer Ready 2019”

The Score: 4.8 Stars / 1.38 Spike

The Story: A reindeer-obsessed little girl melts her grouchy teen sister’s heart.

McDonalds’ are another brand that have discovered the value of letting a good idea bed in – their “reindeer ready” carrot sticks feature in their third feelgood advert. This one touches on another big winning theme in recent Christmas ads – family dynamics, especially the bonds between siblings.

9. Costa Coffee – “Wish Upon A Costa”

The Score: 4.7 Stars / 1.71 Spike

The Story: Coffee brings people (and bears) together at Christmas.

Costa Coffee are a newcomer to our Xmas Top 10. Britain’s biggest coffee chain debuts with a simple but effective animated ad about a bear hanging with his friends at Christmas. There’s not a lot to the story, the charm of it is all in the easy-going vibe and the stylish animation – a great reflection of the brand’s promise to put some relaxation into the Christmas frenzy.

10. Aldi – “Kevin The Carrot: The Greatest Showman”

The Score: 4.7 Stars / 1.31 Spike

The Story: Heroic root vegetable fights villainous sprouts and visits the circus.

Aldi have embraced long-term branding at Christmas and worked very hard to make Kevin The Carrot an unlikely festive icon. It pays off this year with Kevin’s highest score yet and a Top 10 placing. With every year Kevin’s world has grown – he’s acquired a love interest, a nemesis, and this year gets a high-profile guest carrot star in the form of Robbie Williams. He’s a great example of the benefits of sticking with a Fluent Device, even at a time of year where novelty reigns.

If you want more Christmas ad analysis, check out our weekly pieces in The Drum (Week 1 / Week 2 / Week 3) and watch out for the System1 Stocking Stuffer, our downloadable PDF with effectiveness lessons from this year’s Christmas ads.

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