Finding Your Holiday Thing With the Walmart Christmas Ad 2023

Parents in the attic grapple with wrapping paper… before realizing they forgot batteries for the kids’ new toys. 

A smiling child furtively makes off a freshly-baked Christmas cookie. 

Two sisters fall about laughing: they’ve bought each other the exact same sweater.  

In these warm, familiar vignettes, we see a story of Christmas we all recognize.

 The holidays, above all, are about those moments of magic – the laughter, the joy, the families and the connections. Those are the things that make it memorable; the things that make it special. 

And – though those magical moments and special things vary – Walmart holds a festive mirror to us all in its 2023 Christmas ad. The result? A holiday marketing campaign that warms hearts, lives in the memory, and predicates long-term commercial success. 

The Walmart Christmas ad 2023 gives us all one simple instruction: to find our thing.


Walmart’s Christmas Ad 2023

Walmart is no stranger to high-impact holiday ads; it scored a 4.4 Star Rating, and the #9 position, with its effort in 2022. 

In The Top 10 US Holiday Ads of 2023, the retail giant goes one better, landing at #8 with an impressive 5.1 Star Rating. 

What does this mean? Well, in a word: sustained brand growth. (Actually, that’s three words; but you take our point.) Star Rating, as part of the Test Your Ad platform, quantifies emotional responses to an ad, and marketing research science shows us – when people feel more, they buy more.

So what of the Walmart Christmas ad itself?

Unwrapping Secrets: Why It Works

The reason the ad works so well isn’t a Christmas miracle. There’s a science behind the success. 

Using insights from System1’s Test Your Ad Platform, our Listen Up! research piece, along with Lemon and Look Out! (by our very own Orlando Wood), we can unpack the impact and get into the reasons why the ad works so well.


Connections and Relationships

In the heart of the ad, we witness not just scenes but stories of families and intimate human connections. 

Brothers share holiday joy beneath the Christmas tree; a child engages in a spirited game of Uno with grandparents; and, in a quiet moment, a mother unwraps a gift from her own mother. 

This deliberate portrayal of human connection triggers a profound sense of empathy. 

These characters are not just individuals in a vacuum; they are interconnected, with relationships bound by love, fostering a sense of ‘betweenness’ that viewers instinctively recognize and relate to.


Characters With Agency

Walmart’s commitment to representation and inclusion shines through in its diverse cast of characters – spanning ethnicities, age groups, and languages. 

A sprinkling of Spanish captions enriches the narrative. Characters aren’t simply static; they interact, laugh, and express themselves. Moreover, the intentional inclusion of numerous children, and a cute dog, are sure-fire visual devices aimed at captivating and sustaining viewer attention. 

This dynamic portrayal of characters with depth and texture triggers right-brain attention; ensuring the viewer is not merely a spectator, but actively drawn into the unfolding holiday tale.


Broad-Beam / Right-Brain Attention

Orlando Wood’s insights in Look Out highlight the significance of right-brain, broad-beam attention (via character, incident, and place), for effective brand building. 

The Walmart Christmas ad 2023 is meticulously crafted to capture this attention. Emotion becomes the guiding force, orienting attention and embedding experiences into long-term memory. 

Humans are inherently social creatures, and we are drawn to those narratives that showcase relationships. 

With a multitude of characters, a sense of ‘betweenness’, stirring, melodic music, and a  warm color palette, the ad is finely tuned to capture broad-beam attention, ensuring a lasting imprint in the viewer’s memory.

To learn more about emotion and the power of music in advertising, download our research piece, Listen Up! now.

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Sense of Time and Place

The Walmart Christmas ad artfully crafts a myriad of heartwarming scenes against cozy holiday backdrops – gifts under the tree, baking cookies in the kitchen, family reunions in a cafe. 

This clearly anchors the ad in the ‘Christmas moment’ – instantly recognizable to viewers. 

The ad goes one step further, though, by making the holidays not just a time, but a place in and of itself. 

The tapestry of Christmas scenes transports viewers to a mental location where warmth, family, good food, love – and of course, the buying of gifts – is very much part of the furniture.


Play on Words & Subversion of Language

One core linguistic motif threads through the ad, urging viewers to ‘find your thing.’ 

Yet, that ‘thing’ wears myriad coats. The ‘gasp when they unwrap it thing’, the ‘remember the batteries thing’, the ‘impossible to wait thing’, the ‘no peeking thing’, the ‘encuentra tu totopos for santa thing’… the list goes on. 

This linguistic foxtrot keeps viewers engaged and guessing, injecting humor into the narrative and effectively capturing right-brain attention

As the ad unfolds, that versatile-yet-relatable ‘thing’ becomes a delight and a surprise: what will come next? This maintains the viewer’s curiosity throughout.


The Thing Is…

The resonance of the Walmart Christmas ad 2023 is a carefully engineered creative effort, made up of psychological triggers and brand storytelling finesse. 

Understanding exactly why this ad works so well is linked to the ‘availability heuristic’, the ‘affect heuristic’ and the ‘processing fluency heuristic’ – or, in normal-people speak, the 3 Fs: 

  • Fame: Walmart comes readily to consumers’ minds, through a pervasive and consistent campaign.
  • Feeling: Walmart triggers the good feelings, through heartwarming and emotional advertising devices.
  • Fluency: Walmart is instantly recognizable, through fidelity to brand assets such as logo, color scheme, and typeface.

Put together, it’s a triumph of commercial storytelling, and long-term, growth-driven brand building. 

The result? Well, let’s just say: it’s something quite special.  

To see more industry-leading holiday ads, check out Ad of the Week now, or get in touch to find out how your brand can start creating 5-Star advertising.


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