Best Christmas ads ever

Christmas is a cliche. There, I’ve said it. But it’s a very, very lucrative cliche to exploit. Some businesses do up to half their yearly trade in the month of December alone. So there is a lot of interest in what you are doing. And a very cluttered marketplace filled with all your competitors fighting for the credit card limits of Joe and Joanne Public.

So how can you make a breakthrough Christmas campaign when the same tools and tropes have been used over again? Let’s look at some of the best Christmas ads ever made and see what tactics they took.

Table of Contents

Christmas Ads with Jingles

You’d think we’d be sick of Christmas songs after hearing all those carols in the shopping centres. But music always has been and always will be one of the most powerful creative tools in your kit to use.

But to make it work at this time of year, you need to do something new. A pastiche on ‘silent night’ is going to get a groan no matter how well it is written.

The first example below uses nostalgia for inspiration. The sweater men campaign for Amazon was truly different for it’s time. Particularly for the tech industry. This was in the early days of online commerce. Competitors would still be selling the method more so than the brand with calls to action such as ‘buy online in minutes’ or ‘just a few clicks and it’s yours’.

Instead, Amazon knew that their audience understood what Amazon was about. Their message instead was about the breadth of their offerings. They were still mostly known for books. 

The songs were brilliantly written. The casting deliberately targeted middle-aged men – a demographic that needed to be convinced of the benefits of online shopping at the time. It was a subtle message that it was super easy to do.

Take a look. The video below has the whole campaign. It’s worth looking all the way through since each execution brings something new to the campaign.

This next ad didn’t have to be a jingle. But I’m glad it was. 

The idea is strong by itself. But I’m glad they did make it a jingle. It makes a complicated idea easy to understand. And above all joyful. It didn’t win as many awards as it deserved, but it’s a brilliant approach to Christmas advertising.

A great interpretation of a Christmas Classic. 

This underwear ad from Australia is perfectly executed. It’s Christmas-y, but it doesn’t come across as cliched. They manage to show all their target markets and a large variety of their products as well. A great christmas ad.

Christmas ads that tell a true history.

If you have a great story to tell – tell it. It’s a truism for all ad campaigns, not just seasonal ones.

The first ad in this section is a high production retelling of the famous Christmas Truce during the First World War. It was a very difficult piece of work to navigate. Sainsbury’s could have easily have been accused of bringing crass commercialism to the deaths of those unfortunate to be caught up in these events. But they trod a delicate line expertly. It always appears on the lists of the 10 best Christmas ads of all time.

And spoiler alert, it’s one of very few from those lists that we’ve included. That list is well overdue for revision. This christmas ad is likely to remain one of the best of all time for many years to come. But honestly, not as good as the one below it. 

This second Christmas ad in this section, or content film to be more correct, isn’t as well known, but it’s an absolute epic. This ‘festive film’ for Burberry. It tells a true story of the history of the founder.

But it is a better-rounded, less starry-eyed telling of the story than the Sainsbury’s piece. It feels honest, even during the fantastical voyeuristic / dream sequences. It’s a great, great piece of work. And it deserved better attention from the creative industry than it has received.

Christmas Ads that imagine ‘What if’?

This is a well-worn technique. But often, the technique is well-worn because it often works.

The creatives have asked themselves interesting questions about the Christmas cliche. And done their best to subvert it in an interesting, lateral and charming way. What if Santa crash landed in the Australian outback, for example? Would he find the Christmas spirit there?

 Now, that’s an interesting creative premise. Take a look at this Aldi ad to see how they brought it to life. It is one of the best Christmas ads you’ll ever see.

Below it is another Aldi ad for Christmas which asks an equally interesting ‘what if’ question. Both come from the agency BMF in Australia, which has been doing some very interesting work in recent years. An agency to keep an eye on.

Here’s another interesting ‘What if?’. What if Santa had already left and Mrs Claus had to save the day?

Creating a character for your Christmas Ads

This first campaign is for Aldi in the UK. It’s the Kevin the Carrot campaign. If you’re not in the UK, I doubt you’ve seen it before. Take the time to go through it. It’s a brilliant case study in how to exploit a character all the way through a media schedule in an entertaining way. The team behind Kevin the Carrot make excellent 15 second product ads as well as their glitzy hero pieces of film. And the idea of using a carrot as the protagonist for Christmas. Brilliant.

You can also borrow an existing character. Doing this is very similar to using a celebrity, and many of the same rules apply. You need to make sure the narrative is true to the character’s attributes. But, you want the character doing something new that the audience hasn’t seen before. Mog the Cat did a great job here.

Dialing up the schmaltz and charm

Of all of the categories, this is without a doubt the easiest to write and sell to a client. But it’s hit and miss whether the execution delivers on the promise. That’s because these types of ads need to wallow in the cliched ‘emotions’ that surround Christmas. Family, togetherness, caring for all mankind, and so on.

They always sound great on paper. They look amazing on a storyboard. But on screen they can feel very same-ish. The below are the exceptions. 

I have a particular soft spot for the Apple ad with the teenager absorbed in his phone.

And here’s the Apple ad. It’s not as celebrated as many other Apple ads, but they nailed this Christmas ad.

And as a bonus, McDonalds did a pretty good job of it too.

Using a celebrity in your Christmas Ad

There’s only one celebrity campaign that truly makes the cut in the best Christmas ads tally. And that is this brilliant, utterly brilliant campaign featuring Jeff Goldblum for Curry’s PC world. Now THAT’S how you work with a celebrity.

Acting ability. That’s actually an important point. 

If you have a celebrity that can’t act – don’t ask too much of them. It’s a mistake that’s made way too often during the Superbowl. It also happens during Christmas.

This ad below for John Lewis is great too. The most important thing to pay attention to as you watch it is how they handled Elton John. They managed to tell an amazing life story without asking him to act. Something he isn’t good at. Because if you ask a non-actor to act (and the joke isn’t that he or she is a bad actor), it’s going to stink like Madonna in Swept away. 

Look at Christmas ad structurally, not creatively. The agency have been very smart. It’s a great lesson to heed.

The power of whimsy at Christmas

The reigning GOAT and world champion of the best Christmas ads in the world is John Lewis. Many try to imitate, but none can ever replicate. They’re wonderful. The quality of the storytelling and the production to do the script justice is unparalleled.

I’ve included the best of them below. Enjoy, and thanks for reading.

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