Christmas Ads 2018 - The War Rages On!

Updated: Jan 16, 2019

A definitive ranking of this year's best and worst Christmas ads.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Be prepared to cry and laugh and then cry some more as big budget outputs from the country’s leading brands tug relentlessly at your heartstrings. We ran this year’s campaigns through the SoundOut insight platform, powered by our 2 million strong panel of consumers. It’s a high-street wide arms race but our annual research provides the definitive ranking of the season’s top 10 ads. What we’ve found this year is that the smaller-scale, more relatable stories have come out on top. Adverts with a strong, simple message, a focus on family and those capturing what Christmas should really be about head straight to the top of the Christmas tree. As do adverts featuring adorable mascots; Orangutans, bears and sentient carrots have all proved effective. So effective in fact, that they’ve beaten out pop legends and the epic blockbusters that ruled the roost in Christmases past. These large-scale, cinematic campaigns seem a little out of touch in the present climate. Even Christmas ads need to feel in step with the cultural, social and environmental zeitgeist. The 2018 Christmas ads were tested against several key factors in order to determine their overall effectiveness. Advertisers should aim for an aggregate score of at least 70% to ensure an effective and compelling ad. With brands piling everything they’ve got – big names, big concepts and BIG budgets – into their Christmas adverts, it’s a tight race this year but there can only be one winner. 

10th Place: M&S - Must Haves

How the mighty have fallen. Last year M&S’ Christmas ad emerged as the most effective of the season and yet here we are. M&S reported a sharp drop in annual profits this year. Declining sales have called for a new direction in their marketing strategy. While campaigns such as Paddington Bear and Mrs Clause charmed consumers, it’s clear that they didn’t have the desired effect when it came to driving sales. So, this year M&S have decided against crafting a lofty and original narrative in favour of some good old-fashioned ‘buy our products because they’re the best’ commercial advertising. The ad covers ‘Christmas must-haves’ and M&S has said that they are “looking to win the hearts, minds and wallets of busy families who are always on the go”. Only time will tell whether this new direction will capture the wallets of consumers. But for now, it’s clear they haven’t captured many hearts or minds.  (view results)

9th Place: Tesco - However you do Christmas. 

This year Tesco swerves the high concept stories favoured by others and instead gives us a simple advert about all the idiosyncrasies that make Christmas so special. Our panel noted that the ad’s diversity of actors, settings, families and festivities really captured the Christmas spirit. This advert may be in 9th Place, but it still earned a commendable 74% effectiveness score. Though Tesco’s Christmas campaign is fun and relatable, they haven’t done enough to set this one apart from the competition, nor from their own 2017 ad which followed the same formula. This is a tough race and every brand must put their very best foot forward.  (view results)

8th Place: Boots - #GiftsThatGetThem

This advert is a textbook weepy. Mining a relationship almost universally understood and misunderstood. In this campaign we follow the shaky road that mums, and their daughters navigate, mirroring the frustrating moments that many of us have shared with our own family.  This is a lovely ad – sweet and heartfelt. But again, as was the case with Tesco, it’s been done before. Last year it was sisters and this year it’s mothers and daughters. Interestingly the consumers on our panel who are actual mothers and actual daughters, found this campaign to be less compelling than the fathers and sons. When we dig a little deeper into the Engagement by demographic there is a clear divide between men and women. There is a scene in the advert where mum sends her overly made up daughter upstairs with a make-up wipe before she is allowed to leave the house. For the men, we see a real peak in engagement here. In direct contrast, there is huge dip in engagement – the lowest throughout the entire advert – for women at this same point. Our female panellists found this moment insincere and felt it represented a tired idea of what a mother-daughter relationship is actually like. 

British consumers have a sensitive nose for insincerity and zero tolerance for cloying. Christmas advert fatigue is setting in and this year people are itching for unique perspectives. The Boots Christmas advert gives it a good shot, but despite its very best and calculated efforts, it fails to establish an honest, authentic connection.  (view results)

7th Place: Amazon – Can You Feel It

The singing boxes are back for round two and more melodic than ever. The concept is simple, if a little dull. This ad, and the truckload of Amazon boxes that enjoy a starring role, is just a vehicle to drive recognition of the already omnipresent brand. Engagement for this campaign is flat and steady. After an initial upwards peak, reviewer engagement doesn’t deviate from a middling, monotonous 7. Although, Amazon’s advert did score highly with 16-24 year-old males, who gave the ad an overall effectiveness score of 81%. Amazon: man’s new best friend.  (view results)

6th Place: John Lewis - The Boy and the Piano #EltonJohnLewis

John Lewis have managed to make the wait for their advert an actual Christmas tradition, and year after year, this is the one to beat. The 2018 offering traces Sir Elton John’s career in reverse, all the way back to the day he received his very first piano as a Christmas present. After coming second in our rankings last year, John Lewis are sliding further and further down the Christmas tree. The consensus from our panel was ‘nice but boring’ and at 2 minutes 20 seconds, just far too long. It’s a bold move by John Lewis to abandon the tradition of an adorable, furry protagonist in favour of some good old fashion star power. In many ways the ad is standard John Lewis fare: heart-warming, story focused with a great song and a noble message that “Some gifts are more than just a gift”. But The Boy and the Piano feels more like an extended promo for Elton’s upcoming tour than a Christmas advert and so there’s a real shortage of festive cheer here. When it comes to capturing the spirit of Christmas, we asked our panel how much they felt each advert did just that – The Boy and His Piano was only deemed to be the 7th most festive on this list. Another commonly mentioned aspect of this advert is the fact that it doesn’t promote any products. But this is John Lewis’ M.O., year after year they focus on story and product promotion takes a back seat. An emotional connection can still drive brand loyalty. But does The Boy and the Piano drive brand loyalty for John Lewis, or just Elton John?  (view results)

5th Place: Asda – Bring Christmas Home

Asda’s Christmas ad sends an avalanche of Santas, elves, dancing skiers serving up salmon blinis, cowboys riding Christmas trees, screaming kids in onesies and, um… Yetis, careening down a snowy slope to bring Christmas home to a very excited young girl. It doesn’t make that much sense, but it is fun and it’s definitely festive! If festive means being beaten into submission with all things CHRISTMAS. Asda shows that a Christmas advert doesn’t always need a calculated weepy story at its centre, sometimes it’s nice to just have a little fun. One of the most commonly mentioned words in the reviews of this advert was “spirit”. This advert may be silly, but our panel found that it captured the spirit of excitement, community and chaos that makes Christmas so special.A special mention to the actors in this advert; 100% of comments about “actors” were positive. Turns out, Asda invited their own employees to audition for roles in the ad, so Santa hats off to them.  (view results)

4th Place: Sainsbury’s - The Big Night

The Sainsbury’s advert is a sheer joy and a real improvement on last year’s output which came dead last in our rankings. ‘Plug boy’ – a little boy, dressed as a plug, who deftly launches himself into a giant plug socket - has gone viral after winning hearts the country over. Naturally, not only is this moment the highest peak in our reviewer Engagement, but ‘plug’ was the most positively reviewed aspect of this entire advert, with an overwhelming 96% of mentions being positive. 

Plug boy aside, this advert is a riotously uplifting affair, guaranteed to make you smile. Nativity plays are universally understood to be adorable and calamitous. This is all part of their inescapable charm and Sainsbury’s ad is chock full of charm, delighting consumers across all demographics.  (view results)

3rd Place: Aldi - Kevin the Carrot and the Wicked Parsnip Continuity plays a key role in the success of Aldi’s Christmas campaign and Kevin, everyone’s favourite Carrot, is back for a third year. Indeed, the nation is so fond of Kevin that frenzied battles have broken out between Aldi shoppers desperate to get their hands on a plush toy version of the Christmas carrot. Jim Broadbent is on hand to narrate the fairy-tale adventure as heroic carrot and wicked parsnip go head to head. Our panel love this ad and they love the adorable Kevin. The distribution of ratings shows that If reviewers could have rated this ad an 11/10, they would have.  (view results)

2nd Place: Heathrow Bears

The beloved Heathrow Bears are back, this year prepping for a distinctly un-British Christmas in their Florida home. But the prospect of a microwaved turkey dinner, Florida’s balmy climes and a Christmas without family proves too much to bear and the duo promptly hop on a plane home to their family, eager for a quintessentially British Christmas.  The advert is a perfect blend of humour and charm. Our sentiment analysis reveals that the central idea about the importance of spending Christmas with family resonates strongly, with ‘message’ being one the most consistently mentioned terms in the written reviews. The use of adorable bears doesn’t take away from the very human heart at the core of this advert.  (view results)

1st Place: Iceland - No Palm Oil Christmas

And the winner is… an unexpected entry from Iceland. Yes, that Iceland. The one with all the frozen chicken. Iceland’s Christmas campaign with a conscience came out of nowhere to shake things up, usurping all the high street heavyweights to be crowned the most powerful, compelling and effective advert of 2018. The advert was made in partnership with Greenpeace to highlight the destructive effects of palm oil on rainforests and orangutan habitats. It was then swiftly banned from TV screens for being “too political”. But subsequent public outrage at the ban snowballed into millions of views and shares for a brand who otherwise, would have struggled to make a splash in such a competitive and saturated market. Iceland have shrewdly repurposed this ban and repositioned themselves as the people’s hero.The advert scored highly across the board but earned a near perfect effectiveness score of 88% with 16-24 year old females. Perversely, one of the most commonly mentioned words in over 25,000 words of reviews was “sad”. Not only that but according to our panel, the advert did the worst job of capturing the spirit of Christmas. Hardly the uplifting, heart-warming and festive fare retailers are usually clamouring to create. The sadness in this advert is unapologetic and Iceland refuse to give into the easy satisfaction of a happy ending. Though animated, colourful and featuring an adorable ‘Rang-tan’, the advert is still grounded in reality.  At a time when our headlines are dominated by global warming, Iceland’s innovative approach to the fabled Christmas ad is a radical step in the right direction. (view results)

*Testing carried out on the SoundOut reviewer platform  in November 2018 with 600 balanced demographic respondents (UK) per advert

Copyright © 2018. Tiffany Amuah

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