Christmas is a time when families come together. It’s an annual expectation of warmth, joy, togetherness and much more. Sometimes it needs to be highlighted that this expectation makes the season a hard time for many people who don’t have family, or they may be sleeping rough, or anything else that would make the festive season not so jolly.
The most impactful marketing campaigns highlight important topics as well as using emotive storytelling to raise awareness for something or create that feeling of togetherness that so many feel, and feel left out of. Perhaps that is why, in campaigns past and present, a really good campaign has the power to unite the UK public, to bond over the media and discuss the message behind it.
This festive season, Brace have gathered a list of the best (in our opinion) Christmas campaigns past and present. There’s a blend of tear-jerkers and lovable brand mascots, comedic, nostalgic, and political, thought-provoking campaigns, meaning there’s a little something for everyone when it comes to Christmas.
Iceland – Choose a Christmas Without Palm Oil (2018)
- Some of the more emotive adverts featured in this list make use of partnering with charities to create a story that touches the public with a cause they can support. In 2018, Iceland partnered up with Greenpeace to raise awareness to the damage that Palm Oil does to the environment. It features an Orangutan named ‘Rang-tan” and how he has nowhere to live due to the deforestation of his habitat.
- The advert was banned for being too political, but after Iceland posted it on YouTube and titled it “Iceland’s Banned TV Christmas Advert” it racked up almost 6 million views and, according to the Financial Times, almost 70 million views worldwide.
WestJet Christmas Miracle: Real-Time Giving (2013)
- This campaign was simple but effective (sometimes less is more…)
- Customers were asked what they wanted for Christmas before boarding a flight. When they arrived at their destination, they saw all the gifts they asked for wrapped and on the baggage carousel. This was a real-life stunt created to showcase WestJet’s branding as a company with incredible customer service.
Shelter – The Drive (2021)
- Shelter contrasted a lighthearted moment between a mother and daughter as they’re driving. They sing Wham’s “Last Christmas”, and the audience comes to realise the car isn’t in fact stuffed with gifts, but it’s their possessions. The touching moment is then marred by the reveal that they’re spending Christmas parked in a lonely carpark. The overall message is that thousands of people will be sleeping rough, or on sofas, or in temporary accommodation surrounded by strangers over Christmas.
Aldi – Kevin the Carrot (2016-)
- Aldi struck Christmas TV ad gold when they introduced Kevin the Carrot. He has become Aldi’s marketing mascot, even surpassing John Lewis in popularity. As of 2022, Kevin has appeared in seven Christmas adverts, and the UK public are still as fanatical about the bright orange vegetable as they were back in the beginning.
- What has made Kevin such a success? There are a couple of reasons as to why the British public have gone bananas for the carrot, and it’s mostly to do with the perception of Aldi as a brand itself. Aldi is usually known for its mimicry of other brand favourites; Colin & Cuthbert Caterpillar are the first things that come to mind in recent marketing feuds, however, when Kevin was introduced it positioned Aldi in a new perspective. When other brands were showing off their array of alcohol and turkeys, Aldi was showing off the greengroceries they have, and how they surpass other grocers in fresh produce sales. What better way to show off than with a cheeky little carrot?
Sainsbury’s – Christmas 1914 (2014)
- “Christmas 1914” appears on these kinds of lists frequently and for a very good reason. The advert has all the hallmarks for an impactful campaign, as it’s based on a true story from world war one and was aired during the 100th anniversary of the famous Christmas day truce, in which an unofficial ceasefire along the Western Front occurred, and forces on all sides downed weapons for Christmas day and played a game of football. It’s one of those stories that showcase what Christmas is truly about; good will and unity.
Allegro – English for Beginners (2016)
- Allegro is Poland’s biggest online marketplace and in 2016 they aired “English For Beginners” which went on to become a viral hit. The advert shows an elderly Polish man receiving an “English For Beginners” audiobook from Allegro, and follows his venture in learning a new language and the humorous situations it gets him into (in one scene he says “I love you, you are perfect” on a busy bus) and he has covered all his possessions in post-it notes.
- Eventually, he visits his son and his family in England and meets his granddaughter for the very first time, which is the payoff for his efforts. It is touching, showing the dedication the grandpa went through to be able to meet his granddaughter, making it a worldwide wonder.
- What makes this an effective campaign is how it tells just one story out of potentially hundreds of thousands, of why this item was purchased and the slow reveal as to what the man is up to. It has a decent, slow burning build up to a wonderfully heartfelt reveal that’s relatable to millions. It may be an online marketplace showcasing its service first and foremost, but that message becomes a backbencher to the story of this Polish grandpa meeting his English granddaughter for the first time. Allegro knew where to position themselves in this story perfectly.
John Lewis – Man on the Moon (2015)
- This is the only John Lewis entry, despite the department store being the stand-out Christmas advert masters. The John Lewis Christmas ads could have a blog dedicated to just them. They launched their first Christmas ad in 2007 and it wasn’t until 2011’s “The Long Wait” that they gave the public what they really wanted; a story, not a pile of products being pushed in their faces.
- 2015’s “Man on the Moon” produced a story that is now iconic for possibly being too sad. They usually take the emotive approach to the Christmas ad, but “Man on the Moon”, which saw John Lewis partner up with AgeUK to highlight age-related loneliness at Christmas; one million older people can go a month or more without speaking to anyone and this can hit hardest at Christmas.
- In fact, this ad was just so sad that it made John Lewis rethink their entire approach for the following year, which saw a lighthearted and comical Boxer called Buster make use of the family’s new trampoline.
These were picked because of the different topics highlighted, and the various reasons for why the ad was created – from brand awareness to a highly political piece too controversial to air on TV anymore. Each campaign works in its own way, making this list a list with no particular order.
In fact, here are 3 tips to creating a really good Christmas marketing campaign:
- Be nostalgic and/or relatable
Do not ignore the power of nostalgia. Using something, or a moment that the majority of people will relate to is the best way to ensure you reach the hearts of the public and create buzz. You can see this in the examples above – Allegro’s “English for Beginners” uses the well-known feeling of traveling to see family members around the festive season, when people catch up with friends and family no matter how far flung they may be; and with today’s world becoming smaller as people travel more, this sentiment will be hitting home more commonly.
- Have a good story to follow
This may seem obvious but it’s an important one. A good story isn’t just an entertaining one; it’s one that comforts, or confronts, and it’s got to be something the public wants to emotionally invest in and follow along with. Like Aldi’s “Kevin the Carrot”, which keeps the public coming back each year to see what more adventures the lovable veg gets up to.
- Contrasting imagery
When two different things are placed alongside each other, the disparity sticks clearer. If you subvert an expectation and surprise people you will no doubt create a piece of media that achieves your marketing goals.
Have a play around, be silly, be serious, be creative! The Christmas advert is a long held institution and there’s no harm in making something that captures the nation’s imagination.