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ASDA on top in the tightest Christmas ad race ever

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It’s been the most competitive Christmas ad season ever. People want a reason to smile, and brands have pulled out all the stops to provide it with a series of feelgood festive ads.

Advertising effectiveness company System1 have unveiled their Top Christmas Ads for 2022, the ads with the greatest potential to drive long-term growth for their brands. Collectively, 2022’s Christmas ads performed better in our testing than any previous year’s ads and to mark the achievement we’ve had to expand our Top 10 to the Top 12 Ads of Christmas.

System1’s 1-5 Star scale predicts commercial effectiveness by measuring people’s emotional response to ads and the intensity of that response. Normally, only 1% of ads achieve a 5-Star score in testing and in 2021 only 2 Christmas ads managed it. This year an unprecedented 16 ads hit 5-Stars, the mark of ads with exceptional potential to create long-term positive associations and grow market share.

The highest scoring ad this year comes from ASDA, whose “Buddy The Elf” spliced Will Ferrell’s character from classic Christmas movie Elf into ASDA’s own footage to surprising and magical effect. “Buddy The Elf” scored a maximum 5.9-Star score on System1’s Test Your Ad.

But in another sign of just how much viewers loved this year’s ads, and how competitive the field was, three other ads also got 5.9-Stars. Amazon, Aldi and M&S each made their best ever Christmas ad, and would have topped the list in almost any other year.

“Marketers had a tricky job this Christmas thanks to the cost-of-living crisis and most of them got their ads bang on target,” said Jon Evans, Chief Customer Officer at System1. “We’ve been testing Christmas ads for a decade and we’ve never seen as much 5-Star work. We test Coke’s classic Christmas Trucks ad every year as a benchmark and it usually places in the Top 3. This year it would barely scrape the Top 10.”

THE 12 ADS OF CHRISTMAS (SYSTEM1 TOP 12 EFFECTIVE ADS)

Ordered by Star Rating. Ads level on Star Rating are ordered using Spike Rating, System1’s predictor of short-term sales impact.

  1. ASDA - “Buddy The Elf” (5.9-Stars)
  2. Amazon - “Joy Is Made” (5.9-Stars)
  3. Aldi - “#KevinTheCarrot Aldi Christmas Ad 2022” (5.9-Stars)
  4. M&S - “Gifts That Give” (5.9-Stars)
  5. LEGO - “Holiday Film 2022” (5.8-Stars)
  6. The National Lottery – ‘’A Christmas Love Story’’ (5.7-Stars)
  7. Disney - “The Gift” (5.5-Stars)
  8. Lidl - “The Story Of Lidl Bear” (5.4-Stars)
  9. Barbour - “One Of A Kind-Ness” (5.3-Stars)
  10. Tesco – ‘’The Christmas Party’’ (5.2-Stars)
  11. Cadbury - “Secret Santa” (5.2-Stars)
  12. Boots - “#JoyForAll” (5.2-Stars)

COMMENTS ON THE TOP 12 FROM JON EVANS, CHIEF CUSTOMER OFFICER SYSTEM1

ASDA: “Christmas movies are a bigger part of Xmas than ever so it’s a genius move to recruit Buddy The Elf for this ad. There’s huge brand recognition too so the elf isn’t doing all the work! The only question is can ASDA follow this up or is this a brilliant one-off - but for now they’re top of the Christmas tree.”

AMAZON: “Sentimental storytelling is one of the most popular Christmas Ad tactics and Amazon get it so right here with a genuinely original story of a Dad’s dedication to make a perfect Christmas for his kid. Director Taika Waititi has form here - he did a 5-Star Christmas ad for Coke in 2020. He’s a master at telling a story without dialogue, which is essential for a major global brand.”

ALDI: “Aldi’s consistency at Christmas is phenomenal. This is the fourth year in a row their Kevin the Carrot ad scored 5-Stars and they got a second 5-Star score with the trailer. It’s another brilliant use of Christmas movies with a Home Alone homage - the other thing Aldi are so good at is rewarding multiple viewings with lots of hidden jokes.”

M&S: “The charity Neighbourly feature in two of the top 4 ads - proving that a bit of purpose at Christmas can work really well. Everyone’s aware how many people are feeling the pinch this year and brands acknowledging that by working with charities are getting a strong response. Great use of Harry Styles on the soundtrack too.”

LEGO: “LEGO are a strong performer all year round as they have a brand people love and very consistent values around play and creativity. This is more of an inclusive holiday ad than a typical Christmas one which will help it do well globally.”

THE NATIONAL LOTTERY: “A beautiful bit of storytelling from the National Lottery which makes the product the hero without distracting from the love story at the ad’s centre. It especially stands out because it’s set at Christmas and has some of the holiday magic but it’s very down to earth and human.”

DISNEY: “Disney have quietly built up a Christmas Fluent Device - a repeated creative asset like Aldi’s Kevin The Carrot. They’re telling stories every year about the same little girl and her family so their ad feels warmly familiar even before the heartwarming story about a new baby sibling begins. It’s one of the rare 2022 ads which includes and resolves a bit of negative emotion on the way.”

LIDL: “If you can’t beat them, join them - Lidl here have a very tongue-in-cheek take on the idea of a “Christmas character” but when you remove the cynical wrapping there’s a very sentimental tale being told. They’ve got the balance just right, and if you can’t have your cake and eat it at Christmas, when can you?”

BARBOUR: “Most clothing brands don’t do commercials well at Christmas, which is a missed opportunity given how popular clothes are as gifts. Barbour is an exception, bringing in Paddington Bear again to emphasise their brand heritage and positioning. It’s their first 5-Star ad after several good performances.”

TESCO: “Hats off to Tesco for being brave enough to tackle this year’s miserable economic situation head on with their tongue-in-cheek political party that promises Christmas joy. It could have gone oh so wrong but pitch-perfect execution and an ad stuffed with funny moments mean it landed a 5-Star score.”

CADBURY: “Cadbury have been running their Secret Santa campaign for a few years but this is the clearest explanation yet of what it actually is and does. It’s a lovely idea and one the ad really sells.”

BOOTS: “An example of an ad with a wonderful creative idea - magic specs which let you see Christmas joy in everything - and execution that lives up to it. It really sums up the winning approach this year, taking a positive outlook and trying to spread joy around.”

THEMES OF THIS YEAR’S WINNING ADS

System1 identified the major themes of 2022’s Christmas ads.

  1. A glass half full outlook: There was a lot of speculation in the run up to Christmas that brands would cut back on Christmas advertising or make work which explicitly reflected the cost of living crisis in the UK. In fact the most successful ads had a very optimistic and upbeat tone, like Tesco’s “Christmas Party” piece
  2. Nostalgia: Buddy the Elf, Home Alone, and Paddington Bear - several of the year’s best ads were explicitly nostalgic about family or childhood favourites. It’s a proven tactic for winning attention and creating more effective ads and brands used it well.
  3. Generosity not extravagance: As has been a trend in recent years we saw acknowledgement of charity work and purpose in several ads, though it was rarely the focus. There was also far less extravagance - this year’s ads were about home and personal connections more than partying and festive fantasy.
  4. Characters: Aldi’s Kevin The Carrot has been a game-changer for UK Christmas advertising and brands like M&S Food with Dawn French’s fairy, Morrisons with Farmer Christmas and Lidl with Lidl Bear are creating and building characters. Meanwhile ASDA and Barbour borrow successful ones from other media. All of them are generating a lot of positive response.
  5. Global storytelling: Finally, the tradition of sentimental storytelling pioneered by John Lewis (whose ad missed our Top 10) has found a home among global brands. Amazon is now a rival to Disney in the storytelling business so it’s no surprise it’s flexing its credentials and bringing in a top name to create an ad which can work around the world. Of course you don’t have to be a global brand to make a top drawer storytelling ad - as the National Lottery’s heartwarming story proves.

“2022 is still going to be a tough Christmas for many, and Christmas ads won’t change that,” commented Jon Evans. “But marketers have taken the right approach here. They’re quietly acknowledging the circumstances families are facing but also trying their best to make ads that make people feel good, not remind them of their problems. It’s a sign they’ve learned from ads during the pandemic which lost all individuality in an attempt to sound caring. As we enter recession it’s really important to maintain a positive presence in people’s minds so they’re more likely to choose your brand when recovery does come. The Christmas ads of 2022 understood that assignment perfectly.”

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