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Data-backed Insights: How to Create the Perfect Christmas Ad 

By incivus

(Source: Campaigns of the World)

Like Budweiser and Rocket Mortgage has set a gold standard for advertising in the Super Bowl, John Lewis & Partners, a department store company, is regarded as the gold standard in Christmas advertising. It is almost a tradition for every advertiser to wait for John Lewis’ magical, heartwarming Christmas ad every year in November; a tradition that has been going on since 2007. 

What sets John Lewis’ Christmas ads apart is their ability to convey emotions in beautifully woven and heart touching stories. Their ads are at least double the industry standard length of 30 seconds which allows them to explore the theme and story in more depth. 

While there are no rules set in stone or a scientific formula for what makes for a successful Christmas campaign just yet, we have narrowed it down to a few key lessons and findings for creating a Christmas cracker, and avoiding a turkey (iykyk). 

5 Key Lessons & Findings for Creating the Best Festive Ad

1. Evoke the right emotion

Nostalgia is one of the most powerful emotions used in advertising particularly around the festive season. According to the Journal of Consumer Research, when brands make people feel nostalgic, people are more willing to spend money with the brand. 

Since, for most people, Christmas is all about decorating their houses & Christmas trees and reliving their family traditions, depicting similar scenes involving Christmas traditions and memories in advertisements can help brands evoke nostalgia among the viewers which can improve the likelihood of their purchase. 

Mars, in their 2017 campaign for M&M’s, had every Christmas element from Santa Claus, snowy weather, to Christmas trees, and sharing of gifts. The storyline evolves from being funny to warm and nostalgic of the times when the Christmas tradition of giving gifts was a communal event.

On the other hand, many people might not celebrate Christmas in a traditional manner or might be less privileged to splurge on trees, gifts, and the likes. Creating campaigns around raising money to donate to charities that are spreading joy in the lives of less fortunate people in any shape and form also goes a long way in building a brand that people come to love and trust. 

Incivus Insight: Being tone-deaf in your advertising is one of the worst things that can happen so, before airing the campaign, it is smart to analyze how the emotions depicted in the campaign are being perceived by the audience instead of relying on the assumptions of people who might be too close to tell the differences (if any). 

2. Focus on one or two characters

The common theme among the best Christmas campaigns across years and decades is the simple stories being told in the most attention grabbing and memorable way.  

Cluttering an ad with different story lines or characters can make it difficult for the viewers to follow and hence, they might disassociate with the story as well as the brand. Moreover, ads with linear narratives give the brain an incentive to be attentive and stay engaged which then creates strong memory peaks throughout the ad. This drives higher recall for the brand which is highly indicative of future purchases. 

Yellow Pages’ Mistletoe (1992), Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot (2016), and McDonald’s Imaginary Iggy (2021), the epitome of Christmas advertising, had simple stories following one or two main characters.

(Source: CampaignLive)

Incivus Insight: Focusing on either one or maximum two characters in the frame is directly linked to higher attention and ad recall. 

3. Adding moments of disruption ensures higher recall  

Adding a few moments of significant disruption like unexpected turns in the story can help create peaks of memory response in the brain and thereby improving overall ad recall.  

For instance, John Lewis’ recent campaign, The Beginning, revolves around a 30-something guy trying to learn and mostly failing at skateboarding for most of the ad length. The disruptive moment or climax of the ad is when a person from foster care system brings a teenage girl, who is also holding a skateboard, to be fostered at their home. The moment when the viewer connects the dots and understands that this 30-something person was trying to learn skateboarding to connect with their future foster kid is the moment where they emotionally connect with the story and the brand. 

Incivus Insight: Adding branding elements like logos, audios, taglines, or products in the moments of disruption will positively impact the association of the brand with the ad and thereby improve brand recall. Testing ads at frame-level for recall as well as attention can help streamline the creation of moments of disruption and placement of branding elements. 

4. Stir away from Christmas melodies 

While it might come across as too broad a statement, there is the right soundtrack or a piece of music for every advertisement that complements the story and the brand. According to a study by the Association of Consumer Research, using the right music in ads can improve overall ad effectiveness in several ways including higher purchase intent and improved attitude towards the ad & the brand. 

For festive campaigns, while it might seem like Christmas melodies and songs will fit in the best, 23% Americans said that they detest festive music in one of the consumer surveys. Hence, do not try to force fit this music when it is not in synergy with the visuals of the ad as it can create dissonance among the audience. Maintaining synergy between the brand, music, and visuals is more important than following the norm. 

Incivus Insight: Understanding the genre and the mood created by the music before using it for the campaigns can help brands improve the overall ad effectiveness of the campaign. 

5. High-contrast red & white is the winning combination 

With the explosion of information on the internet, it is right to say that we are living in an attention economy where every brand is fighting for one thing – the attention of the audience. There are scientifically proven ways like using high-contrast colors, showing ads at least 7 times, and using emotions in the right context that can help achieve more attention in ads. 

For a festive campaign, using a high-contrasting red & white combination can help brands capture and retain attention at the right places. In one of the longest-running Christmas campaigns by Hershey’s Kisses named Christmas Bells, they used Christmas-colored packaging for their product against the white backdrop, which helped them capture attention on their product and branding.  


(Source: Attention Graph by Incivus)

Related read: How to optimize your campaign for attention 

Incivus Insight: What makes it memorable for festive campaigns is the high-level of synergy between the story, visuals, music, and emotions. Ensuring such synergy in the ad can help brands achieve highest levels of creative effectiveness.  

Above everything, be authentic and realistic 

According to a recent study, there has been a 60% increase in consumers who want to see ‘real families’ in Christmas ads. Operating from a bias or accepting assumptions as facts while creating festive campaigns might not be as effective as relying on data.  

While data is not here to replace creativity or the ability to weave a heart touching story, it can provide insights into consumer behavior and perceptions which, in turn, can help brands create highly relevant festive campaigns. 

Our creative intelligence platform, Incivus, evaluates advertisements to understand the perception of the audience and predict the success of the campaign even before it goes live. Data points like recall scores, attention graphs, and in-depth evaluations of ad copy, music, human presence, and emotions help creative directors and agencies make the necessary changes to achieve highest levels of creative effectiveness. 

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