Feeling Christmassy yet?

Costanza Scarpa | 11 December 2014

It’s Christmas time! That festive period when brands and marketers try their best to move you to spend through a battery of Christmas-themed ads. There’s artificial snow, there’s music, touching family scenes and a whole lot of food. This year there’s penguins. And sympathetic penguins, it turns out, far outperform Christmas clichés.

John Lewis, who have essentially written the rulebook on Christmas advertising, have once more hit the jackpot with Monty the Penguin. If you haven’t seen it, I can only assume you’ve been hibernating. The eagerly-awaited ad tells the Calvin and Hobbes-esque tale of a boy and his toy penguin, beautifully animated with the flair of childish imagination. Monty is lonely for company of his own kind, and so the boy engineers for him to find a mate under the Christmas tree. The ad was viewed millions of times online before it even made its television debut, and the £95 penguin toy version sold out within 24 hours of its release.

Monty the Penguin came out on top of our annual Christmas ad testing, perhaps unsurprisingly. We tested 25 Christmas ads from different high street, department store and retail brands to assess which had the greatest emotional impact on its audience. Scoring a strong EmotionAll 8, Monty narrowly edged out Harvey Nichols’ cheeky ‘Could I Be Any Clearer? ad’, and left the much-discussed Sainsbury’s war-inspired offering in the dust. It also performed better than last year’s 'Bear and the Hare', though just missed catching up on 2011’s ‘The Long Wait’, emotionally-speaking – the highest scoring John Lewis Christmas ad in our database. 

A glance at our Christmas ad list will tell you that most other brands are doing the same thing as John Lewis – just not quite as well. Although each ad picks a different focus – Christmas lights for Tesco, gingerbread for Waitrose for instance – they all contain the same festive elements remixed in different combinations. Scenes of family and community; traditionally festive activities and gift-giving; vast spreads of food; specially selected soundtracks and celebrities all make regular appearances across the board.

As usual, we see emotions drive performance. The more commercially-minded ads score less than those focusing on emotionally-charged narratives à la Monty. The bottom 10 performers on our list – including M&S, Debenhams, and Littlewoods – have that in common, with a superficial consumer veneer that lacks clearly lacks emotional resonance. 

The exception to the rule is Harvey Nichols, which continues its tradition of irreverent Christmas advertising. Stripped bare of sentiment, this year’s Harvey Nichols’ offering features an ungrateful brat who doesn’t appreciate the thoughtful but misguided gifts her aunt gives her, and wants to make absolutely certain that this year’s gift isn’t wasted. It certainly makes a change from the more syrupy offerings, and gives your heartstrings a welcome rest – but it does so with humour, which sets it apart from the rest. After all, who hasn’t thought, ‘Oh come on, not again’ when opening the latest pack of festive socks?

This self-aware acknowledgement of the more consumeristic side of the holiday allows Harvey Nichols’ to vye once more for the Christmas Ad crown – which it won last year with the similarly-minded ‘Sorry, I Spent it on Myself’. ‘Could I Be Any Clearer?’ doesn’t quite reach those heights, but is undoubtedly a welcome respite after you’re done sniffling about penguins and war heroes.