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Social Media, PR

The best Christmas marketing campaigns ever

As we get closer to the festive season, we’re taking a look at some of the best Christmas campaigns of all time.

Last updated November 2023.

The festive season seems to start earlier and earlier each year. As soon as the doors close on Halloween, and Black Friday is out of the way, retailers turn their attention to Christmas and securing those all important spots in shoppers’ baskets.

At a time where marketing messaging can be very loud - from festive emails, social media campaigns and PPC ads, to those heavily anticipated TV adverts - it’s important for brands to cut through the noise. Some brands do this exceptionally well, connecting with audiences and standing out amongst competition, while others can struggle to be heard.

From the ones that tug on our heart strings with sentimental themes, to those that make us laugh, here are some of our favourite Christmas marketing campaigns from over the years.

Aldi: Kevin the Carrot (2016 onwards)

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Since 2016, Aldi’s festive mascot Kevin has been the face of their Christmas campaigns. Despite year-on-year growth, and increasing market share, the retailer was struggling to maintain momentum over the festive period, with shoppers returning to more premium supermarkets for their Christmas shopping.

However, that all changed when Kevin stepped on the scene. Following his debut, they saw a 15.1% sales uplift and attracted one million new shoppers.

Since his arrival, the curious character has captured the hearts of many who look forward to discovering what adventures he’ll get up to each year. As the years have gone by, we’ve been introduced to new characters, including his family and friends.

Searches for ‘Kevin the Carrot’ were almost 10x higher than those for ‘Santa Claus’ or ‘Father Christmas’ in 2018, and the plush toy version of the carrot sells out in-store every year.

A Kantar report for Marketing Week found that his 2019 campaign topped the list when it came to effectiveness, compared to 3000 other Christmas campaigns, including the likes of Coca-Cola and John Lewis. They told Marketing Week that, “The campaign scored particularly highly on emotional impact and whether people enjoyed the ad – coming in the top 10% of all ads on Kantar’s database (not just Christmas ads), as well as driving long-term brand growth.”

From TV adverts, to social media campaigns and even in-store merchandise, Kevin has become one of the most effective Global Christmas Ads of all time according to System1, a global marketing research and effectiveness company, who also ranked him the UK’s most effective ad of 2020.

Aldi’s brand mascot is a brilliant example of the power of maintaining an emotional connection with audiences, who are able to continuously grow with the character. They can be used across various channels in different mediums, from videos and gifs, to posters and point of sale displays, allowing for more complex storytelling and opportunities for audiences to engage with the brand.

We can’t wait to see what adventure this year will bring!

John Lewis: Monty the Penguin (2014)

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Perhaps the most heavily anticipated Christmas advert every year, the department store has produced some of our most-loved and best performing festive advertisements of all time.

Their collection of ads consistently manage to pull on the heartstrings of consumers, using sentimental storytelling alongside a romanticised cover of a previous hit song, which typically ends up at the top of the charts for the duration of the festive period.

Like Aldi, John Lewis have also been known to create a brand mascot, though they typically develop a new one each year for shoppers to get behind. From Monty the penguin and Excitable Edger, to Moz the Monster, they know first hand the power of a character. But which one comes out on top?

The results are in. Monty the penguin claims the number one spot in our ranking of Christmas ads from John Lewis. The seven-week long campaign really connected with audiences emotionally, who could interact with the advert and both Monty and his girlfriend Mabel across various social media platforms, as well as in-store in the form of plush toys which sold out within days of the advert’s launch.

Results wise, the penguins performed exceptionally well. Digital Uncovered reported that John Lewis’ sales were up 5.5% year-on-year versus a market increase of only 1.5%, and that they also had a record sales week, taking £175million for the first time. The campaign delivered a profit ROI of £7.44 for every pound spent, £141million in revenue, and generated 349million impressions - up 320% on the previous year. At launch, it trended globally on Twitter, with Tom Odell’s ‘Real Love’ which played throughout the clip reaching number three on the iTunes charts.

Not bad for a cartoon penguin!

McDonalds: Inner Child (2020)

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The fast food chain’s 2020 Christmas advert surprised audiences with its level of sentiment and use of emotion. The animation tells the story of a single mother trying to get her teenage son to engage with family traditions, while a stripped back version of ‘Forever Young’ by Becky Hill plays in the background.

The ad left meany teary eyed, with parents up and down the country able to connect with the story. With over 1.8million views on Youtube, 37.6k likes on twitter as well as seven thousand retweets, it proved incredibly popular across social media, trending as a topic on its day of release.

Alongside the video, their ongoing #ReindeerReady campaign included a microsite and app where parents could create footage of a reindeer visiting their home to share with their children. The relaunch of the campaign received press coverage from around the country, highlighting the steps for creating the short video clips, as well as praising McDonalds for their emotive advert.

The brand was able to promote their Christmas menu offering across social media at the same time, benefitting from the positive growth in engagement and sentiment with audiences around the country.

Google: Home Alone Again (2018)

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This brilliant campaign featured scenes from the iconic 1990 film, while showcasing Google Assistant products. Macaulay Culkin reprised his role as Kevin McCallister in this comedic "remake" of the classic film, 28 years later.

Google tapped into audiences' love of the holiday classic and the trend for all things nostalgic, with a modern day twist. Kevin is back to his old tricks, though this time with the help of Google Home to place an aftershave order, check his calendar and even carry out operation Kevin to keep those perky burglars at bay.

AdAge’s AcuityAds analysis revealed that the Home Alone Again campaign was the most-viewed holiday ad of 2018, racking up 70.7million views in 2018 alone. The ad attracted lots of social media attention from millennials, further connecting the brand with those most likely to purchase a smart speaker for their home.

Allegro: English for Beginners (2016)

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Nothing quite says Christmas like family, and that’s the message Polish auction site Allegro went with in their festive campaign back in 2016. Although not especially well known outside of Poland, the brand and their moving Christmas adverts have carved a name for themselves around the world as brilliant advertisers, with their ads often exploding on social media.

This one is no different, and tells the story of an elderly gentleman learning English in an effort to communicate with his Granddaughter during a trip to the UK over the festive period. Funny, sweet and charming, to date the video has over 19million views on Youtube and was a viral sensation across social platforms, while gaining press mentions across global and national news outlets such as Buzzfeed, The Independent and The Guardian.

Amazon: Give a little bit (2017)

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Back in 2017, Amazon converted their smiling logo on packages into singing mouths, each performing a rendition of the classic 70s song, ‘Give a little bit,’ by Supertramp as they made their way from fulfilment centres to customers around the world.

From its catchy, well known song, to the simple but effective creative adaptation of their well-known packaging, this ad ticked a lot of boxes for viewers and marketing professionals alike.

Brand valuation firm Kantar Millward Brown crowned the commercial the “most talked-about Christmas ad” in the UK across 12 factors, including persuasion, entertainment, involvement, originality, and likeability. It beat out John Lewis, Aldi, Argos, and 14 other brands, while being crowned the ad most likely to persuade Brits to buy. For persuasion – a score based on how likely an ad will convert a viewer into a buyer – Amazon scored 3.78.

Jane Bloomfield, Head of Marketing at Kantar Millward Brownold told Marketing Week, “The reason the likes of Amazon and Argos have performed so well is because their ads combine strong storytelling with “a single, clear benefit message that isn’t hammered home, but rather woven into an engaging story. That seems to be the magic combination.”

Marks and Spencer: This Is Not Just Food... This Is M&S Christmas Food (2019)

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Known for their slow motion close ups and sensual voice overs, Marks and Spencer added more of a human element to their 2019 food advert, building upon their digital food series - ‘What’s new with M&S?’ - which stars a panel of celebrities including Paddy McGuinness and Emma Willis. The episodes had proven to be a huge hit with its more digital-savvy audience, reaching at least 10.6 million unique users and delivering over 20million views.

Marketing Week reported the online series is the brand’s “biggest ever social media campaign” and a “gamechanger” in M&S’s marketing strategy, so it was a no-brainer to incorporate it into their Christmas campaign.

As such, they designed and built their own Christmas market, complete with food stalls, a choir and even a light dusting of snow, inviting 125 real-life M&S customers to try out their latest festive range. Viewers follow Paddy and Emma round as they try a variety of delicious-looking dishes, each shot close up and in slow motion in true M&S style, but with a more humorous voiceover from the pair.

The TV campaign rotated eleven sets of product clips, allowing M&S to present a wide range of products during the countdown to Christmas, and maximising the opportunity to connect with shoppers as they planned their festive food shop.

They also ran a corresponding festive themed version of their digital series across social media, plus interviews with producers from each of the food stalls, which accumulated over 1.3million views on Youtube and 821k views on Facebook, as well as 231k views on IGTV.

The evolution of the classic M&S ‘food porn’ style of advert customers know and love, into something more modern, people-based and entertaining is what made this campaign so popular with viewers, with most products featured in the ad proving to be top sellers in-store.

Coca-Cola: The holidays are coming (2019)

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We couldn’t write about the best Christmas marketing campaigns of all time without mentioning Coca-Cola and their world-famous red truck advert, which for many signifies the official start of the festive season, and has done since it first appeared on our screens back in 1995.

However, in 2019, Coca-Cola launched their biggest ever global Christmas campaign, backed by their largest ever media budget.

Ahead of the launch, Kris Robben’s, Marketing Director at Coca-Cola Great Britain and Ireland, commented: “This year, we’ve taken the iconic and much-loved campaign and made it the biggest yet by bringing back the elements people love and adding new partnerships, activity and special moments to bring it to life in even more ways that we hope our existing fans and new ones will love.”

As well as an updated version of their classic TV advert, the campaign also included a Coca-Cola truck tour, which stopped off at 19 locations around the UK.

To drive social media engagement and encourage user generated content, they released a bespoke Snapchat lens as well as a partnership with Waze, the navigation app, which provided directions to the closest location where customers could purchase one of their products.

During November and December, the brand also took over digital screens and spaces at major train and bus stations around the UK, as well as Piccadilly Lights where they hosted Christmas karaoke, complete with a choir.

Finally, they celebrated the return of a cinnamon flavoured Coca-Cola zero sugar by taking over Oxford Circus station and transforming it into a cinnamon scented space, while a cinnamon inspired igloo experience at London’s Winter Wonderland further marketed the limited edition festive product.

Coca-Cola continues to recognise the value in creating exciting, news-worthy experiences around their products. Their 2019 campaign is a fantastic example of building upon existing customer loyalty by providing new opportunities to excite and delight customers. To date, the hashtag #CocaColaTruck has been used over 60.1k times on Instagram, while #HolidaysAreComing has been used over 500k times on the same app, and has been viewed 2.4million times on TikTok.

#Waggmas (by us!)

Brands of all sizes and across all industries can tap into the opportunities Christmas presents, it's all about being creative and knowing your audience.

Back in 2020, we designed and implemented a digital advent calendar for dog food brand, Wagg, under the #Waggmas campaign.

Every day in December, on the run up to Christmas Day, followers were able be to open a Facebook or Instagram door to reveal different prize to win. With over 70 thousand impressions and almost 13 thousand engagements, the campaign proved popular with pet owners and animal lovers alike.

An Instagram post for the 8th day of advent, featuring a competition to win a prize from Wagg pet food

How is 2023 set to compare?

So, it's the most wonderful time of the year. What have the big hitters pulled off for 2023?

ASDA brought out the man himself, Michael Buble in their festive offering, M&S brought a star-studded line up including Tan France and Hannah Waddington, and of course, Aldi returned with a Wonka-esque Kevin ad that's delighted fans of the cuddly carrot.

However rightly or wrongly, it is always the John Lewis ad that is deemed the big one, usually a hit song and often tear-jerking mini movie to capture the nation, or divide it.

John Lewis: Let your traditions grow

At the time of writing, the John Lewis ad - arguably the one most anticipated advertising moments of the year - has only just landed. It's definitely going to be a Marmite ad, featuring an upbeat song and giant venus fly-trap at its heart, not instantly in-line with their often cosy Christmas vibes.

The plant is adopted as 'a perfect Christmas tree in a box' by a young boy who wants nothing more than to allow his plant to be the star of Christmas, but as the tree grows into its true form, the boy's family swap it out for the classic tree and it's left out in the cold.

Until of course, Christmas Day, where they all embrace their own new traditions and celebrations outside as the giant venus fly-trap eats and spits out the presents. Titled 'Let Your Traditions Grow' in celebration of how differently we all choose to mark the festive season.

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John Lewis Festive Offering 2023

Greggs: The festive bake is back

There is one other, outlier and surprising headliner for the festive top spot this year, and it's Greggs - yes, you read that right. To celebrate the return of the Festive Bake, the famous blue and yellow bakery chain went all out this year with an ad that featured a spectacular drone show announcing the arrival of the baked treat.

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The Return of the Greggs Festive Bake

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