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AI performed in-depth interviews about Christmas ads. This is what we learned

Anna Kupriyanova
Marketer
Controversy, cheer, fashion-forward animals and the undying theme of togetherness. All this and so much more in this year's Christmas commercials case study powered by AI.
The interviews for this research were conducted by Fastuna AI, our newest tool designed to:

  • Enrich quantitative studies with storytelling.
  • Help researchers and managers collect more meaningful data.
  • Eliminate arduous, emotionally challenging and extremely costly interviewing hours out of the insight and idea-generation process.

METHODOLOGY

Stimuli: two sets of video ads: Aldi and Waitrose, TK Maxx and Marks & Spencer.
Target: United Kingdom, male, female, from 18 to 65 years, each set of ads tested by 50 respondents, 100 resp. sample size in total.
Research solution: an AI-powered auto-moderator

Which past Christmas ads stuck with people?

To set the scene, our AI auto-moderator named Mia asked the respondents:

"What Christmas commercials do you recall spontaneously and why do you like them?"

And there is a clear winner. You've probably guessed it: John Lewis takes the panettone, not so closely followed by Coca Cola. Here is the top 5 rating.
Last year we tested both John Lewis and Aldi ads - check out the consumer reaction here.

Now that we know which brands managed to create ads that are living in consumers' memory rent-free, let's find out why that is the case.
Reach out to your target audience with any kind of questions via human-like conversation led by our AI auto-moderator. Get robust stories packed with insights and understand just how widespread the needs, pain points and usage occasions are.

What makes a great (and memorable) Christmas ad?

Traditional Christmas themes
The absolute majority of respondents acknowledged the importance of "the gift of giving and spending time with your loved ones". There is no going around it: the core Christmas values are family and togetherness, and this has to be reflected in an ad. Later in the case study we'll show you what happens if an ad challenges these traditional themes.
Emotional Appeal
The key word here is childhood. The ads that make the biggest impact pull on the thread of nostalgia for the simpler times. They capture the essence of Christmas by simultaneously evoking memories from the past and instilling a sense of hope for the future.

"The Coca-Cola lorry commercial made me feel young and happy again, like I was in a time when I had no real issues." - Female, 32
Humour
If your audience is not Scrooge from A Christmas Carol, they'll enjoy the comedy in your ad. In fact, even John Lewis that is famous for making tear-inducing commercials, opted for a more light-hearted one this year:

"The John Lewis ad with the giant carnivorous plant was absolutely hysterical. It was an unexpected twist that made me laugh." - Male, 27
Relatability and Relevant context
The use of regional accents rarely heard on TV, particular tunes tied to one's sense of identity, storylines that consumers can see themselves in. All these and other references to current issues and real situations add a sense of authenticity, making ads more relatable to viewers.

"The Absolut vodka commercial was memorable because it showed everyone gathered to celebrate the Christmas holiday together having fun, partying and drinking the vodka. It was literally fun, I imagined gathering my friends and playing a game like that." - Male, 32
Creativity and Uniqueness
Respondents enjoy a cinematic experience that ads can provide, and a big part of that is the surprise element. People want to be entertained, to be wowed. For instance, goofy ads with unexpected or even bizarre characters attract attention. They leave a lasting impression and do a great job of differentiating a brand. To name a few: Aldi with Kevin the Carrot, John Lewis with a boy planting his own (carnivorous) Christmas tree, Amazon with old ladies enjoying a sleigh ride, Morrisons with the dancing oven glove.

"The Morrisons Christmas commercial with talking oven gloves was quite surreal. The very concept of an all singing & dancing oven glove, even slapping a naughty hand, made it entertaining. It's a Christmas ad after all!" - Male, 56
Visual Appeal
This is not just about beautiful imagery, shiny lights and snowy landscapes. An ad that manages to use visuals to evoke visceral reactions is an ad that will be remembered:

"The Marks and Spencer's Christmas advert stood out to me because of the delicious-looking roast turkey. It was so appealing that it made me taste it!" - Female, 53

"The moment the Coca-Cola truck drives through the snowy village, it brings a warm feeling that runs through my body, making me feel like Christmas is near." - Male, 49
Storytelling
We already mentioned the importance of providing a cinematic experience to consumers. And that inevitably includes an impactful plot. What story is your ad telling and why should people care? If you know the answers to these questions - you're on the right track.

"John Lewis adverts tell a story of love and dedication that captures the most sincere emotions of the Christmas season. It's not just a traditional product advertisement, it's a moving story that leaves a deep impression on the warmth and goodwill of Christmas." - Female, 36
Product Display
Christmas is a hectic time. Product display in ads can actually make people's lives easier by giving them ideas for gifts and meals to prepare:

"The Tesco Christmas commercial caught my eye with its range of food and offers. It made grocery shopping for the holiday season look so appealing." - Male, 23

Not only that - it can also deepen consumer bond with a brand:

"The YSL Christmas commercial stood out to me. The packaging of their cosmetics was so fresh and appealing, it made me love the brand even more." - Female, 33
Music
Last but not least! Music serves so many purposes it can be included in any of the points above. It can move the plot, add to the humour, amplify the product and visual appeal, it can literally make the difference between a bland and an emotionally charged ad. It is a crucial element of a memorable ad as we observed in so many comments.

"I'm Scottish and the Irn Bru snowman advert melts my heart every time I hear the music. It's a touching reminder of my heritage during the holiday season." - Female, 57
We learned that the bar for Christmas ads is set so much higher than for normal ads. People expect a cinematic experience with cinematic-level production value. An intriguing plot, unexpected characters, humour or even deep philosophical thought + don't forget about strong emotions and eye-catching visuals.
Quite a list of requirements!


Brands, don't get intimidated by this list. Consider creating your own Christmas short films — your audience will be eagerly waiting for them all year long! :))

Tanya Berlina
Client success director @ Fastuna AI

It's beginning to look a lot like…ad analysis!

We've established what qualities make an outstanding Christmas ad.
Now let's see how the respondents rated the four ads Mia asked them to watch and compare:
Aldi vs. Waitrose and TK Maxx vs. Marks & Spencer.
Aldi
In recent years Aldi has centred its storytelling around
the cartoon character "Kevin the Carrot" who is now strongly associated with Christmas (and beloved by consumers).
This ad is family-friendly and inclusive, made for both children and adults. To amuse the latter it didn't shy away from incorporating innuendos such as "that's huge, Willy".
As for the larger themes in the ad, this line of narration is particularly note-worthy: "Christmas isn't selfish, it's not all me me me". The creators of the ad knew what they were doing when highlighting the traditional virtue of sharing - it really resonated with the respondents.
Aldi Christmas Advert 2023
Kevin and the Christmas Factory
The Aldi commercial with Kevin the Carrot is always enchanting. Even though there's a bit of darkness in the story, it always ends happily, creating a feeling of empathy which is important at Christmas time.— Female, 37
Waitrose
Food. This ad is built around a party (read: togetherness)
and so it was able to discreetly showcase a selection of real food people can buy and, for the most part, the respondents loved it! The choice of music (Depeche Mode - Just Can't Get Enough) also earned points for the ad's likeability.
When comparing the feedback on Aldi and Waitrose ads,
it becomes clear that they target very different audiences. Those who preferred the Waitrose ad - preferred it specifically because it was not a cartoon, it was made for adults and the lifestyle they relate to around the holidays.
Waitrose Christmas Advert 2023
It's Time For The GOOD Stuff
I found Waitrose's video appealing because of the party vibe it had. It put me in a festive mood and showcased the food they offer in a good way - it looked very yummy.— Male, 22
TK Maxx
Cute funny animals are a go-to tactic for getting a positive reaction from people. TK Maxx concocted an effective concept that is very hard to dislike: furry friends dressed in designer outfits that were lovingly picked out for them as Christmas gifts. So, the "season for giving" motif shines through. Warmth was the most common word used to describe this ad. The presence of warm clothes in a snowy setting paired with the message of goodwill translated very well into a heartwarming feeling for consumers.
TK Maxx Christmas Advert 2023
Festive Farm
The TK Maxx commercial appealed to me because it showcased inclusivity and the idea that Christmas is for all creatures. — Female, 54
Marks & Spencer
Christmas cards set alight, a Christmas hat shredded, an elf on the shelf batted away. These are some of the edgy scenes that invited outcry. While some appreciated the ad's honesty and fresh perspective on traditions, the majority felt it was disrespectful and sent a selfish message. The closing line "This Christmas do only what you love" didn't help.
This genre of advertising does not allow much room for challenging tradition. Creativity, uniqueness, humour - sure. As long as they don't mess with the classic holiday spirit.
Marks & Spencer Christmas Advert 2023
M&S Christmas Clothing & Home
The M&S advert totally trashed Christmas, in fact referred to it as ThisMas, which may offend religious Christian people. — Male, 52
Ranking of the four ads based on the respondents' feedback

Do's of Christmas advertising

  • 1
    Turn your ad into a cinematic experience
    Make it visually attractive, have a real (and relatable!) plot to get people invested in your story, choose the right soundtrack to amplify the experience.
  • 2
    Get emotions involved
    Can you make your audience laugh? Cry? An ad is more likely to be memorable if it gets a strong emotional response.
  • 3
    Stick with the classic themes of family, sharing and togetherness
    But make them your own. You can test whether your audience thinks your ad concept is unique with our solution Concept test.

Don'ts of Christmas advertising

  • 1
    Be smug and edgy at the expense of sacrificing the holiday spirit
    If your ad is hysterically funny then mayyybe you can afford to also be smug and edgy, but are you willing to make this gamble?
  • 2
    Be tone-deaf to the cultural moment
    Triple check your cultural references and try to avoid the sensitive subjects that are currently polarising society.
  • 3
    Go after traditional values
    Experiments are rewarded as long as they still convey the core values and themes people associate with Christmas. Marks & Spencer's attempt to subvert expectations by going against these themes led to backlash from consumers.

There is no Christmas-cookie-cutter formula that makes an ad appealing

However! Elements such as characters, music, story, and the overall tone and message of the ad play a significant role. In the end, it's all about knowing the target audience's preferences. And that is something Fastuna can help you with :)
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