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The ultimate Christmas ad 2021: who took the crown?

The ultimate Christmas ad 2021: who took the crown?

Every year, brands gear up to create the ultimate Christmas ad that will truly resonate with audiences by blending festive spirit, nostalgia, togetherness, and a tug on the heartstrings.

Popular ads from previous campaigns have shown impressive results when their messaging and creative achieve the perfect mix. Who can forget the highly emotive Sainsbury’s 1914 ad celebrating 100 years since a Christmas Day ceasefire – yielding £24 profit for every £1 spent – or the iconic John Lewis 2013 Somewhere Only We Know campaign; recently rated the most watched seasonal ad ever on YouTube? But the list of key ingredients to produce that special festive ad is always growing, with the latest addition being sensitive yet inspiring handling of continued challenges caused by the pandemic.

To find out which brands are striking the right balance this year, we asked the GingerMay team to rate a carefully selected shortlist from the current crop of ads – ranking them from first to eighth place. In 2020, while our tech PR specialists were initially entranced by Amazon’s ballerina, it was TK Maxx’s Lil’ Goat who eventually stole the show and became the last-minute winner. Results of the 2021 poll show high-scoring late entrants may be a running theme, although captivating storytelling was in slightly shorter supply this time; with one Ginger suggesting brands might need to start shaking up the seasonal format.

So, let’s get into this year’s selection.

First place: Just Eat – Doggy Dogg Christmas

Originally excluded from the list, this musical gem was added later – and thankfully so! Just Eat’s Doggy Dogg Christmas took home the trophy with a third (30%) of respondents choosing it as their number one, and 75% placing the ad in their top three. Standing out for comedic value and a new twist on old traditions — focusing on a montage of relaxed parties and good food — the winning choice suggests a shake-up can indeed be successful. Popular across the board, with no significant discrepancy linked to age, it also found more favour with male respondents; all of whom placed it in the highest spot. 

Here’s what the person who put it forward had to say about it: “Household names like John Lewis would have you believe that Christmas ads have to be highly sentimental and twee, and it’s become expected. The Just Eat ad subverts those expectations, effectively using star power and humour to advertise a brand that only has a tenuous link to the festive season. While funny Christmas adverts are now a subgenre of their own, this stands out as a good example of how to do it well.”

Second place: Disney – The Stepdad

Disney brought some sparkle with a strong, family-first narrative. Embracing the 21st century reality of blended families in a way that is both heart-warming and magical, it was picked by half of GingerMay’s staff as one of their top three; primarily seeing top five scores among the younger 20-30 age group.

Embodying the magical storytelling Christmas is known for, this ad tells the tale of a stepfather who connects with his new family by embracing the power of imagination, represented by various Disney characters. For our team, this gave it a quality that some felt was rare this year, proving that when it comes to weaving a narrative, Disney knows precisely what to do; as one Ginger confessed: “No one can resist the power honed by decades of magic, even if they try, there was a tear in my eye as they came together at the end!

Third place: Aldi – Kevin the Carrot

Surprisingly, this take on the traditional Charles Dickens tale emerged as the most divisive ad; loved by 35% of the team while falling very flat for others (40%). Winning features of Aldi’s contribution included consistent use of a figure audiences have become familiar with and invested in — Kevin – as well as subtly reworking A Christmas Carol with topical references.

Extra points were awarded for the cameo from Marcus Radishford and the highlighting of Aldi’s work with Neighbourly, which connects businesses to non-profit organisations in local communities to help coordinate food donations. Although we recorded some uncertainty for team members hankering for new stories, one observed it was the focus on kindness that sealed the deal: “Although I wasn’t a fan before, promoting a good cause and caring for each other with a story that originally aimed to do the same thing has won me over.”

Joint fourth place: “Tesco – This Christmas, nothing’s stopping us” and “Barbour – Paddington”

While Tesco once again took on the pandemic challenge headfirst, its latest effort has met with slightly more controversy than the generally popular 2020 message. Despite a dynamic and light-hearted approach, following the Christmas experiences of individuals determined to bring on the cheer, the ad’s vaccine references drew criticism. Nevertheless, the resilient and optimistic tone still earned it a ranking in the top five ads for three-quarters of the team, who enjoyed the pro-active, energetic approach to lockdown challenges. 

Meanwhile, Barbour was praised for emphasising sustainability and sincerity. Showing Paddington Bear choosing to wax Mr Brown’s Barbour coat instead of buying a new one, the ad struck a chord on reducing waste and demonstrating love: “it was about refurbishing something old and well-loved so it could continue being used, and that you could make someone happy by putting some time and thought into your present,” said one Ginger. There was also a note of caution, however, on how product mentions should be handled, especially within stories: “Including the product as a native element of the ad and simply referring to waxing the coat, with a Barbour tin in prominent view, would have been more powerful.

Fifth place: Celebrations – Bring the Whoop

This 20-second short highlights what Christmas is all about: sharing, and of course, celebrating. Aiming for entertaining frivolity, the ad did include a nod towards togetherness; with the whole family sharing ‘the whoop’ after boxes of Celebrations appear. But while this paired down ad was ranked high by the over 30s, it lacked emotional pull for the much team. One team member observed; “Yes, the ad was relatable and fun, but it felt too much like an isolated story fragment and there wasn’t enough heart to hook my attention.”

Sixth place: John Lewis – Unexpected Guest

Usually a nationwide festive favourite, John Lewis seems to have lost some of its dominance. Most of the team admired how the retailer has raised its creative game with the fantastical story of an alien-human friendship helped along by technology. Yet the relatively small focus on Christmas, and frequent use of tech products, didn’t hit home this year. Overall, 40% put the ad in their bottom three, with comments underlining a greater need “for human connection, not just smart devices” .

Seventh place: M&S – Percy Pigmas

This is another controversial one, although this time for different reasons. The M&S Percy Pigmas campaign has performed strongly with respondents across the UK; maintaining brand messaging around the quality fare M&S is known for, while being praised for its imaginative use of a modern cultural icon in the form of an animated Percy Pig. But the GingerMay team was less swayed by food hunting adventures around the M&S aisles supervised by the fairy form of Dawn French. In total, 40% placed it in the lowest two rankings, while female respondents were especially unenthused: with 65% giving the ad a bottom-three score.

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