Most content marketing strategies focus on creating evergreen content. Why? Because it is continually relevant and stays “fresh” for visitors and readers over a long period of time.
But many retail brands in both the UK and US focus on creating very seasonal digital advertising campaigns in the build-up to Christmas. Why? Because the adverts and ads tend to attract widespread media coverage and acclaim upon their release.
If you want some digital advertising examples of this seasonal approach, then start by looking at John Lewis & Partners, which launched their first Christmas advert back in 2007. It has since become something of an annual tradition in the UK, and one of the signals that the countdown to Christmas has begun.
In 2011, John Lewis uploaded their Christmas advert to YouTube for the first time. And the British department store chain and its London-based agency, Adam & Eve/DDB, have followed suit every year since then. As a result, John Lewis should have been able to discover how the emotions elicited by video content is related to engagement (e.g., likes, comments, shares).
Unfortunately for John Lewis, other brands in the UK have been watching their Christmas adverts over the past decade. And some of them have learned some important lessons that have enabled them to effectively harness the power of nostalgia marketing more effectively than John Lewis.
What is nostalgia marketing?
Nostalgia marketing is the strategy of evoking a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past to build brands for the future. It’s also the tactic of associating your company with a period or place with happy personal associations to market goods and products in the present.
Why nostalgia marketing works so well
Nostalgia marketing typically works well because the psychological response triggered by watching a deeply nostalgic video tends to be intense, since it is influenced by the viewer’s own positive emotions and memories. Nostalgic content also makes advertising campaigns appear more down-to-earth and authentic to the audience.
However, John Lewis may (or may not) not have learned what works (and what doesn’t). As the data below from Tubular Labs shows, the John Lewis Christmas ads uploaded to YouTube got more views and engagements several years ago than they’ve received more recently. And that was a troublesome trend even before Brexit and the pandemic turned more recent Christmases into seasons that most high street shops in the UK would rather forget!
|Title of video
|John Lewis Christmas Advert 2011 – The Long Wait
|John Lewis Christmas Advert 2012 – The Journey
|John Lewis Christmas Advert 2013 – The Bear & The Hare
|John Lewis Christmas Advert 2014 – #MontyThePenguin
|John Lewis Christmas Advert 2015 – #ManOnTheMoon
|John Lewis Christmas Advert 2016 – #BusterTheBoxer
|John Lewis Christmas Ad 2017 – #MozTheMonster
|John Lewis & Partners Christmas Ad 2018 – #EltonJohnLewis
|Christmas 2019 Ad | John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose & Partners
|Christmas 2020 Ad | Give A Little Love | Waitrose & John Lewis
|Unexpected Guest | John Lewis & Partners | Christmas Ad 2021
What can Google Trends tell us about interest in the Christmas advert this year?
You can use Google Trends to learn some surprising lessons about interest in the Christmas advert. For starters, web search interest in the UK for the search term, Christmas advert, peaked back in November 2016, and is likely to be just 49% of that level this year.
And, if you narrow the timeframe on Google Trends to just the last 90 days, then you can scroll down and see that the top related queries for the search term, Christmas advert, include:
- Christmas advert 2022 (100)
- John Lewis (82)
- Christmas advert John Lewis (81)
- John Lewis Christmas (79)
- John Lewis advert (75)
- John Lewis advert Christmas 2022 (63)
- John Lewis advert 2022 (54)
Now, let’s pause for a second and reflect on this astounding list of queries. People on the other side of the pond are so interested in seeing a brand’s Christmas ad that they actually search for it – starting on Nov. 1 with a big spike on Nov. 10 – when it was published.
Which Christmas ads harness nostalgia marketing effectively in 2022?
Okay, let’s examine some of this year’s batch of Christmas adverts to determine if any of them effectively harness nostalgia marketing in 2022.
Let’s start with “The Beginner | John Lewis & Partners | Christmas Ad 2022”.
The description of this YouTube video says, “It’s the things we do that mean the most.”
Oh, and John Lewis also created “The Story behind John Lewis Christmas 2022: The Beginner.”
This video’s description says, “This Christmas it’s about what we do that matters most. That’s why we used our advert this Christmas to highlight an issue close to hearts, so that together, we can be a force for positive change for a generation of young people growing up in care or who have experienced being in care. We want every young person to feel valued and seen and have the same opportunity for a happier Christmas and a happier future.”
Um, that’s not nostalgia marketing. It’s an example of “cause marketing,” which is done by a for-profit business that seeks to both increase profits and to better society in accordance with corporate social responsibility, such as by including activist messages in advertising.
So, how did viewers respond to this new approach?
In the 1,432 comments under the video, Christopher Watts says, “As someone who’s been in the care system myself as a child, this really feels close to home. And it did make me shared a tear, that how I know it’s a John Lewis advert. And it does make you think about how powerful adverts can be, even if they are simple and basic.”
Itbedre says, “I’m 13 years old and have been in foster care since I was 10 and this advert really means so much to me because I also came into care around Christmas time and props to John Lewis for showing people this advert we really need more businesses like this.”
And Woopady T says, “As a foster parent (albeit in the U.S.) the one thing this advert did really well was the exchange that occurs when you first meet a child at the door of your house. They didn’t pretend that it’s a huge moment full of hugs and immediate affection from the child. The vaguely awkward smile and nod as the girl entered the house along with the kind of nervous energy from the foster parents was perfectly done and really resonated with me.”
So, how did the video do?
Well, according to data from Tubular Labs, “The Beginner” got 3.8 million views and 21,200 engagements in its first 30 days. That’s better than last year’s ad, “Unexpected Guest,” which got 2.5 million views and 17,500 views in its first 30 days. But it’s a worse start than half a dozen of the brand’s other Christmas adverts from 2015-2020.
Now, maybe this is a reflection of a dramatic shift in the mood of families and shoppers in the UK. Or, maybe nostalgia marketing doesn’t work as well as it once did in Dear Old Blighty.
But, if you look at other Christmas adverts published in the UK this year, it appears that nostalgia marketing still works – sometimes, but not always, as effectively as cause marketing.
For example, watch “THE GIFT | Disney Christmas Advert 2022 | Disney UK.”
As the video’s description says, “This heart-warming story celebrates the magic and joy of family, festive traditions and creating new memories.”
According to Tubular Labs data, this video got 5.6 million views and 5,900 engagements in its first 30 days. Now, that’s more views than “The Beginner,” but far fewer engagements.
Next, watch “Aldi Christmas Advert 2022.”
The video’s description says, “Will Kevin be home alone this Christmas?” Now, the video is talking about Kevin the Carrot, not Kevin McCallister from the 1990 movie Home Alone.
And this nostalgic video got 4.3 million views and 4,200 engagements in its first 30 days. Now, that’s also more views than “The Beginner,” but far fewer engagements.
Then, watch “Have your Elf a Merry Christmas | Asda Christmas Advert 2022.”
The description says, “Meet Asda’s newest Christmas colleague, Buddy the Elf. Watch as he spreads Christmas cheer in the Asda store.” Yes, they are talking about the character from the 2003 movie Elf.
And this nostalgic video got 2.3 million views and 12,700 engagements in its first 30 days. Now, that’s fewer views and fewer engagements than “The Beginner.”
Finally, watch “Barbour Christmas Advert 2022 | One of a kind-ness.”
This video’s description says, “Our heart-warming Christmas film brings to life everyone’s favourite bear, Paddington, in a festive and fun-filled tale brimming with British charm and awash with good intentions.” Now, Paddington Bear first appeared in the 1958 children’s book A Bear Called Paddington.
And this nostalgic video got 1.7 million views and 2,900 engagements in its first 30 days. And once again, this is fewer views and engagements than “The Beginner.”
Now, views and engagements aren’t the only measures of success.
For example, Kantar conducts Christmas TV ad research annually.
Using LinkExpress on Kantar Marketplace, they asked 3,750 UK consumers what they thought about 25 of this year’s Christmas ads. The research reviewed the critical factors that have been proven to determine whether an ad will be effective. These factors include whether an ad earns attention, if it will motivate people to buy in the short term, and whether it evokes responses that will contribute to the brand’s success in the longer term.
Kantar also partnered with Affectiva to use facial coding to determine the power of the ad to provoke an emotional reaction, and the nature of that emotion moment by moment as people experience the ad.
According to Kantar’s latest research, the most effective of the 25 festive adverts tested this year was “Cadbury | Secret Santa.”
The video’s description asks, “What if you could send a free chocolate bar, in secret, to someone special? What if you could do it from a poster? Look out for a Cadbury Secret Santa Postal Service near you…”
Okay, this video isn’t an example of nostalgia marketing and it’s not an example of cause marketing.
According to Lynne Deason, Head of Creative Excellence at Kantar, “Secret Santa from Cadbury, this year’s top performing ad, disrupts the norm, capturing the hearts of the nation with a gesture of generosity that arouses a huge feel-good factor; tangible action which resonates meaningfully in the current cost of living crisis. The idea encapsulates the real meaning of Christmas and epitomises the essence of the much-loved Cadbury brand.”
She adds, “The idea powerfully taps into Christmas culture of Britain and is a truly populist concept that anyone can engage with. The idea has instant meaning because of the implicit invitation to think about
who you would send such a gesture of love to.”
And it’s worth noting that the YouTube version of this Christmas TV ad got only 1.5 million views and less than 400 engagements.
But it’s also worth noting that Kantar’s research found “The Beginner” to be the “most enjoyable ad,” “Have you Elf a Merry Christmas” to be the “ad that made most people smile,” and “Kevin the Carrot: Home Alone” to be the “funniest ad” this year.
So, views and engagements are still fairly reliable indicators of a video’s success. But you may want to go beyond these easily accessible metrics to measure a video’s actual impact.
In addition, nostalgia marketing and cause marketing aren’t the only ways to enchant an audience. But emotional storytelling at Christmas works – no matter what side of the pond you are on.
For an example of that, watch “Wegmans Holiday Commercial 2022.”
This video’s description says, “The holidays are about sharing joy, making memories, and enjoying great food. Watch as a little boy shows us that you don’t have to be all grown up to be a big helper. Let’s live happier, together.”
Now, System1 ranked the Wegmans holiday ad by Optic Sky as the “Best US Christmas Ad of 2022” after a detailed analysis. The ad scored 5.8, besting #2 Hobby Lobby (score: 5.3) and #3 Duracell (score: 5.1).
You may be interested in knowing that the ad worked so well for Wegmans last year that they ran it again this year. (As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”). If these results are any indication, they certainly received great value for their production spend.
Well, this prompted me to interview Aaron Gordon, the founder and CEO of Optic Sky, to get his thoughts on nostalgia marketing, cause marketing, and the holidays. In other words, how do you tap into people’s emotions to generate positive feelings for a brand.
Gordon said, “”The holidays are a reflective, contemplative time of year when people focus less on work and more on family, personal relationships, and reassessing their values and priorities. The most effective holiday ads take this mindset into account by focusing on themes of family, togetherness, nostalgia, and giving to others, as opposed to ‘selling’ the product itself. They show the character of the brand and connect brand values to the ideals we value most as everyday people during the holidays.”
He continued, “Winning holiday ads also set the right tone through a combination of music, storyline, and visual aesthetic. However, many ads nail the theme and tone and still miss the mark when it comes to audience engagement and brand lift—because they fail to elicit a powerful emotional response from the viewer.”
Gordon explained, “Often, the difference between an average holiday ad and one that really tugs the heartstrings comes down to carefully considered storytelling. Holiday ads should be thought of as mini films. They should tell an emotional story about the characters in the ad, more than about the product itself. The audience should recognize part of themselves in the characters, aspire to be like the characters, or both.”
He added, “Practically speaking, the story arc should set the tone right up front but leave some mystery and surprise throughout the spot (if viewers already know where the storyline is heading, they will tune out).”
Gordon then said, “In regards to our Wegmans holiday ad, I think it was ranked the best holiday ad two years in a row because it possessed all of these factors: nostalgic music and visual aesthetic to set the tone, relatable characters that are both young and old, and a family-centric story arc that unfolded as the ad progressed, leading up to a final, heartwarming reveal. We plan to build upon this approach when shooting the upcoming Wegmans Super Bowl ad as well.”
He concluded, “At the end of the day, there is no silver bullet; every element of an ad – music, visual aesthetic, story arc, character development, and more – is important and needs to work symbiotically to evoke an emotional response and be truly memorable across demographics. That said, one thing to always keep in mind is that holiday emotions are centered around people, not products, and your holiday ad needs to reflect that.”
So, after watching these digital advertising examples, that’s what we can learn from Christmas ads.