The formula for sleighing Christmas ads in 2023

Kelsey Sullivan, Janine Klimko, Rhys Hillan

The run up to Christmas, or ‘golden quarter’ spanning October to December, is one of the most profitable periods for brands and retailers in the UK. In such a critical period for sales, it’s essential that brands nail their holiday advertising. 

If you’ve been following our series of articles this year, you already know we’ve conducted extensive research to get you the key learnings from top performing Christmas ads to take with you to 2023. This includes:

But as the 2022 Christmas ad season comes to an end, we thought: How do these ads compare to 2021? Is there anything we can learn from them overall to take with us to 2023’s golden quarter? Read on for a breakdown of our final analysis of Christmas ads to set you up for success when the next holiday season rolls around. 

🎄 Top performing holiday ads

Check out our series of articles on top performing holiday ads.

Our key takeaways

Overall, brands did extremely well with their Christmas ads this year. They did an excellent job at judging the cost of living crisis mood, and instead of pushing for sales, they pushed for joy — and it seems like they got both. 

This season has also seen some of the best ad performance on record, with the top 10 Christmas ads landing in top 10% of all UK ads on overall appeal, based on the question: How much do you like this ad? These winners include: 

  1. Aldi - Kevin the Carrot

  2. Lego - Have a Playful Christmas

  3. M&S food - Fairy and Duckie

  4. Disney - The Gift

  5. Amazon - Joy is Made

  6. Asda - Have Your Elf a Merry Christmas

  7. Barbour - One of a Kind-ness

  8. Morrisons - Farmer Christmas

  9. Tesco - The Christmas Party #StandForJoy

  10. John Lewis - The Beginner

When we looked back on the winning formula we uncovered for Christmas ads in 2021, we saw that it hasn’t changed. As it stands, to make a great holiday ad, you need:

  1. Emotional connection - anemphasis on universal values of love, joy and happiness is so relevant in the holiday season

  2. Compelling storytelling - a strong storyline with a happy ending

  3. Clear connection to brand- afocus on brand building rather than promotions, communicated in a unique way that’s true to the brand 

That said, brands dialed it up even more in 2022 — resulting in a particularly successful crop of holiday ads. Here’s how: 

The winning batches: 2022 vs 2021

Overall, the crop of 2022 Christmas ads was particularly strong, much stronger than 2021. 

Seven of the 2022 Christmas ads landed in the top 10% of all UK ads in terms of overall appeal. In 2021, only Aldi’s ad landed in that top 10%. On average, the rest of the ads from last year’s Christmas season were in the top third of UK ads (still an impressive feat!).

These ads worked hard for brands both years, driving high brand appeal and brand consideration (see chart below).

Ads are plotted on this graph based on how they score on two metrics: Brand consideration and brand appeal. Brand consideration is based on the question “Based on everything you’ve seen and heard, how likely would you be to consider the brand?” Brand appeal is an aggregate measure, calculated as an average of brand linkage (“How well does the ad link with your impression of the brand?”) and overall appeal (“How much do you like the ad?”).

Now let’s break down the formula for success, taking both 2022’s and 2021’s ads into consideration.

1. Dialing up the emotional connection

The power of emotion should never be underestimated when it comes to engaging people, especially at this time of year. Ultimately, the best Christmas ads make people feel uplifted, fill them with joy or take them on an emotional journey. 

Brands did just that this year. They made people forget about all the negativity from the year for a minute and simply feel the joy of Christmas. This was well-captured by a respondent for Tesco’s ad, who stated, "I liked the whole Christmas theme and it showed that you can have a good Christmas even though we are in a cost of living crisis." 

Even Asda, who’s jolly Have Your Elf a Merry Christmas ad takes place in a supermarket, made people feel a sense of happiness and excitement for the season ahead rather than talk people into buying.

Ultimately, all the top 2022 ads strongly convey positive emotions, performing significantly above average on emotions like:


Cute - 160% above norm 

This was emphasized by featuring children, fairy tale characters and animals, sometimes with animation. 

“How cute and thoughtful it was” (M&S Fairy & Duckie)

Love - 105% above norm 

The top ads this year strongly communicated the universal value of love and human connection while tapping into the magic of Christmas.

“Loved that they help each other and love each other” (Disney) “It was a story of parental love, which could not offend anyone” (Amazon)


Laughter - 97% above norm 

Not deployed as often as it should be in advertising, this years’ Christmas ads managed laughter well. The stories were intersected by entertaining moments: the amusing Fairy and Duckie in the M&S ad, the clumsiness of Paddington, fun and creative play with Lego or the lighthearted Kevin the Carrot — which consumers found particularly funny.  

“The advert was so funny, especially when the carrot lands in the snowman in a certain place!” (Aldi)

Happiness - 43% above the norm 

This was the most predominant emotion (as it is for most ads) but was dialed up further by Christmas ads, outperforming the norm by 43%. 

“Fun, colorful, made me feel happy” (Lego)

When comparing 2021 and 2022, the range of emotions is broadly similar, though 2022’s Christmas ads elicit stronger emotional responses on average with 50% of respondents feeling the above-mentioned four emotions with high intensity when watching the top ads this year — 35% more than last year.

2. Highly compelling storytelling

Successful Christmas ads can often feel like short movies, complete with a strong story arc and Christmassy feel. While the emotions evoked throughout each ad may range from laughter to sadness, they always conclude with a happy ending — sometimes an unexpected one.

The power of storytelling

This can be seen across the top 10 ads from the likes of Aldi, Disney and Amazon for example. Aldi’s ad takes the storyline of the holiday classic ‘Home Alone’ portraying Kevin the Carrot being left at home for the holidays as his family jets off to Paris and end up having to deal with some intruders.

The ad is filled with (hilarious) scenes of his retaliation tactics against them, and in the end, Kevin is seen successfully thwarting the intruders and happily reuniting with his family and Santa. 

Disney and Amazon also include fully fledged tales that also included unexpected endings…

For Disney, they continue their story from last year's "The Stepdad" and see that Nicole (the mother) is pregnant. As the family is putting up their decorations, Nicole goes into labor and the kids are left with their grandma. There seems to be much confusion and unease for the kids, but shortly after, the parents return with the new member of their family and their kids are filled with joy to meet their newest sibling.

Similarly, Amazon shares a story of a little girl who loves her snow globe so much she hates being separated from it. Seeing the joy the snow globe brings, her dad sets out to create a life-sized version of her snow globe. He orders a shredder from Amazon and borrows items from neighbors, resulting in unbridled joy and awe on his daughter's face as they stand together in her giant snow globe.

 It’s also worth mentioning that an indication of the power of the story can be seen in how well respondents describe it and how much they write when asked to reproduce the story of the advert.

We can see a significant difference between the 2022 and 2021 ads when looking at open consumer responses to the question: “Please write the story of the advert. Feel free to write as much as you like, in the order it happened.” 

Consumers describe the 2022 stories on average with 20% more words than the 2021 stories, indicating their higher engagement. And they describe it very well, capturing the emotional charge, like in this example:  

“It was a nice heart warming story about the dad trying to learn so he could bond with his new daughter from the care home” (John Lewis)

Strong Christmassy feels 

The essence of Christmas is felt throughout each of these ads and is supported by the feelings of magic and heartwarming storylines. It’s especially reflected in these consumer responses:   

“The story is feel-good, seasonal and family friendly. It isn't overly trying to sell you something and gets you in the Christmas spirit.” (Disney) 

“Everything was to like. As the story is your typical Christmas story. The characters and scenes depict what is everyone’s idea of Christmas.” (M&S)  

“Loved all the advert - lovely heart warming story and the look on the little boy’s face when in the glass house when it was snowing and just recreated the item he loved .” (Amazon)

“I loved it was a nice story, cozy and Christmassy” (Morrisons) 

“It was sweet and happy. Good Xmas spirit and link to the Christmas carol story  which is very xmas related. It’s happy and exciting” (Barbour) 

3. Clearly connecting to the brand

The best ads clearly cue the brand, seamlessly fitting in with their positioning and values in an authentic way.

And many of the best go a step further by using consistent cues in their execution that automatically cue the brand, such as keeping the same trademark characters in their ads or sticking to the same consumer insight, but still giving people a new and fresh experience by switching up the plot line.


Each brand approached Christmas advertising in their own, authentic way (and consumers clearly felt it). When respondents were asked how authentic they felt the ads were, the rating of the 2022 top ads came out as being significantly higher than the ads from 2021, as shown in the charts below.

Based on the question: "Which of the following words or phrases do you associate closely with the ad you have just seen?"

A large part of authenticity is remaining true to the brand. Lego’s ad this year is a good example of this. It leads with creativity and the power of children’s imaginations, which is consistent with the brand’s values and broader Rebuild the World campaign, but it brings this to life in a fresh way.

Through the authenticity of executions and consistency with brand positioning, we can see that consumers perceive 2022’s Christmas ads as better fitting their impression of the brand based on the question: How well does the ad fit with your impressions of the brand? 

We also see a positive change in brand feeling across the 2022 top performers — significantly more than in 2021’s top group based on the question: How did the ad change the way you feel about the brand? 

We found brands focused on brand building and bringing joy, rather than hard-core selling across all 10 top 2022 Christmas ads. Asda’s Have Your Elf a Merry Christmas we mentioned earlier is a great example of this. As one consumer put it: “It was jolly, a little amusing and looked really Christmassy without talking about shopping” (Asda).  

This choice proved to work well for brands in terms of potential translation into sales as well, based on the significantly above-the-norm brand consideration scores (See first chart in this blog).

Wrapping up

It’s undeniable that advertising in the golden quarter pays off, but your brand needs to make sure it will cut through to make the investment worth it. To help make sure your next blockbuster ad for the holidays hits the mark, we recommend doubling down on our winning Christmas ads formula to include:

  • An emotional connection - emphasizing universal values of love, joy and happiness so relevant in the holiday season

  • Compelling storytelling - a strong storyline with a happy ending

  • A clear connection to your brand- focus on brand building rather than promotions and remaining true to your brand 

But above all, take the time to learn from and listen to your consumers to tune in to what resonates with them.

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