We already know what the best Christmas campaigns of this year are, but what about of all time?
We’ve all got a favourite Christmas ad or campaign that fills us with nostalgia and plenty of holiday cheer, something as synonymous with the season as baubles or consuming a fridge full of pigs in blankets. Often, brands or retailers play a much larger part in shaping traditions than we sometimes realise. For example, did you know that we have Coca-Cola and an American department store to thank for Santa’s signature red look and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? Before 1931, there was no real consistent look for jolly old Saint Nick, that is until Coca-Cola launched a campaign featuring his now inseparable red jumpsuit and snow-white beard. Meanwhile, department store, Montgomery Ward, stumbled upon a Christmas story for the ages when one of their copywriters came up with the character of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as part of an annual tradition to give away free books to local kids with the triumphant reindeer sticking around ever since. Talk about impact.
So, with that in mind, we look at the most iconic, influential, innovative, and the biggest and the very best Christmas campaigns from over the years. Did your favourite make the cut? Read on to find out…
As if birthing the time-honoured, long-established version of Santa Claus wasn’t enough of an impact to have on Christmas, Coca-Cola have taken it upon themselves to become the harbinger of the holidays for over 25 years now with the arrival – both on-screen and on the streets – of their festive fleet of ‘Holidays Are Coming’ Coca-Cola lorries. Swapping out sleighs for a 10-wheeler doesn’t seem like the most orthodox way to spread Christmas cheer, but that’s what the Coca-Cola caravan has been doing since 1995. From ‘Home Alone’ to ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’, the ‘90s spawned many iconic Christmas traditions, and this Coca-Cola campaign is right up there with the best of them. Whether it’s nostalgia or actual quality, something about the original ’95 ad feels so timeless. And just as effective today.
When you’re 8 years old, Christmas Eve can feel like the longest night of the year. I don’t care who you are, we’ve all spent at least one Christmas Eve wondering where exactly Santa is at any given moment and when he would be descending upon your neighbourhood and, eventually, your chimney. Luckily though, Google collaborated with the big man himself to get the lowdown on all his Christmas Eve movements. About as good an example of an interactive campaign as you’ll find, the launch of Google’s ‘Santa Tracker’ allows users to “explore, play and learn with Santa’s elves all December long”. Whilst the actual tracking doesn’t go live until Christmas Eve when you can follow Santa in real-time as he does his annual globetrotting and gift-giving, the site features more games and content than you could fit gifts inside a sack to keep the kids occupied throughout the whole of December. With brilliant visuals and engaging (and addictive) mini-games, it’s a campaign that you’ll keep coming back to every year.
Talk about nailing it first time. Prior to the debut of the 2007 ad, Irn Bru had never had much of a festive push and hadn’t before created a Christmas ad for tv, but that all changed when they took on Christmas tv staple, The Snowman in a way only the Scottish fizzy drink brand could. Putting their own spin on Raymond Brigg’s much-loved magical animation, Irn Bru hijacked Aled Jones’ ‘Walking In The Air’ as the duo goes on a magical adventure across Scotland’s most recognisable landmarks before delivering the hilarious and timeless line, ‘he nicked my Irn Bru, and let go of my hand’. Since then, Scotland’s best-selling drink have continued their festive marketing with Christmas themed packaging, as well as the genius idea to turn their 24 packs into advent calendars, and launching a just as brilliant Snowman sequel in 2018! Long may it continue!
Now we’re not going to be hyperbolic fools and claim that John Lewis popularised Christmas adverts, there are entries on this very list that predate their efforts to prove that. But, we will risk sounding like hyperbolic fools and say their annual Christmas short films have done a lot to popularise and transform the ‘modern’ Christmas advert. We don’t think that’s too much of a stretch. Since their inaugural effort back in 2007, John Lewis have consistently delivered, building a now easily recognisable formula of mixing an important message, unlikely bonds, and of course, slowed-down covers of classic songs. Their hot streak of popularity and effectiveness between the late 2000s and mid-2010s included heart-warming classics such as ‘The Journey’, ‘The Bear and the Hare’, and ‘Monty the Penguin’, all of which helped to establish John Lewis as the modern leader of crafting memorable campaigns that people look forward to all year round. And whilst we aren’t here to rank each year’s entry (although we easily could), it’s their decade of dominance that has turned each reveal into a new traditional event that signals the festivities are on their way, leaving plenty of competitors to step up their game and come for the crown.
Now, this one is cheating a bit, but we couldn’t just pick one and leave the other out, could we? Crossing over in ideas and effectiveness, the coffee-chain rivals competing campaigns have enough in common that they fall under the one entry here with both brands releasing their annual Christmas cups and limited-edition menus in the run-up to December. Which you prefer is a matter of preference – or loyalty – I suppose but both brands do a stellar job of mixing limited-edition products, festive-themed packaging, on-site display marketing, and social media marketing to generate a wave of user-generated content. With Starbucks tradition of Christmas themed cups dating back to 1997, before being rebranded to their now signature red cups in 2015 to much controversy, I suppose the Seattle based chain can claim they are the OG’s, but that doesn’t mean Costa are playing catch up. With Christmas characters inhabiting their cups every year, they’ve generated more than enough buzz by themselves. The annual campaigns are a brilliant way to bring the season to life in-store and online.
Whilst Aldi’s 2021 Christmas campaign topped our list for the best Christmas ad of the year in what’s been a brilliant 12 months for the supermarket chain’s marketing team, it’s been a while in the making going all the way back to 2016 when the nation was first introduced to a humble little carrot named Kevin. Back where it all began, Kevin the Carrot's 2016 origin saw a simple ad transform into a national treasure and a new certified Christmas star. Battling winter conditions and bad luck with his northern accent and sleigh full of puns, Kevin has returned every year since in a slew of misadventures and capers including his very own spin on the likes of Coca-Cola’s ‘Holidays Are Coming’, Peaky Blinders, and of course, this year’s take on Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’, even starting a family as the years have gone by. As if the creation of Kevin as the returning Christmas mascot and the consistent brilliance of each new entry wasn’t enough, the decision to release annual Kevin the Carrot plush toys whip up a consistent frenzy as his adoring fans rush to physical stores and wait in line to get their hands on the latest releases. Give it a few more years and Kevin might be more popular than Santa at this rate.
No snow. No Christmas tree or decorations. No Christmas songs and slowed down covers. Not even Santa was present during M&S’s sophisticated ‘food porn’ era. Front and centre it was all about the food. But not just any food… As part of Marks and Spencer’s ‘This is not just’ strapline that took the country by storm during the mid-2000s, their 2006 Christmas campaign showed no sign of festivities or important holiday message but instead focused on what everyone wanted to see: Slightly seductive slow-motion close-ups of their Christmas food because they know that deep down one of the best parts of the season is the pure hedonistic (over) indulgence of fancy Christmas food. Opting to kick Santa and any hint of traditional cheer to the curb is a bold strategy for a Christmas campaign but when you can’t walk down the high street or flick through tv channels without seeing the usual suspects, making yourself that little bit different from the rest could be the best strategy to have.
And now, a brilliant bonus entry from this year… Although a bit too early to call this one of the best of all time, we just had to throw it in.
If, like so many others, you watched ‘Home Alone’ and your main takeaway was the titular home in which Kevin McAllister ends up being alone in, then this campaign is for you. In collaboration with Disney+ for the release of the latest sequel, ‘Home Sweet Home Alone’, fans of the original Christmas classic could have the festive getaway of their dreams by getting the chance to stay in the original Chicago brownstone itself. For just $25, Airbnb are offering competition entrants the chance to win a one-night stay where they will enjoy a cosy holiday scene straight from the film itself, the opportunity to set up their own booby traps, and a diet taken strictly from the ‘90s, all hosted by big brother Buzz McAllister himself, Devin Ratray. We’re assuming Macaulay Culkin has been left behind once again.