Case Study
by: Lois Fearne
Nov 03, 2023
8 min read

‘Tis the season for ads! 

If you ask two-thirds of Brits, they’ll confirm that as soon as November hits, it officially becomes socially acceptable for it to start snowing those festive ads…

Buy an advent calendar ✅
Book Winter Wonderland tickets ✅
Resist putting up the tree in November ✅
Cross everything for no December train strikes ✅

Yep, it’s THAT time (already!?), which means brands are gearing up to drop their most spectacular ads of the year. 

… and if you ask two-thirds of Brits, they’ll confirm that as soon as November hits, it officially becomes socially acceptable for it to start snowing those festive ads, with early November (25%), mid-November (23%), and late November (19%) being the preferred timeframes.

And suppose you’re a Christmas ad lover like us at OnePulse HQ (okay, mainly me!). You’re in for an early gift as we’ll tap into the British community as soon as the major Christmas ads (think supermarkets and THE legendary John Lewis ad) debut to gather their thoughts and share our findings in this blog and LinkedIn

But ahead of that, let’s unwrap what Brits want from Christmas ads in 2023…

They want ads to be heartwarming, traditional and nostalgic

In a world filled with AI, consumers are seriously craving ads that warm their hearts, transport them back to simpler times and convey a proper British Christmas. Sorry, robots and space-age Santas, 2023 is not your year!

Messaging around affordability will resonate more

As we navigate a cost of living crisis, consumers seek messaging of affordability (40%), quality family time (30%), and social responsibility (20%). While 51% hope for a balanced approach incorporating both promotions and emotional storytelling, 26% strongly favour ads that show what brands are doing to further stretch Christmas budgets.

Family is at the core of Christmas… and should be in ads, too! 

The importance of family over material purchases remains at the forefront of minds, with many expressing they want ads that reflect the true spirit of Christmas, emphasising the joy of spending time with loved ones over extravagant consumerism and generosity. Sainsbury’s, take note: no banquets this year, please!

Shorter ads might just be what we need

There’s no denying that we Brits have a special place in our hearts for those cinematic John Lewis ads, but in a fast-paced world where attention spans are precious, 54% say they’d appreciate shorter and more straightforward ads more over those lengthy, story-driven epics (40%).

Roll out the red carpet for increased brand recall

Celebrities might be your answer if you want to make a memorable impression this oh-so-jolly season. 54% claimed they would be very or extremely likely to remember an ad featuring celebrities. So, featuring familiar faces like Michael Bublé (ASDA, we see you!) could boost brand recall during the holiday season.

Make them want to Rock Around the Christmas Tree 

Entertainment value (46%) and a catchy jingle (42%) ranked top of what makes a good Christmas ad into a GREAT one. Will Aldi bring back Kevin? Could Sainsbury’s have Rick Astley revisit one of his classics in their 2023 Christmas ad? The nostalgia-driven ads we’re all longing for might be around the corner.

To sum it up, ads that celebrate simpler times, embody family values and sprinkle in a bit of nostalgia will be the true crowd-pleasers this holiday season. This begs the question, who will tick the Pulsers Christmas ad wishlist?

Cue the 2023 ads…

M&S: Christmas Ad 2023

For many, the campaign evokes emotions associated with the oh-so-jolly season, with heartwarming, traditional, and British being the most common words used to describe the ad, highlighting M&S’ ability to resonate emotionally and culturally.

The reappearance of Dawn French as the Fairy sparked excitement for 24%, reinforcing the ad’s connection to previous campaigns. Meanwhile, Hollywood stars (and Wrexham Football Club owners) Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney injected a hearty dose of fun, with 1 in 3 liking the celebrity voiceover.

But the missing thing? Focus on the affordability of an M&S Christmas.

Waitrose: Just Can’t Get Enough by Saatchi & Saatchi

The presence of celebrities, including Graham Norton, in the 2023 Waitrose stole the spotlight for 39%. But, on the whole, the ad appears to have missed the mark regarding relatability, leaving 65% feeling that it fell short in communicating any affordability of a Waitrose Christmas.

So, while the ad received a warm reception overall, it didn’t quite hit the mark in terms of relatability, possibly due to the cost of living strains faced by consumers.

Lidl: Magical Christmas

A heartwarming narrative stole the hearts of 54%, but the real stars? A raccoon and a dog that left 1 in 3 in awe. The unexpected charitable element, “Give a toy…”, was a pleasant surprise for 1 in 4, allowing Lidl to create an emotional connection and distinguish itself from other supermarket ads.

And whilst the emotional storytelling hit home, 43% expressed a desire to have seen more explicit promotions related to Lidl’s offering with more brand-specific elements.

Sainsbury’s: This Christmas, one little girl asks one BIG question by New Commercial Arts

Sainsbury’s has redeemed itself by ditching THAT banquet and Rickrolling their way into Christmas 2023. Despite a handful questioning if Mr Astley really needed to make an appearance, it’s evident that the sprinkle of stardom (38%) and relatable moments like a child asking Santa (52%) has made this ad stand out.

What would have made the ad just that bit better? Like the others we’ve covered, consumers would have liked to see the brand convey affordability amidst a cost of living crisis. But on the whole, it’s a well-received ad.

Morrisons: All You Need is Glove by Leo Burnett

Farewell to farmers and hello to oven gloves – a surprising shift, yet it paid off. Most Pulsers found the ad captivating, with 1 in 4 labelling it as ‘out-of-the-box.’ And the lack of a tear-jerking storyline? It was actually a selling point.

The catchy tune, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” had 39% singing along, while the humour had 37% chuckling. And can you believe it? 30% adored the touch of humanising a non-human object… of oven gloves!

Overall, this ad has been a massive hit with the community, and it’s already a strong contender for their favourite Christmas ad of 2023 (so far!).

ASDA: Make this Christmas Incredibublé by Havas

Last year, we were entertained by Buddy the Elf, but this year, ASDA has brought none other than the King of Christmas himself, Michael Bublé, to the forefront. For 70% of Pulsers, he’s the key ingredient in making this ad memorable. In contrast, 27% believe that the humour weaved into the Christmas magic takes the top spot, while 1 in 4 highlights the presence of ASDA employees in the ad as the standout feature.

However, amidst a cost of living crisis and the allure of a big name, 30% have shown an interest in socially responsible advertising. This shift is apparent as some have suggested reallocating marketing budgets towards charitable causes rather than focusing on celebrity endorsements.

ALDI: Kevin and The Christmas Factory

Kevin the Carrot (38%) has once again won the Pulsers over. Many applaud Aldi for its humour (39%), clever nods to upcoming films like Wonka (38%), and the vivid display of Aldi’s festive offerings (32%).  56% say that thanks to Kevin and his friends, the ad effectively communicates Aldi’s affordability promise during the ongoing cost of living crisis.

However, amidst the holiday cheer, only 27% could recall the charitable reference at the ad’s conclusion. This indicates that these elements may benefit from more prominent emphasis in future campaigns to create a more significant impact during this season of joy and giving.

John Lewis: Snapper, The Perfect Tree by Saatchi & Saatchi

The most anticipated Christmas ad of the year has arrived, and this year, it features a rather unusual choice of Christmas tree. After a 14-year partnership with Adam & EveDDB, John Lewis & Partners has teamed up with Saatchi & Saatchi for this year’s festive epic. So, what’s the scoop on the ad that kickstarts Christmas for 47% of Brits?

Initial reactions ranged from anticipation and eventual satisfaction to liking and viewing the ad as a fresh approach. While many appreciate the unconventional narrative and John Lewis’s storytelling finesse, some are scratching their heads at the Venus flytrap and family dog duo, wondering how it fits into the Christmas joy theme.

Summing up the ad in one word, Pulsers label it as Nostalgic, Family-oriented, Confusing, and Quirky. The diverse reactions hint that while the storyline may not be universally relatable (…yet!), it’s undeniably a thought-provoking conversation starter.

Now, the soundtrack! The ad set to Festa, sung by opera legend Andrea Bocelli, has earned a 44% approval rating, with many falling in love or liking it. However, 31% miss the mushy acoustic renditions of classic hits.

Why wait to hear what your customer is thinking?