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The Making of Christmas Adverts: Marketing To Tug At The Heartstrings

Admit it, we’ve all done it. When that red Coca-Cola truck appears on our screen and we hear those bells, the words have been uttered: “It’s finally Christmas!”. While adverts are usually the bane of TV watchers’ lives, when it comes to the festive season, adverts are some of the most anticipated releases. For brands, Christmas presents another opportunity to compete with each other in the biggest marketing campaigns of the year.

Christmas adverts have increased in popularity since John Lewis in 2011. While the brand has been releasing festive adverts since 2007, for some reason this  one really grabbed peoples’ attention. This got me thinking, is there a formula to the perfect Christmas advert and what do brands need to do to create a winner?


A compelling story is what drives a great Christmas advert. Themes around family, sharing, love and creating special moments are usually the most well received around the festive season. Take some of the most successful adverts from brands including Sainsbury’s, John Lewis, Iceland and McDonald’s – they all start with a story that speaks to the sensitive side of people that is usually felt around Christmas.

Aldi have cleverly created a saga with their annual advert with Kevin the Carrot and his adventures. This is a great example of a brand drawing on popular culture and relevant topics to create a compelling and entertaining story.

Aldi's Kevin the Carrot and his family with text 'Put on an amazing show this Christmas'

Clear Branding

Coca-Cola is a great example of an advert that keeps their branding at the forefront. In fact, they’ve done such a good job that Coca-Cola, Father Christmas and their slogan ‘Holidays are Coming’ have all become synonymous with the start of Christmas.

With the increase in competition around christmas advertising, it isn’t uncommon for brands to focus more on the story and emotional attachment to the advert and forget to make their branding and message obvious enough. However, it can sometimes be easy to ignore this if the overall advert resonates with viewers and leaves them with a positive, festive feeling.

Emotional Engagement

The best Christmas adverts are the ones that tug on the heart-strings. In 2011, John Lewis introduced us to the little boy desperately waiting for Christmas, just to give his parents their present. From here, the era of tear-jerking Christmas adverts was born. It has become an event to wait eagerly to see how much we’re going to cry at John Lewis’s annual short film.

Other brands have picked up on this trend and started to incorporate this into their own adverts. One of the most notable was Sainsbury’s 2014 advert, which drew from the 100 year anniversary of World War 1 and the famous day where the war stopped for Christmas.

still from the sainsbury's 2014 christmas advert '1914'

The Star

A good story is nothing without its star and brands have managed to introduce us to some memorable names in the form of their adverts’ central characters. In the past, John Lewis has brought us Buster the Boxer, Monty the Penguin and Edgar the Dragon. Each of which have their own personality and way of making us love them- I mean, how pleased does Edgar look when he lights that Christmas pudding?

still from the John lewis advert 'Edgar the Dragon'

However, my personal winners on this front are Aldi. Each year, we follow more of Kevin the Carrot’s story. The loveable vegetable has become the face of Aldi’s Christmas campaign which means we recognise him and the brand immediately.


In recent years, the advert’s soundtrack is often more hotly anticipated than the story itself. John Lewis play into this well by often recruiting big names to record a cover as the soundtrack for their annual advert. With artists such as Lily Allen, Elton John and Gabrielle Aplin taking centre stage, it is often a big talking point in the run up to the release. This year, it was Bastille’s Dan Smith’s turn in the spotlight.

Find an artist with a distinctive voice, pair it with an emotional song to complement the story and BOOM – instant marketing magic.


The adverts that work best are the ones people want to talk about. Whether we’re following Kevin the Carrot’s journey or getting #ReindeerReady with McDonalds. However, John Lewis are once again ahead of the curve when it comes to tapping into conversations on social media. They have become known to drop hints across Twitter before launching their adverts.

In 2016, an account called @bouncing2016 posted two short videos with the hashtag #bouncebounce. Soon after, Buster the Boxer was introduced. Since then, they have continued this trend and successfully create anticipation of their impending campaign.

boxer dog watching girl bouncing on sofa with text saying #BounceBounce

That’s a Christmas Wrap

Whether they make you laugh or cry, the sentiment at the heart of Christmas adverts is what sets them apart from TV marketing campaigns over the rest of the year.

Aside from giving brands the opportunity to outdo each other, now that the trend of festive ads has been established, it’s simply hard to imagine Christmas without them.