Best-Branded Ads: Holiday Special!


‘Tis the season to a be a best-branded holiday ad

Year-end holidays. They’re not only celebrated and respected in a multitude of ways, but they can also stir up a range of other emotions, whether Black Friday aggravation, travel-related panic, or apprehension of time with family. How does a best-branded holiday ad fit within such a strange season?

We’ve picked our recent favorites, as well as a few stars from the past. Whether poignant, funny, serious, or light, these best-branded holiday ads reflect a few different—and common—strategies…

Here are our picks. 🙂

  1. Amazon: A Priest and Imam Meet for a Cup of Tea (2016)
    Two friends from different faiths share a cup of tea and a common problem, sending each other an unexpected, identical gift. Airing at the end of a year of tense politics around the world, this ad taps not only into consumer needs (ease of ordering any gift through the Amazon app) but also something deeper: friendship across differences. Some of the positive reaction is seen here. 

    Lesson? Provide an easy solution for the season, while showing consumers that you understand their less material and more emotional needs.


  2. John Lewis: Buster the Boxer (2016)
    Pet lovers everywhere will relate to Buster in this humorous video, which sells a trampoline … through the family dog’s perspective. 

    Lesson? Shift perspectives to identify consumer needs in unexpected ways. Our pets may reveal more about us than we recognize.


  3. Microsoft: spread harmony (2015)
    Another message for connecting across differences serves as the basis of this holiday campaign from Microsoft, where its employees sing to Apple employees in front of its competitor’s store on 5th Avenue in New York City. 

    Lesson? Showing a competitor in your campaign can be extremely risky. But, if your actions match the message you want to deliver, then you may create a perception of authenticity that works. Consumers love brands they trust and that create sales.

  4. Toys R Us: Exactly What You Wish For (2015)
    Did the ending surprise you? It did when we first saw it. Consumers understand the challenges that many families face at the holidays, particularly those who serve in the military. Yes, children want toys. They also share in our needs and desires that go beyond consumer goods.

    Lesson? The delayed, last-minute product placement is highly effective when it coincides with a universal emotional appeal.

  5. Apple: Misunderstood (2013)
    When did you notice the product placement? Or did the teenage character in this commercial annoy you… until you realized what he’s doing? 

    Lesson? Instead of telling how you solve a consumer’s problem, show them the solution and how it extends beyond material needs. This ad is particularly effective: Apple got it. Instead of wanting to change teenagers, it understands their habits… and speaks to them.

  6. Coca-Cola: Polar Bears and Penguins (2005)
    Coca-Cola, polar bears: do you automatically think of the holidays? Take a look at this ad from 2005, where the classic polar bears crash a penguin party… and are invited to stay. 

    Lesson? You can recycle successful images and identities if you find a new way to present them (in this case, it might also help to remember that March of the Penguins, a well-received National Geographic Society documentary, was released earlier that same year).


  7. M&Ms: They Do Exist (1996)
    This holiday ad appears on a number of favorite lists. We’d grown accustomed to the giant M&Ms as characters, but this ad took a twist, with Santa Claus fainting when he realizes “they do exist.” 

    Lesson? Make a lasting impression with consumers by turning a story upside down, reversing the fairy-tale, creating the unexpected.

  8. Hershey’s Kisses: Jingle Bells (1989)
    This is the longest running Hershey’s ad ever, airing annually since 1989. All music and no dialogue, along with a final second moment of charm, contribute to the light-hearted “innocence and whimsy” associated with the brand. 

    Lesson? Ads don’t require complex scripts, CGI, or address current social issues to be compelling. Even the simplest of ideas can become iconic… if used strategically, such as a holidays-only messaging. 

  9. Gap: give stripes (2002)
    Catchy cover of the classic hit single by The O’Jays, cameo appearance by Rashida Jones, and dancing models in brightly colored clothes… what more could we ask for? 

    Lesson? Have fun and explore even when a campaign works. Everyone remembers Gap’s Khaki Swing. The company has successfully continued using covers, dancing, and musical numbers in its branding, but with striking contrast: remember Madonna, LL Cool J, and Run- D.M.C.? 


  10. What’s your favorite?
    Do you have a favorite holiday ad campaign? If so, share it with us, or post in the comments below!

There’s no universal formula for best-branded holiday ads, but this season can have its own charm as part of your branding strategy.

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