Christmas advertisers, stop the sadvertising!

by Guest Contributor Daren Poole | December 18, 2019

Author: Daren Poole

Daren Poole
Global Head of Creative

I recently I wrote an article for Admap on ‘The Secrets of UK Christmas advertising success’. As I researched the piece, one of the first conclusions that I came to was that there are no secrets, only best practice. But when it comes to emotion is it a good idea to evoke sadness?

The best Christmas ads embodied the principles that we talked about in Creative and Effective, and earlier in Make a lasting impression’The principles are great storytelling, strong emotional connection and smart brand integration. I wish that we saw so much great storytelling all year round: after all, brand building is for life, not just for Christmas.


Due to publishing lead times, I wrote the Admap article before I’d seen any 2019 holiday advertising. In the UK, Aldi won Christmas with the return of Kevin the Carrot in Amazing Christmas Show. It, and many other ads sought to showcase the magic of Christmas and to generate feelings of excitement, joy and anticipation. Indeed, the average level of emotion evoked across the 19 ads tested puts them in the top 15 percent of all ads Kantar has tested in the UK.

It’s not all happy when it comes to Christmas advertising, though. For me, German retailer Edeka set the benchmark in 2015, when its holiday ad featured an elderly man who fakes his death to bring his family together.

Death also features in Apple’s 2019 holiday offering. It’s quite an emotional rollercoaster: personally, I was irritated by the (admittedly well observed) behaviour of the whining children. That irritation turned to annoyance when parenting skills were delegated to the iPad on several occasions. And gradually that became sadness as it became evident that the girls’ grandmother had died recently. The final scenes where they gift their grandfather a slideshow made on their iPad (great product integration!) is intended to be heart-warming demonstration of family love, but actually ends up being tear-jerking and heart-wrenching. I don’t think that’s what a Christmas ad should do.

In the Christmas ad from Polish e-commerce site Allegro, grandma isn’t dead yet, but she might as well be, initially, to her mobile phone-addicted granddaughter. I again felt rising sadness at the girl’s behaviour, climaxing in her ‘OK boomer’ moment. What is different in the Allegro ad is that the negative emotions are replaced with positive emotions, and the brand plays a role in this. I challenge you not to smile after the exchange of gifts and this particular articulation of love. It feels a much better resolution for Christmas and the brand.

A personal favourite from the 2019 holiday offerings is from Microsoft. It’s a fairly simple story in which a young girl uses real-time translation on a Surface to communicate with reindeer visiting her garden. The ad demonstrates that it is possible to tell a product story without doing it overtly, and while generating strong, positive emotions.

The rise in purpose in advertising has seen a corresponding rise in the volume of sadvertising. But advertisers, please, can we take a break from the sadness for the holidays?

What’s your favourite sadness-free holiday ad of 2019? Please share your thoughts.

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