5 Years of Tear Jerking Christmas Ads

2014 Really put Christmas ads on the map in the UK with what I think is the best Christmas ad we’ve ever had ‘1914 – Christmas Sainsbury’s Advert.’

Looking further back you can see 2014 was a real turning point for christmas ad budgets. Our Christmas ads in the UK have almost the same sort of appeal as the Superbowl ads in the US. They’re the one time a year where we wholeheartedly celebrate TV adverts.

You can really see how the culture has cemented itself when you look back at 2013 for example. The advert’s list I found on the Guardian shows how throwaway some of the ads we’re back then. Nowadays we take the whole event much more seriously! As it’s become more and more ingrained into our culture.

Take Harvey Nichols tongue in cheek 2013 #SpentItOnMyself Christmas Ad campaign…

I can recognise it’s tongue in cheek but considering how much effort and love goes into producing christmas ads today it really feels off watching it back. This advert would not work in today’s Christmas Ad culture!

That said, having learnt how far this medium evolved and ingrained itself in our culture, let’s take a look back through yesteryear at some of the best Christmas ads and figure out how they tick…

2014 – 1914 Sainsbury’s Christmas Advert

Like how all student animated films follow a similar story somehow so to do all Christmas Ads, albeit to a much higher standard! Sorry students.

The goal is to give you goosebumps, it’s the entire goal of marketing in fact. Eliciting an emotion reaction in your audience is the key to long lasting memories of your story and brand!

The Advert not only created an entire genre of advert, that’s been copied dozens of times every year since, it also developed a sense of pride in us as british people.

Looking back at the war is an easy way to do this. But it’s clear the director really cared about his material. You can see in the behind the scenes video for the advert that Sainsbury’s created that a lot of love went into developing this advert.

2015 – John Lewis – Man on the Moon

Following 1914’s success John Lewis’ Man on the Moon followed in their footsteps and also took it a step further when partnered with Age UK to not only find the heart in their story but also directly raise awareness for the charity in their ad.

Watching the behind the scenes video, which has quickly become a staple of these videos, there’s a clear emphasis on the campaign itself.

Whereas 1914 could be considered a word of mouth success or a happy accident, with it only really circulating as a TV advert in 2014, 2015 in contrast was definitely the year of the online ad campaign.

Watching the video there was nothing serendipitous about this ad’s success, it was tailored to succeed! Which I believe marks the era of heavily invested Christmas Ad campaigns! And I’m 

not complaining!

The Ad itself is a real tearjerker. It’s an iconic ad in its use of music and iconography of ‘the man on the moon.’ We’ll later see how cookie cutter this formula becomes.

2016 – The Tale of Thomas Burberry

This was a fantastic advert that strayed from the formula a hell of a lot when compared to the other adverts of this year.

You could tell that it wasn’t just an advert for Christmas but the success of Christmas ads at the time most likely played an influence in the budget and release time of this advert.

Mentioning the budget, this one was a big one, and it’s meant to look that way. It’s supposed to look like a trailer for a movie about Burberry, with a star studded cast and beautiful 

cinematography, Burberry really achieves this look.

Interestingly enough it plays on the same pride that 1914 did, which has become a popular option for Christmas Ads, celebrating the past.

I really enjoyed this ad at the time, I can see why it stuck with me too – it used the formula of a movie trailer or teaser, which is a highly developed form of storytelling that’s geared towards teasing the end product believe it or not. In this case it’s the shop itself – but it was fantastically creative and really left an emotional impact and memory on me watching it back.

2017 – #YouShall Find Your Fairytale Christmas, Debenhams 

A very 2017 love story. It’s got a budget based on the cameo – but it’s a little different from the rest of the adverts of this year. It shows how these big brand names are starting to try to use social engagement online in this cased hashtags to stir up a buzz in their campaigns.

Something nice about this advert is that they duplicated the ad with the same story only from two perspectives: the boy and the girl. It works really nicely and is a nice way to get twice as many views and twice as much watchtime for your audience!

As much as these ads can be shared and engaged, word of mouth is still king and you can only satisfy that interaction by standing out and or telling a great story. But it goes to show how much thought and planning are put into these iconic ads!

2018 – Elton John Lewis

I dare you to try to not cry at this. What I love about this ad is how you think you know what is going on – it’s a shortened biopic based of Elton John’s new movie set to a humble rendition of Your Song by Elton John.

There’s a clue in the name of the song, the story isn’t about Elton, it’s about his mum! Cue waterworks. For this reason this story really sticks. Christmas is all about family and Mum’s joint most important for a lot of people.

There’s been a lot of Christmas ads in the past 6 years, but time in time out these creative marketing companies have really shown that there’s a hell of a lot of stories to tell, and that we’re not running out of tear jerkers anytime soon.

We might never get a more iconic Christmas Ad than 1914, but I think we’d all love to see the big brands try!

Thanks for reading and happy holidays!

Written by Adam Smith

 5 Years of Tear Jerking Christmas AdsI’m a designer and storyteller.

This blog is a place for me to document my experiments combining three key fields: Design, Storytelling and Digital Marketing.

I hope I can also inspire and guide you towards towards your own Digital Storytelling goals and successes.

 5 Years of Tear Jerking Christmas Ads

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