Coca-Cola Wins the Christmas Ad Wars With Nostalgia

Updated: Jan 1

A large helping of nostalgia, a touch of escapism and a pinch of humour are among the winning ingredients for Christmas ads in 2020, according to Kantar’s annual research into which festive TV advertising campaigns work best with UK viewers.


Kantar the data, insights and consulting firm, researched 20 ads with more than 3,000 UK consumers using LinkNow, which evaluates people’s reactions against key dimensions of creative and effective advertising. Affectiva’s AI facial coding technology also captured emotions on people’s faces moment by moment as they watched the ads.

Coca-Cola’s two festive campaigns take first and second place as this year’s best performing ads, with the instantly recognisable Holidays are Coming ‘Trucks’ ad taking top spot as the most powerful, most enjoyable, generating the most love, and with the strongest branding. Kantar’s research last year revealed that the ad is now part of the cultural fabric of Christmas, having first aired back in 1995, triggering powerful nostalgic emotions. While not hitting the same high notes in terms of brand love, Coca-Cola’s second ad titled ‘The Letter’, featuring a father going the extra mile to deliver a letter from his daughter to Santa Claus, is still highly effective and seen as “very heart-warming”.



“Getting it right this Christmas was always going to be tough, as brands and creative agencies tentatively walked the tone of voice tightrope,” says Lynne Deason, Kantar UK’s Head of Creative Excellence.


“But this year’s Christmas ads show us that there are many ways to crack the Christmas advertising effectiveness nut! The top performing ads use very different approaches, including nostalgia, escapism, humour and fantasy. Sadly though, it’s not all joyful; the least effective ads are upsetting people in view of the current crisis. Any attempt to reference coronavirus was always going to be tricky. Some brands have triumphed, while others, although very well intentioned, have been misunderstood.”

Disney+ also taps into nostalgia, as well as escapism, as one of the year’s top three best performing Christmas ads. Igniting nostalgic memories of older movies that people love and new films to watch, ‘Make This Christmas Wonderful’ knits together a story that is enjoyable, very emotive and well branded to Disney+, all backed by a great choice of music. Viewers felt it works well in the current climate, and is both “comforting” and “familiar” in a strange time.


With brands challenged about whether to reference COVID in their Christmas advertising, humour has proven to be a winner, but only if the joke lands. Tesco nails it with its ‘No Naughty List’ ad using humour to great effect, and performs in the top third of all UK ads for being enjoyable, emotionally provocative, engaging, and well-branded.


Lidl’s ‘A Christmas You Can Believe In’ fails to deliver the same impact. Its attempts to parody other brands, notably Kevin the Carrot, is largely missed by viewers; 52% thought the ad was funny compared to 67% for Tesco.

Aldi’s eponymous carrot-shaped hero, Kevin, continues to win the hearts of the nation and reinforce the real meaning of Christmas – looking out for each other and being with those we love. An emotional rollercoaster of a story, with co-pilot ‘Turkey’ in the trailer and hedgehog in the main ad, it continues to build warmth for the brand and to differentiate it from others.


Amazon’s ‘The Show Must Go On’, which puts COVID at the heart of it, is the most appropriate ad in the current climate, but not the most effective, according to Kantar’s research. Half of viewers feel it is very appropriate (versus a study average of 33%) as well as highly emotive, enjoyable and engendering feelings of warmth towards the brand. But it fails to integrate the brand and is one of the worst performers on this measure.


Many of this year’s ads take a positive stance on diversity and wider representation, with Amazon’s ballet dancer notable for challenging stereotypes, acting as a role model for others. Kantar’s Deason adds: “Amazon decided to tread a tougher more personal path that tackles the impact of coronavirus and racial representation head on. Given racism has been endemic in ballet for years, showing a black ballet dancer is a stroke of genius. It adds deeper meaning and strengthens the impact of the story of a talented, determined and inspiring young woman. The ad performs in the top 1% of all ads in the UK in terms of presenting a positive image that sets a good example for others, both male and female.”


Other highlights of Kantar’s consumer research into 2020 Christmas ads include:

  • John Lewis, M&S, Morrisons and Walkers all use charity partnerships to convey a positive message about helping others at Christmas time, but have become a token reference. This is notable in the John Lewis, Waitrose and Partners ‘Give A Little Love’ lead ad this year, which means the charity connection is missed by many. It also lacks the magic that has made previous ads so enjoyable and distinctive. Walker’s ‘Sausage CaRoll’ ad, however, conveys their tie-up with the Trussell Trust very clearly. While the ad is well branded, viewers feel it is far too long and it provokes polarising reactions.

  • Sainsbury’s ‘Perfect Portions’ ad is the weakest ad this year. While well intentioned with the idea that we can all enjoy Christmas no matter the circumstances, the message is misunderstood or misinterpreted. People find it hard to relate to (because the stories are so personal), unrealistic and depressing.

  • Plenty’s #XMess campaign is seen as inappropriate. It certainly grabs attention, but is found to be irritating, unpleasant and disturbing. The ad provokes few smiles and people struggle to remember which brand it is for.