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Mark Ritson: “This is not a Cola-Cola ad”

December 2021

This is a self-funded case study using our Ad Testing solution.

Following on from its poignant Christmas campaign in 2020, Coca-Cola released yet another tear-jerker in 2021. With the help of his mother, a young boy rallies neighbors together to create a symbolic chimney inside their apartment block, spreading joy to even the building’s loneliest residents.

As we touched on previously with both McDonald’s and Amazon, prioritizing emotions and sentimentality — over distinctiveness and recognizability — has seen many brands merge into a sea of sameness this Christmas. Would Coca-Cola succumb to this same fate?

While Mark Ritson has been a vocal critic of the campaign, if we put aside opinions and conjecture from industry figureheads and instead focus on the only people who ultimately matter — consumers — how did it fare? We use 3 C’s to predict effectiveness:

  • Captivate: Does it stand out and grab attention?
  • Connect: Does it instantly recall the brand?
  • Compel: Does it motivate behavioral change?


Backed by a modern rendition of the classic Mary Poppins tune, ‘Chim Chim Cheree’, Coca-Cola aimed to tap into the ‘real magic’ of Christmas — zeroing in on themes of friendship, connection, and unity in order to elicit warmth and happiness.

The ad did this successfully, evoking a positive, albeit passive, response from viewers. As we’ve harped on throughout this festive season, passivity doesn’t necessarily have to come at the expense of engagement — stories which take viewers through twists and turns and end with emotionally uplifting resolutions, can still be highly effective.

The story of the entire community banding together — eventually leading to even the old, disgruntled neighbor joining Christmas festivities — evoked positivity from many. However, the emotional journey lacked strong peaks and troughs to sustain engagement, resulting in many losing interest through its near 3-minute runtime.

Coca Cola Christmas Ad Testing - Captivate



The Coca-Cola truck has been a staple of the brand’s Christmas celebrations since its inception in 2001. Though featuring in the brand’s 2020 Christmas spot — helping facilitate the emotional reunion of a daughter and her father — it was bypassed in 2021. Instead, it was replaced with a humble Coca-Cola-branded cardboard box which sat atop the makeshift chimney to cap off its dramatic completion.

In testing the Christmas communications of both McDonald’s and Amazon this year, three key branding themes emerged:

  1. In the case of McDonald’s, the story didn’t give it a central role in facilitating the eventual outcome, limiting how successfully memories could be transferred back onto the brand.
  2. Amazon did position the brand as the enabler behind the positive resolution, but the emotional climax wasn’t moving enough for it to leave a lasting impression.
  3. Amazon departed from its singing boxes which last featured in 2019, and in the process lost one of the most powerful assets of all the major Christmas advertisers we’ve tested. Their new creative formula has struggled to replicate this success.

Forgoing such a strong asset (the truck for Coca-Cola and singing boxes for Amazon) and instead replacing them with more tenuous roles for the brand (a branded carboard box atop the chimney for Coca-Cola, and thoughtful gift being purchased via the app for Amazon), subsequently led to their perceived role and relevance in the story being diminished.

Coca Cola UK Christmas Ad Testing - Connect



With the story’s apex not eliciting the intense emotional response desired (a security guard who’s seemingly set to spoil the party turning into the unexpected hero), Coca-Cola’s role wasn’t memorable enough for any positivity to be carried over to the brand itself. This also impeded the ad from doing anything to position Coca-Cola as being meaningfully different from the multitude of advertisers adopting similarly sentimental approaches this Christmas.

Coca Cola Christmas Ad Testing - Compel


What are the learnings for marketers?

Finding new, fresh, and topical ways to deploy a brand’s distinctive assets is one of the toughest — yet most important — challenges facing advertisers on the journey to creating enduring, effective communications. However, at the same time, change for change’s sake is fraught with danger. Far too often we see unique codes — which have been painstakingly built up over time — tossed aside in favor of the new and original.

Mark Ritson put it best when he said: “The only problem was that this wasn’t a Coca-Cola ad.” While Coca-Cola’s iconic Christmas trucks will no doubt be hitting the airwaves this Christmas — helping make up for some of the shortcomings of ‘Real Magic’ — it doesn’t take away from the time, cost, and effort absorbed in creating work which does little for the brand. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion — particularly at Christmas — with advertisers needing to look no further than ALDI’s Kevin the Carrot and the “Christmas tradition” it has now become. Coca-Cola has a branding property the envy of all others, and could do worse than looking to refresh this asset before returning to the drawing board.

Coca Cola Christmas UK Ad Testing - Cubery Rating

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