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This is a self-funded case study using our Ad Testing solution.
2021 marks Cubery’s sixth annual review of Australian Christmas advertising, assessing not only the most creative ads, but also the most effective. Why test ads? Because it gives marketers the confidence to know they’ll work, a chance to step outside the marketing bubble and get feedback from a diverse range of people — many of whom have little in common with those behind their creation.
Brands were quicker to the punch releasing their Christmas campaigns this year — eager to entice shoppers who are at long last — Omicron forgiving — looking past lockdowns and keen to make up for lost time. Having said that, while normality has largely resumed across the country, the communications approach adopted by the vast majority ultimately didn’t deviate too far from last year.
We’ve tested a large number of ads this Christmas — 35 in total across Australia and the UK. What are some of the overarching themes we’ve observed?
To rank each ad we use the Cubery Rating, a one number composite measure which equally weights the 3 ‘Cs’ of advertising success:
Explore more in-depth insights at Cubery’s 2021 Christmas hub.
We’ve gotten pretty used to this! For the third year running AusPost has taken out top spot as Australia’s most effective Christmas ad.
Deploying a markedly more fun and energetic style compared to the heart-warming stories of previous years, 2021 was nonetheless successful — building an upbeat tone that elevated it above the Christmas clutter.
Featuring recognizable post-boxes and lockers, in amongst a variety of festive letter boxes, ensured the brand remained front-and-center throughout — guaranteeing the warmth people felt translated directly onto AusPost.
“I loved this ad. The music is very toe tapping and involving. It is very cleverly put together and typically Australia Post. Quite funny in parts but definitely involving.”
While ALDI’s prior years’ Christmas communications have failed to resonate with the masses, the brand delivered a cracker in 2021.
Building off its well-established ‘Good Different’ platform, ALDI deployed Darude’s techno classic ‘Sandstorm’ to great effect. The ad elicited amusement and excitement, encouraging Australians to let their hair down and go all-out in 2021 — following a tumultuous few years.
While we’ve seen ALDI’s Christmas communications skew a little too much toward being “different” over the last 5 years, this year’s festive spot delivered the “good” as well — coming in as the most distinctive Christmas ad of 2021.
“Loved the music for the advert — so different to competitors. Loved the 'go crazy' vibe.”
‘Make Their Christmas’ tells the story of a young boy gifting home-made jewelry to the most important women in his life, culminating in the heart-warming ending where he gives his mum — the “love of his life” — a real ring from Michael Hill.
The ad tugged at viewers’ heartstrings and kept them eagerly anticipating what would unfold next. The mother’s teary reaction to the touching gift evoked an intense emotional response, particularly feelings of warmth and happiness.
“Great storyline with emotion that connects the audience to stop and watch the ad. I always get a happy tear watching this when the son gives his mum a gift.”
Rather than going down the more ‘magical’ path of previous years, Woolworths instead opted to build on its recently launched ‘Today’s Fresh Food People’ platform. Rhyming and references to the green ‘freshness’ of its produce were again the focal point, framing memories in a way which could’ve only been for Woolworths (ranking as the most recognizable ad of Christmas 2021).
While the focus on green-initiatives and generally pleasant atmosphere was enjoyed by many, departing from the more fantastical narrative of 2020 meant it subsequently didn’t elicit the same intense feelings.
“The Christmas scenes and family-orientated advert were very pleasant. There was a lot of green colours used throughout, which made it easier to understand that this advert was for Woolworths.”
Officeworks returned to animation in 2021 — a throwback to the brand’s highly captivating ‘Treasure Hunt’ campaign from 2016. While that year’s spot successfully engaged viewers with its warm tale of the bond between a young girl and her grandfather, it failed to frame memories in a brand-centric way.
The opposite was true in 2021, with the visuals of Santa shopping for his Christmas presents at a heavily codified Officeworks instantly cuing people into the brand — albeit evoking a much flatter response overall. Emphasizing the gifts available at Officeworks and overall shopping experience encouraged reappraisal of the retailer as a gifting destination.
“Had previously not considered Officeworks a place for Christmas shopping, but this ad makes me think there are so many options to consider there.”
Like Woolworths, Coles also built on its existing ‘Value the Australian Way’ platform, showcasing the joy and excitement of families coming together at Christmas — a theme consistent with previous years.
The underlying theme of gratitude, and references to the grocer’s charitable efforts, helped build emotional warmth; however, the gentler tone and somewhat generic imagery ultimately struggled to stand out and draw viewers in.
Nonetheless, it was still able to maintain a clear connection back to the brand — a function of the familiar theme and style, but also the cameo appearance of Curtis Stone. The red delivery truck — one that we’ve become accustomed to seeing more of during lockdowns — further solidified the connection.
“I liked how it showed what an Australian summer and Christmas looks like. I like how it was community orientated and showed families being together again at Christmas.”
IGA adopted a very similar approach to previous Christmases, featuring the brand’s long-standing spokesman, Shane Jacobson, while centering the entire narrative around the grocer’s “local” credentials. Combined with the in-store setting and uniformed staff, viewers effortlessly linked memories back to IGA.
While the theme was evocative of previous IGA communications, and very much in-line with how people perceive the brand, the way in which it was brought to life didn’t spark a great deal of excitement or intrigue. Additionally, while the “local” sentiment was something that resonated, it didn’t translate into strong predisposition toward the grocer.
“I like the emphasis on 'family owned' and the 'familiarity' of staff with their customers.”
“It’s boring — no excitement. It was just a bog-standard Merry Christmas.”
Optus’ campaign marked the third major instalment of the brand’s ‘It starts with yes’ platform. The ad tells the heart-warming story of two sugar gliders preparing for the arrival of a newborn — inspired by the neighboring human family experiencing similar life events.
While some were enamored with the adorable sugar glider bravely navigating its way through the family’s home, many struggled to connect all the dots together with what was going on.
Despite rewinding at the end to the point where a ‘yes’ started everything, many still didn’t get it. More broadly, the ad lacked a meaningful connection to Optus, impeding favorable attitudes from being transferred back onto the brand.
“This ad is gorgeous. I like it a lot. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. The animals are beautiful.”
“I just thought the whole storyline was confusing and made no sense.”
Target’s spot was a marked improvement over 2020’s ‘Discover a Better Way to Christmas’. While the more familiar, family-oriented theme wasn’t able to grab attention as effectively as last year’s cinematic approach — which involved a couple embarking on an elaborate expedition to “do” Christmas themselves — it was better-able to tap into festive warmth and happiness.
2021’s spot paralleled a father who bought a plastic Christmas tree from Target with another who got the real thing, reinforcing the convenience and value offered by the retailer — an approach considered more credible for the brand. However, ‘Christmas Made Easy’ wasn’t found particularly unique or exciting, while the “typical clumsy father” stereotype got on some people’s nerves.
“Humorous, guy trying to put up a fresh tree when the other is so simple and relaxed.”
“Just wasn’t very entertaining even though it was meant to be funny.”
While Big W’s festive campaign in 2019 focused on the chaotic build-up to the big day, 2021’s went in the opposite direction — showcasing the events of the ensuing day as a mother recites all the gifts she bought the family.
Despite tapping into the relatability of events surrounding Christmas day, the ad struggled to generate a strong emotional response — reflected in a lack of warmth and excitement. This was in a large part due to the cliched imagery deployed across the category, along with an absence of the brand’s distinct codes which underpinned the 2019 campaign.
“I liked how it showed what it was like on boxing day, which was different to most other ads showing the lead up to Christmas.”
“Shows the same typical family seen in every other ad around this time of the year — nothing different or special.”
David Jones depicted an up-market Christmas celebration with young, fashionable, attractive people interchanging gifts. This approach was less powerful and more generic relative to 2020’s ‘The Home of Christmas for 182 Years’, which reinforced the brand’s long heritage through highlighting various generations of David Jones shoppers.
‘Christmas of Dreams’ didn’t do or say anything which uniquely tied back to David Jones, and over the longer-term there has been a notable lack of consistency with the brand’s Christmas communications.
“Maybe could have a bigger range of ages rather than people that look like they are young models.”
Kmart’s 2021 Christmas spot depicted a diverse range of Australian Christmas celebrations with a bright and boppy soundtrack — a noticeable contrast from last year’s product-centric (and overtly branded) campaign.
Although the ad created a sense of warmth, it lacked a clear story and meaningful character development — leaving little to sustain viewer attention or move people in a meaningful way. An absence of cues to signal the brand’s involvement meant people also struggled to distinguish who or what was being advertised.
“Just like any other ad. Nothing special, nothing annoying, nothing enjoyable.”
‘Unriddle Christmas’ was a playful musical featuring different people singing a parody of ‘Joy to the World’, while providing vague answers to the question of “what should I get you for Christmas?” — positioning Myer as the one-stop shop for Christmas gifts.
While the message and format were considered unique and fun by some, others found the song long-winded and irritating — subsequently turning off many, while causing others to lose interest. Additionally, a lack of consistency over the years meant there was little to cue people into the advertiser aside from the logo at the end.
“I wasn’t quite sure what it was advertising, I know it was for Myer but there wasn’t anything in particular that really stood out to me.”
Best&Less featured families celebrating Christmas in the quintessential Australian sun, showcasing the brand’s sleepwear range. People weren’t overly enthused by the lackluster approach and supporting soundtrack, with many considering the style to be boring or typical of the vast majority of Christmas advertising.
While the use of families and children did build some warmth, the associations formed were largely category-based ones — with little being uniquely attributed to Best&Less.
“It was terribly generic and boring. None of what was shown felt real or interesting.”
Explore our in-depth insights at Cubery’s 2021 Christmas hub.