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The UK’s most effective Christmas ads of 2022

December 2022

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

There’s something undeniably magical about the advertising extravaganza we’re treated to each festive season; it’s the one time of year the public is genuinely excited about (and eagerly anticipates) new campaign releases. In a world where consumers are largely apathetic and indifferent toward brands and advertising, it truly is a season like none other!

But, in the rush to test ads and separate the wheat from the chaff, what quickly gets lost is the theory and ‘science’ behind what makes an ad effective. In particular, we’ve seen marketers grow increasingly skeptical toward the idea that “emotion” and “happiness” are the be-all and end-all of advertising success.

To be clear, emotion (and standing out) is a prerequisite; advertising which doesn’t enter people’s mental headspace is consigned to being ineffectual. But from there, two other (equally important) things must happen:

  1. The memories must be inextricably connected to the brand; and
  2. Motivating impressions, associations, and ideas must be seeded in people’s minds.

Our framework has been built upon these rigorous theoretical underpinnings, distilling the factors for success into a simple and intuitive framework — the 3Cs:

Captivate: Be emotive; stand out and grab attention.
Be recognizable; synergize with expectations.
Be motivating; drive behavioral change.

We produce a one number composite metric (the Cubery Rating) which equally weights the 3Cs, providing a robust and transparent prediction of effectiveness. You can read more about our framework here.

Without further ado, we’re delighted to share the rankings for the United Kingdom.

Merry Christmas! 🎅

Coca-Cola | Holidays are Coming!

Cubery Rating: 77 (+27 vs. 2021)

Coca-Cola “Classic”: it never fails. After taking an ill-advised detour in 2021, Coca-Cola went back to its tried and trusted formula in 2022 — again to a rapturous reception. By dusting off the iconic Christmas trucks, the brand redeployed its enviable seasonal asset with the goal of triggering nostalgia and warmth. The ad delivered all this and then some, as the red convoy lit up the winter wonderland to produce an ad that couldn’t have been for anyone else. People were left feeling happy and excited for the holidays, with the additional recycling message only adding to the positive affinity toward Coca-Cola.

“Christmas starts when the Coca Cola ad is on!”

Asda | Have your Elf a Merry Christmas

Cubery Rating: 76 (+32 vs. 2021)

After being one of the bigger disappointments in 2021 (falling into the bottom five of our rankings), Asda rocketed up our Christmas list in 2022. 'Have your Elf a Merry Christmas' wheeled out the big guns with the goal of delivering an even bigger emotional payoff — and that it did, while simultaneously giving clear air to the brand in what is an otherwise cluttered supermarket category. By deploying the quintessentially festive character, Buddy the Elf (played by Will Ferrell), Asda rolled the dice on whether the brand would be relegated to a back seat role to the Hollywood superstar. Thankfully, though, it paid off in spades. The humorous storyline featuring Buddy (unsuccessfully) trialing various jobs within the store ensured the brand remained the focal point throughout.

“I loved how they incorporated clips from ‘Elf’ to create the impression of Buddy the elf working in Asda. It's hilarious.”

Cadbury | Secret Santa Postal Service

Cubery Rating: 74 (New in 2022)

Cadbury’s festive spot introduced the concept of sending anonymous bars of chocolate to loved ones over the holiday season. The ad’s light-hearted delivery sparked curiosity to learn more, with purple colorings and the postmaster’s branded uniform ensuring Cadbury remained at the forefront. By dialing back its narrative to a simple how-to guide on “digital post box” posters, the ad effectively motivated people to want to give the idea a go.

“Want to find a poster and see how it works.”

ALDI | Kevin the Carrot is Home Alone

Cubery Rating: 72 (+2 vs. 2021)

ALDI’s latest iteration of 'Kevin the Carrot' lived up to all the hype and excitement which has come to surround the anthropomorphic vegetable. Now an iconic part of the UK Christmas calendar, Kevin the Carrot turned his hand to acting in 2022, reprising the role of Kevin McCallister in a parody of the classic Christmas film, Home Alone. Consistent use of this now infamous character meant the ad was indisputably for ALDI, with the mere presence of carrots clueing people into the brand right from the get-go (along with eliciting instantaneous feelings of happiness).

“Kevin. It wouldn't be Christmas without seeing him & his adventures. A serious message to it too.”

John Lewis | The Beginner

Cubery Rating: 70 (+15 vs. 2021)

After a disappointing 2021 (by the brand’s typically lofty standards), John Lewis bounced back in 2022 with another bout of masterful storytelling. Titled 'The Beginner', the ad featured a haunting rendition of Blink-182’s All The Small Things, with the story centered around a middle-aged man’s curious decision to learn how to skate for the first time. People were intrigued to see where all the self-inflicted pain and misery would eventually lead. For the most part, this meant John Lewis’ role within the narrative was largely anecdotal. However, the eventual realization that the aspiring skateboarder was finding common ground with his new foster child effectively spotlighted the brand (and its charitable efforts) during the ad’s emotional climax.

“I loved the warm, fuzzy feeling the advert gave me at the end. Shows true kindness in humanity and I feel this is such a worthy cause for John Lewis to support.”

O2 | The Snowgran

Cubery Rating: 70 (+8 vs. 2021)

Continuing on from the brand’s charitable endeavors in 2021, 'The Snowgran' delivered one of the most heart-warming spots of 2022. While the methodical soundtrack and animated stylings meant the ad didn’t have the instant pulling power of some other spots, the highly emotional and sentimental story quickly made up for this. Featuring an icy Snow Gran melting at the sight of her loved ones (with the aid of an O2 sim card, no less), the ad elicited the feels, while the brand acted as the facilitator behind the ad’s eventual uplifting conclusion.

“A great idea and a nice way for those who are having problems staying in touch, its inspiring and heart-warming knowing that o2 are thinking of ways to help.”

Boots | #JoyForAll

Cubery Rating: 66 (+9 vs. 2021)

Another brand to leverage the power of celebrity in an effort to grab attention was Boots and their spot titled '#JoyForAll', featuring actress Lydia West. Finding a magical pair of spectacles that transformed the monotony of regular life into a Christmas wonderland every day, the piece seamlessly fit with people’s expectations of Boots as an upmarket retailer. While the lighthearted narrative left people feeling warm, the idea that gifts from Boots bring unbridled joy to everyone — regardless of what lens you look at the world through — wasn’t properly understood by everyone.

“My favourite time that the lady put the glasses on was when she was on the bus - I loved how everything went from grey and dull to exciting and vibrant.”

Marks & Spencer Food | Fairy & Duckie

Cubery Rating: 65 (+3 vs. 2021)

While succeeding the iconic Percy Pig is a tall order, M&S Food’s Fairy & Duckie managed to do just that in 2022. Where the ad truly sparkled was its ability to spotlight the brand’s unique assets in a memorable way. Redeploying the Dawn French voiced fairy for the second year running, the ad’s simple and playful narrative was synergistic with expectations of the high-end retailer. Moreover, prominently highlighting the delicious Christmas spread effectively cued the brand, while this light-hearted-yet-functional-focus also provided ample motivation for people to choose M&S this Christmas.

“It was warm and inviting. The food and the house looked really christmassy. Dawn French's voice is kind and the whole ad is quite uplifting. The food is unmistakably M&S.”

Disney | The Gift

Cubery Rating: 65 (New in 2022)

A new entrant to our UK Christmas rankings in 2022 was media behemoth Disney, with the brand’s emotion-charged content piece undeniably on-brand (both in terms of the unmistakable animations along with character cues). However, clocking in at an almost movie-length 125 seconds (in advertising terms, at least) meant 'The Gift' wasn’t able to retain the attention of all viewers throughout, with some people not resonating as strongly with the story of the young girl’s journey into siblinghood.

“Very warm advert, makes you feel happy and think of family - what Christmas is all about.”

Marks & Spencer | Gifts that Give

Cubery Rating: 64 (+8 vs. 2021)

The campaign for the department store arm of Marks & Spencer, 'Gifts that Give', didn’t align as seamlessly with people’s expectations of the brand compared to the food focus of Fairy & Duckie. However, basing the execution around the excitability of the Christmas morning gift exchange, the fun (yet chaotic) additions of marching bands and Carolers left people feeling happy and excited. While the community-minded messaging didn’t result in a groundswell of good-will, the approach did work a little harder to differentiate M&S from competitors (compared to Fairy & Duckie).

“I liked that there was more glamour and glitz. The message about supporting local neighborhood charities was really positive but subtle.”

The National Lottery | A Christmas Love Story

Cubery Rating: 63 (New in 2022)

The National Lottery delivered a heart-warming story around two love struck strangers coming together — before being devastatingly separated — while taking a cross-country train journey. For a three-and-a-half-minute production, the narrative successfully maintained people’s interest throughout, resulting in heightened feelings of warmth and happiness. Importantly, via the lottery ticket acting as facilitator to the couple’s eventual reunion, the brand was present during key emotional moments — ensuring it would be the full beneficiary of positivity generated.

“I loved the story telling, it wasn’t a usual cliche lottery win type advert. I liked that it kept my attention for the full advert, I wanted to see what happened.”

Lidl | The Story of Lidl Bear

Cubery Rating: 62 (+5 vs. 2021)

Lidl made no secret of the brand’s attempt to create an identifiable, Kevin-esque Christmas character, with the brand’s 2022 spot titled 'The Story of Lidl Bear'. The early signs are very promising. While the new character (unsurprisingly) didn’t fit as well with people’s expectations of the brand, its heavily branded knitted jersey ensured the likeable teddy was already crafting unique properties for Lidl. As a result, the brand was front and center to the playful narrative, in-turn creating much stronger predisposition than 2021’s Big On Christmas.

“The cute Lidl bear in a colorful designed Lidl Winter jumper.”

Sainsbury’s | Once Upon a Pud

Cubery Rating: 62 (+21 vs. 2021)

In a departure from the brand’s typically sentimental Christmas adverts, Sainsbury’s 'Once Upon a Pud' leveraged the power of humor to break a dismal recent Christmas run. Set in a colorful medieval fantasy world, the ad’s protagonist attempts to wow the regal Alison Hammond by offering her the most despised of holiday desserts — the humble Christmas pudding. The approach certainly worked in grabbing attention and putting a smile on people’s faces (being one of 2022’s most amusing Christmas ads). This resulted in it easily outperforming the brand’s 2021 execution. However, a consistently inconsistent approach from Sainsbury’s over the years meant the ad didn’t leave people with impressions which were exclusively for the brand — albeit a terrific platform for the brand to build upon next year.

“On the amusing side but difficult to tell what brand it was for until the very end.”

Lego | Playful Holiday

Cubery Rating: 62 (New in 2022)

Another new entrant to the UK Christmas rankings in 2022 was Lego’s 'Playful Holiday', with the ad headlined by pop star Katy Perry. The narrative’s whimsical portrayal of the toys’ boundless imagination certainly captured viewers’ attention; the appearances from Rapunzel, Ironman, and Star Wars X-Fighters all worked hard to sustain engagement. However, these same elements also limited how much the memories could be uniquely attributed to Lego, with the smorgasbord of characters quelling the brand’s role in the narrative. Positively, however, Lego’s collaboration with other well-known assets did help to reinforce the brand’s unique positioning within the toy category.

“Loved how they incorporate all different kinds of superheroes and Star Wars into the ad.”

Morrisons | Farmer Christmas

Cubery Rating: 61 (-4 vs. 2021)

Following the success of its 2021 spot, Supermarket chain Morrisons brought back 'Farmer Christmas' in 2022, building a warm and uplifting story which highlighted the various festive food products available in-store. Although the narrative lost some of the suspense and uniqueness of its predecessor (which focused more on the character’s initial discovery), this didn’t detract from its ability to engage. Combined with the brand’s clear role throughout (both in the form of the jovial Farmer Christmas and food products shown) the positivity garnered from the simple but highly enjoyable narrative was easily transferred back onto the Morrisons brand.  

“I liked the farmer Christmas concept - it’s good fun and felt like an appropriate way to tie Morrisons to Christmas.”

Waitrose | It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Cubery Rating: 57 (-5 vs. 2021)

After employing Scottish comedian/actor Ashley Jensen as spokesperson in 2021, Waitrose went in a different direction in 2022. The agriculturally-inspired and wholesome narrative was well enjoyed, with the focus on fresh food — from farm to plate — synergistic with people’s expectations of the brand (while also providing cues to the upmarket grocer). Unfortunately, a lack of intense peaks within the narrative ultimately cost Waitrose from landing a strong emotional payoff, hindering the ad’s ability to cut through amongst the seasonal communications avalanche.

“The food being prepared throughout the year to be ready for Christmas.”

Tesco | The Christmas Party

Cubery Rating: 56 (-8 vs. 2021)

Spoofing politics after the tumultuous year(s) at 10 Downing St was a bold move by Tesco, and while we love bold moves here at Cubery, this gamble unfortunately didn’t pay the dividends hoped. While many were left feeling warm about 'The Christmas Party’s' comedic policies on festive Christmas topics, on the whole people didn’t engage strongly with the idea. This meant despite leveraging a number of cues directing people toward the Tesco brand, the ad’s promotion of affordable products didn’t land with everyone. This ultimately hindered the ad’s ability to more strongly nudge people toward choosing Tesco this Christmas.

“I would have thought most people are fed up with politics at the moment so it seems strange for Tesco to use this as a theme.”

Sports Direct | Give Me Football

Cubery Rating: 55 (-11 vs. 2021)

In light of the World Cup’s rare clash with the festive season in 2022, it was a no-brainer for Sports Direct to unite the two. 'Give Me Football' rolled out the biggest stars in English football, led by Manchester United great Eric Cantona as the campaign’s headline act. The celebrity-centric approach grabbed people’s attention and was an unsurprisingly good fit with the fitness-focused brand, enabling Give Me Football to reinforce Sports Direct’s area of specialty within the retail category. However, the singular focus on football alienated those without a passion for the world game, limiting the ad’s breadth of relevance and appeal.

“Only focused on one sport, football. Should showcase all the sports.”

McDonald’s | The List

Cubery Rating: 53 (+1 vs. 2021)

McDonald’s 2022 Christmas spot centered around the heartbreaking story of a child who loses his extraordinarily long Christmas wish list. However, a pleasant resolution sees the young boy come to the realization that all he ever actually wanted was to be together with his family, with McDonald’s being the glue which helped facilitate this. While following on from similarly emotional themes in prior years, this seasonal shift in personality has yet to bed-in with viewers, who still expect McDonald’s to communicate in a more fun and upbeat manner. This, in conjunction with the brand’s role not being overly clear until the final stages (and past the ad’s emotional climax), made for a somewhat tenuous link to McDonald’s.

“I liked the warm-hearted idea about the advert. Not sure it’s really suitable for McDonald’s.”

Argos | They’re Coming. Be Ready.

Cubery Rating: 52 (+3 vs. 2021)

Argos’ 'They’re Coming, Be Ready' told the story of a couple dreading the arrival of a large contingent of Christmas guests. While relatable and well-enjoyed, the ad was very passive; the each way bet on suspense or humor ultimately left people feeling neither here or there. While an improvement on their 2021 spot, a tenuous branding link meant positivity toward the theme wasn’t translated into positivity toward the brand, with a quick shot of the Argos app post the emotional climax being the only thing which revealed the ad’s sponsor. This meant the underlying message was somewhat lost, limiting the eventual brand impact.

“I wouldn’t have thought this advertisement was for Argos. There wasn't enough product promotion.”

TK Maxx | Christmas Nailed

Cubery Rating: 50 (+5 vs. 2021)

'Christmas Nailed' offers a warning to advertisers that if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward. Higher standards across the board this year meant TK Maxx — despite improving on last year — fell down the bottom of the Christmas rankings in 2022. While some of the quirky acting performances helped the ad stand out and elicit smiles (along with emphasizing the brand’s low-price proposition), the constant high fiving grated on many, ultimately detracting from the ad’s ability to deliver intended functional and emotional messaging.

“It doesn’t say anything about the shop. It’s odd, repetitive and a bit annoying.”

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