Christmas Advertising that Connects Emotionally and Cuts Through Advertising Clutter

Amazon and Aldi crowned most effective UK Christmas ads of 2019

The UK Christmas advertising campaign is well underway, with big-name retailers and grocers, including John Lewis, Amazon and Aldi, all buying for our attention and hard-earned cash.

The lavish productions grow each year. It’s rumoured that John Lewis spent £8 million last year on its ad featuring Elton John, while the industry as a whole was estimated to have spent a staggering £6.4 billion on Christmas advertising efforts in 2018.

It’s led some to question the impact of such large spends, especially at a time when retailers are facing the toughest trading conditions in years.

According to a John Lewis spokeswoman, “Our ads always deliver an excellent return on investment at a time of year that is critical for us, generally delivering 20 times the return on our original spend.”

The ideal Christmas ads of 2019

Maru insight reveals that the most effective Christmas ads – and the ones most likely to deliver a strong return on investment – are the ones that manage to connect both emotionally and rationally with customers, cutting through the noise and driving positive behaviour.

Maru tested ten key ads – including those of Amazon, Aldi, John Lewis, Sainsbury’s and M&S – and results show that retail giant Amazon and supermarket Aldi managed to achieve a near-perfect balance, and therefore crowned most effective Christmas ads of 2019.

All ten ads were tested against four key criteria using  Maru/HUB’s Content Screening solution:

  1. attention and cut-through
  2. ‘feel’ diagnostics and emotional engagement
  3. ‘think’ metrics and relevancy
  4. and ‘behavioural’ calls to action.

Expertly designed by experienced researchers, Content Screening combines System 1 and System 2 measurement, capturing rational reactions and the emotional response to a range of key advertising metrics to quickly and accurately test effectiveness.

By integrating System 1 measurement through our Implicit Association Testing (IAT) methodology, we were able to measure the fast, intuitive response to each ad. IAT uses reaction time to uncover the gut instinct response to advertising creative and provides deeper insights into not just what aspect people associate with the ad, but the emotional strength of that association also.

Cutting through the advertising clutter

The TV ads that stood out as different and managed to cut-through the advertising clutter were those with the strongest creative storytelling, such as John Lewis’s Edgar the Dragon, Kevin the Carrot from Aldi and Asda’s ‘Let’s make Christmas extra special’ campaign.

All three of these ads managed to connect with people emotionally – analysis shows that the ads implicitly captured consumer attention and created a sense of enjoyment.

However, brands and retailers who opted for a strong story-telling approach often did so at the expense of branding and behaviour. John Lewis and Asda scored just 71% and 73% respectively for brand association – compared to Amazon where 98% of viewers felt the ad clearly identified with the brand.

Branding must play a key role

Amazon uses clear visual cues to reinforce their brand identity throughout – the animated Amazon boxes are back again for the third year running and help viewers to make a clear connection to the brand. In fact, viewers felt Amazon’s Christmas ad had the biggest impact for forging a closer connection to the brand.

However, Amazon suffered when it came to creative. Consumers felt John Lewis, M&S, Sainsbury’s, Aldi and Argos all had a creative story that was different from others and stood out from the crowd.

Marks and Spencer’s also suffered when it came to branding and creative. The advert fails to engage people as effectively as others. Insights reveal that viewers struggled to relate to the content or situation, especially based on their current perceptions of the M&S brand. While the ad is a clear attempt to stretch its brand identity and appeal to a wider, younger demographic, the creative has failed to take into account the current M&S brand promise, affinity and association.

Future loyalty vs. short-term gain

Amazon, Lidl and Aldi’s Christmas creative all drive the strongest behaviour from consumers – more than half of viewers would consider using the brand in the near future, compared to just 26% who said the same for John Lewis. These ads managed to achieve the difficult task of both engaging emotionally and generating consideration to use the brand.

In fact, brands who clearly targeted emotional engagement over more rational product placement or price messages – such as John Lewis, Asda and Sainsbury’s – all score poorly for generating a call to action and future intent. All three ads were not as effective at encouraging people to seek out more information about the brand or service, and did little to increase purchase intent, especially when compared to Aldi, Amazon and Lidl.

A winning 2020 Christmas advertising formula

The most effective Christmas advertisements of 2019 are the ones that engage emotionally, have a strong brand identity and positively influence future considerations and behaviour.
Maru results suggest that this is an extremely difficult balance to find, but Aldi and Amazon demonstrate that it is not impossible.

While brands such as John Lewis and Asda have delivered creative that connects emotionally with consumers, they fail to reinforce either brand, impacting their potential to positively influence short term footfall and sales.

Time will tell if targeting emotional connections over short-term sales was the right strategy for Christmas 2019 – but for a winning Christmas advertising strategy in 2020, brands and retailers must deliver creative that:

  • Connects emotionally to cut through the advertising clutter
  • Bring the brand to life with relevant characterisation and storytelling
  • Embed call to action messages and product placement and price proposition into the storytelling to drive future behaviour

Maru/HUB is an instant access platform that gives users meaningful insights in real-time. With Maru/HUB’s range of expertly-designed solutions, including Content Screening, you’ll have the insights and results you need to make confident business decisions that help you connect with your customers and grow.

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