Key Takeaways: What the 2020 Holiday Adverts Can Teach Us

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Love them or hate them, holiday adverts are dominating our screens at the moment. As businesses compete to come up with creative Christmas marketing ideas, viewers are treated to a selection of moving, nostalgic and fun adverts to mark the festive period.


We’re reviewing a selection of examples of holiday marketing from some of the biggest retailers in the UK. Keep reading to discover the lessons we can learn about how to promote a business at Christmas. 

2020 holiday adverts and what they can teach us

Here are some of the themes retailers have explored in their holiday marketing campaigns and how they’ve used them to shine a light on their business after a difficult year. 

1. Inclusivity 

Let’s start with one of the most controversial holiday adverts of 2020. Sainsbury’s released three commercials giving viewers a glimpse into three families’ Christmas celebrations. The supermarket chain said,

“At Sainsbury's, we want to be the most inclusive retailer. That's why, throughout all our advertising we aim to represent a modern Britain, which has a diverse range of communities.”

While some consumers registered complaints about one of the adverts portraying a black family, the retailer was quick to dismiss racially-charged comments and highlight the importance of inclusivity. The supermarket’s personal take on Christmas marketing presented a relevant and relatable advert, particularly after a year involving such division. 

Asda was another supermarket to deliver a realistic portrayal of Christmas in the UK, with hectic scenes of food preparations and children playing together. It explained, 

“Our superfan Sunny is back to show everyone they can have the Christmas they need, at the prices they all want. He’s enlisted the help of his family… That’s an Asda Price Christmas!”

2. Reflecting current frustrations

This year has been like no other, and many holiday adverts have addressed the problems affecting people across the world. For instance, Amazon’s story, entitled ‘The Show Must Go On’, reveals a budding ballerina. It acknowledges the struggles felt by many young people up and down the country, as well as those in the arts industry who have suffered as a result of cancelled performances. 

Nick Woodford from the Unruly Blog says:

“Using ‘sadvertising’ and appealing to viewers’ lockdown frustrations, the ad left 38 percent of viewers feeling intensely emotional.”

M&S displayed compassion and concern in a different way, donating money to the chosen charities of its voiceover artists. Olivia Coleman, Julie Walters, Naomi Harris and Jeremy Irons appeared in the retailer’s Christmas adverts this year, which focussed on its famously luxurious food, before nodding to the selected charities. 

3. Nostalgia and cultural references

Several brands have returned to classic sequences from TV and film to produce a smile this festive season. Barbour has teamed up with Raymond Briggs to bring to life his iconic Father Christmas once again. Creating nostalgia at every turn, the fashion retailer tells the true story of a man who is upset to find his heirloom Barbour jacket has been ripped. Luckily, Father Christmas can help. 

Back by popular demand, Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot is on our screens for his fifth consecutive Christmas this year. For 2020, he’s tipping his hat to Top Gun, as he takes part in a perilous mission in a fighter jet. While reminding viewers of a classic movie scene, Aldi has created a fun Christmas advert starring everyone’s favourite carrot, along with ‘Lieutenant Turkey’. 



4. Hope and togetherness

No round-up of holiday adverts would be complete without a mention of John Lewis’s offering. This Christmas, its message could not be more important, as it champions love and acts of kindness above all else. In the same spirit, the retailer is donating money to charities including Home-Start and FareShare over the festive period. 

A John Lewis spokesperson said,

“We believe that the world would be a better place if we all gave a little more love. So this year we’re celebrating kindness, whether large or small, showing how each and every act of love has a positive impact on the world around us, as we pass them on to others.”

Never has a John Lewis ad appeared more relevant to the here and now, addressing the possibility within a pandemic for selfishness, by reminding us of the opportunity that Christmas time brings for spreading kindness and goodwill to all. It is one of the very few… that actually acknowledges the pandemic, and tailors it to explore the meaning of Christmas in the current political climate.
— Heather Collier, Redbrick

Clothing store Gap is also spreading a message of love and hope with its colourful holiday advert entitled ‘Dream The Future’. People holding signs with words such as ‘trust’, ‘community’ and ‘empathy’ dance with joy and display hope for the time to come. Gap explained,

“For us, this holiday is all about hope. And when we look forward to the season ahead, we hope for a kinder, more loving tomorrow, where we see, dream and think in color. And celebrate as individuals, together.” 



5. Non-traditional

Amid an avalanche of festive holiday adverts, some brands have been able to stand out from the competition by creating commercials that avoid leaning into Christmas cliches. 

Pepsi Max is one such business, filming a rap featuring young people switching sleighs for sound systems and festive jumpers for hoodies. It finishes by reinforcing the idea of embracing something new this year: ‘Refresh your Christmas with Pepsi Max’.

TK Maxx could be awarded the prize for the most unexpected holiday advert this year, as it features a goat modelling a designer outfit. The voiceover asserts, “Everyone deserves great gifts this season - how festive”. 

With this fun and humorous commercial, TK Maxx draws on the popular tropes of cute animals and snowy scenery, whilst adding a memorable main character into the mix. 

Christmas advertising that misses the mark

Before we round off the list, let’s take a quick look at one of this year’s holiday adverts to attract a mixed reaction. Tesco announced, 

“After a year like this, we believe there is no naughty list. So go on Britain, treat yourself to the best Christmas ever.”

While the advert may have been created with the intention of giving customers licence to treat themselves after a tough year, some viewers have found fault with its overt commercialism. This year has brought out the worst in some, particularly those who panic-bought products, forgot to wash their hands thoroughly, so the sentiment was lost on many. 

Packaged up as a harmless ploy to “treat” yourself after a hard year, what the ad actually does, however, is encourage overindulgence and disinhibition… It directs us to the ugly, gaudy, commercialised side of Christmas that is all about material excess, appealing to the greed in human nature, opposing all sense of compassion and selflessness.
— Heather Collier, Redbrick

Master your marketing 

Hopefully, these examples of Christmas marketing have provided plenty of ideas when it comes to creating the perfect holiday advert. You can find out more about the best festive promotional campaigns in the franchising world this year or visit our article catalogue to continue your learning journey.

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