November 23rd, 2020

2020’s Seasonal Ads Evoke Classic Holiday Emotions


Ace Metrix

Holiday ad campaigns (and emotions) are well underway. The first spot of the season aired September 20th, and we’ve tested more than 200 breaking holiday-themed ads since then. In light of the unusual holiday season, our early insights revealed how some advertisers are embracing the “new norm” – an approach many could have foretold as we head into the most wonderful time of the year.

Emotionally-rooted ads allow brands to create powerful bonds and associations with consumers. The ability to connect with viewers on an emotional level has been a long sought after skill that merits the making of iconic ads like “1984” and “Hilltop.” Being able to measure emotion on a quantitative and qualitative level allows marketers to do just that.

2020 Holiday Ad Emotions: Soothing Up, Funny Down

Despite the world looking a lot different, 2020’s holiday ads are evoking a lot of the same emotions as last year’s. Heartfelt, Wholesome, Soothing and Energetic viewer reactions are more common among this year’s seasonal ads, while storytelling (Narrative) and Value were up in 2019:

2020 vs. 2019 Holiday Ad EmotionsNote: These emotional metrics come from Ace EMO, which measures the strength of emotional connection in video advertising. Scores are passively derived from voluntary respondent verbatim comments using Natural Language Processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) analysis.

Unlike Super Bowl ads, humor is not a common approach among holiday-themed spots, but it’s especially low this year compared to last. In 2020 comedy has taken a backseat to COVID-19 and a contentious election year as advertisers try to navigate a sensitive consumer landscape. Since the start of the pandemic, we measured a significant drop in the number of ads scoring on our Funny emotional metric. It seems that trend is carrying over into the holidays with a 7% drop in humorous seasonal ads compared to 2019.

Kohl’s Mastered Heartfelt Emotions 

Kohl’s is one of the busiest holiday advertisers with 24 breaking ads so far this season. The brand is targeting hearts and minds, with both emotional, storytelling spots and more rational, value-related pitches.

The two longer-form versions of its narrative-driven “Give With All Your Heart” are the most Heartfelt holiday ads by a quantitative landslide. The fictional narrative takes viewers on the journey of a budding friendship over the course of lockdown:

The brand has no competition in the Heartfelt space. The longer 1:30 and 1:00 versions, which lend themselves toward stronger storytelling (& Narrative scores), scored on par with the top .15% of all ads on our Heartfelt emotional metric – very rare territory! Kohl’s even beat out two of Hallmark’s holiday ads — a brand that is synonymous with emotional gut punches. The longer form versions of “Give With All Your Heart” also outscored the 0:30 cut, which still managed to land at the higher end of the Solid band:

Kohl’s Delivers on Value, too

Not only did the brand top our Heartfelt emotion with the 1:30 and 1:00 versions of its “Give With All Your Heart,” it’s also holding down 8 of the top 10 highest scoring spots on our Value metric. Scoring on Value indicates that deals and promotions made a lasting impression on viewers, or that value is part of the brand’s identity/product attributes.

The longer form versions of “Give With All Your Heart” created stronger emotional connections through prolonged storytelling. However, the 0:30 was more impactful in driving positive purchase intent than some of the highest-scoring Value ads from Kohl’s, pretty impressive for creative that packs some Heartfelt punch as well:

Black Friday Still a Draw for Advertisers

Year after year, Value is a common reaction to holiday ads as the biggest sales of the year occur during this time. So far, 40% of 2020 holiday ads that scored on Value are promoting Black Friday deals.

Only seven Black Friday promotions did not evoke reactions to their Value promotions. One of them was IKEA’s “Buy Back” ad, encouraging consumers to recycle its old furniture by Black Friday. Another three did not provide specific information like discount amounts. The other two that didn’t evoke reactions to Value were from Casper. Instead, viewers were drawn to the Soothing overtones, which we could all use in 2020:

Hefty, Sour Patch Kids & Sam’s Club Go For Laughs

Attention-grabbing, hilarious holiday mishaps in Hefty’s “Holidays with Hefty Tableware” generated the most laughs among festive ads to date, making it funnier than 97% of all ads.

Sour Patch Kids “Candy,” which stays true to the sour-then-sweet nature of the gummy spokescandies, was the next funniest ad. “Candy” was funnier than 95% of all ads vs. 97% for Hefty’s ad – both proving to be humor-filled spots. Zooming out, Sour Patch Kids produced a stronger emotional connection overall with a wider array of responses, including Love It, Nostalgic, Prodtastic (Product + tastic), and Ingenious:

Building on the ongoing, good-natured rivalry between Hugh Jackman and Ryan Reynolds, “Arguing” highlights the two celebrities’ combined philanthropic efforts of working with Sam’s Club this holiday season:

Their respective brands, Laughing Man coffee and Aviation Gin, successfully struck a chord of humor with viewers. There were also signs of Inappropriate, driven by some finding the premise of “arguing” as a bit rude. Signals of But appeared as well, revealing an internal conflict that was brought on by the involvement of three seemingly unrelated brands that confused some viewers:

Holiday Ad Tracking Continues

As we move into the “post Black Friday” part of holiday advertising, we expect more brands to bring the emotion of the holidays out through their creative efforts. While 2020 has been unique in so many ways, the variety of emotions conveyed so far this holiday season is similar to last year’s, creating a positive connection with viewers. We’ll be watching to see if more brands decide to take a humorous approach, or whether they’ll stick with the tried and true formula of nostalgia, storytelling, and of course, value.



{{ title }}



{{ category }}


{{ date }}


{{ rank }}

Scroll To Top