November 26th, 2018

Retail Holiday Ads: Emotional Connection Is Key To Purchase Intent


Ace Metrix

2018 welcomed many different approaches to holiday advertising across retail categories..

JCPenney, Macy’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods and IKEA aimed for messaging over products, promotions, or benefits, while Kohl’s and Cost Plus World Market went all in on storytelling. Target has left storytelling behind in favor of a double-pronged approach with ads touting their various product lines as well as new benefits such as free 2-day shipping. Nordstrom attempted whimsical energy and Walmart went for joyous energy with music to match. Our analysis reveals the ads evoking the broadest array and strongest overall levels of emotion delivered the most positive response from viewers, as well as the greatest purchase intent.

2018 Holiday Retail Ads Analyzed:

Rank Brand Ad Title Length Ace Score
1 JCPenney Value The Present :30 30 651
2 IKEA Maybes :30 30 648
3 Big Lots Stock Up On JOY at Big Lots 30 644
4 Kohl’s Hero Rewards 30 643
5 Dick’s Sporting Goods Family Get Together 60 610
6 Walmart Christmas Cheer 30 596
7 Cost Plus World Market The Perfect Gift 30 591
8 Macy’s The Best Gift :30 30 577
9 Target Holiday Spirit 30 564
10 Best Buy Togetherness 30 528
11 Nordstrom Let’s Go Gifting 15 472
Note: These holiday retail themed ads were not promotion forward

Emotional profiling of the ads based on actual viewer comments reflects the varied approaches. JCPenney, Dick’s Sporting Goods and IKEA’s “togetherness” message-oriented ads saw very strong signal on the wholesome reaction, as well as nostalgic and heartfelt. Big Lots and Walmart conveyed both heartfelt and exciting elements from the holidays, meanwhile Kohl’s saw strong signal on emotions related to the visuals, such as curiosity, arresting and cool. The Macy’s, Target, and Cost Plus World Market holiday ads evoked lower levels of emotion overall, with Macy’s touching some hearts and Target seeing signal related to the colorful, energetic, and audio execution. While Nordstrom and Best Buy used contrasting approaches, viewers felt very similarly about both. Neither of the two signaled any positive emotions.

2018 Retail holiday Ads: Emotional Scores from Ace Metrix

The better performing ads, save for Cost Plus, not only elicited a wider variety of emotion, but also stronger intensity of feelings (as indicated by the length of the bar in the graphs below). In fact, IKEA achieved rare levels of Wholesome (family-friendly) connection compared to all other ads, ranking in the 99th percentile and making it one of the most Wholesome ads in 2018, thus far.


                            IKEA “Maybes :30”                    Big Lots “Stock Up On JOY at Big Lots”          


           Best Buy “Togetherness”                                   Nordstrom “Let’s Go Gifting”

The ads successfully evoking more emotion also received stronger positive response – the best performers achieved strong Breakthrough (Attention and Likeability) and were seen as highly relatable/relevant. None were viewed as informative except for JCPenney and Best Buy’s spots, as most weren’t promotional in nature.

2018 Retail holiday ads: Component scores from Ace Metrix

*Scores here are indexed to 90 day retail advertising norms

Stronger emotional connection also translated into stronger purchase intent, with Top 2 Box intent for JCPenney (58% of viewers), IKEA (54% of viewers), and Big Lots (53%) notably outperforming Best Buy (43%), Macy’s (38%) and Nordstrom (29%).

While not all of these retail brands appeal to the same consumer, the strongest ads appealed to all incomes and ages, and the weakest posted lower performance across the board – driving the overall purchase intent trends above.

Emotions come with the season, but that doesn’t guarantee brands will connect with viewers through holiday advertising, especially with holiday noise coming from so many brand. Making sure your message, and creative as a whole, is making its intended impact is crucial.


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