December 19th, 2013

More Nice, Less Naughty – Key Learnings this Holiday


Ace Metrix

We love the holiday season for reasons most other people don’t. It starts a chain reaction in the advertising world that will culminate in mid-February when the winter Olympics conclude. Between now and then we will have seen the best creative gifts, the NFL Playoffs, the Super Bowl and the Olympics. Buckle up – it’s a wild eight weeks.

We know a little about Holiday advertising. For the past three years we have tracked the best creative as attentively as a child tracks Santa progress on Each year seems to present its own themes and this is no different. 2012 was about tools and finding the perfect gift while 2011 was the year for technology.

2013 is about family, food and philanthropy. We like this year’s themes – and not just because of the wonderful alliteration. We like this year because the messages are wholesome and less self indulgent than those of Christmas-past, but also because advertisers brought their creative “A” game to the table. The highest performing ads were skillfully crafted to appeal broadly across age, gender, income, and ethnicity. This is evident in the way that consumers responded to the ads and can be seen in the average Ace Score for the season. 2013’s average holiday ad scored 546 as compared to 2012’s 528 – and the ads on the top 10 list weigh in about 4% higher than last year’s top performers. Everyone seemed to up their game in 2013.

More than 350 holiday themed ads (and counting) have debuted since September 9th, from 120 brands – many of which have touted spending more time with family, often around a meal or making holiday treats, and taking care of those who could use some kindness. Despite a slower start and shorter season, the number of holiday ads to break nationally this year should end up on par with 2012’s extended season.

We generally saw ads coming from the brands and in the categories we have come to expect; retail, restaurants and technology companies. The one exception is Automotive, where the combined Luxury and Non-Luxury ad units increased by 40%. Unfortunately for them, consumers generally yawned at the creative.

Here is the list of the ten most effective holiday ads of the year: (click table to watch the ads)

Top Ten Holiday Ads of 2013 (September 9 – December 16, 2013)

“Do Good” Outperforms “Shop-Well”

Philanthropy is certainly a welcome theme during the holidays and many advertisers have employed it over the years, however, this year – it seemed to mean more to consumers. Three brands effectively used philanthropic, do-good messages to place in the top 10 most effective ads of the season and each earned our Ad of the Week as the highest scoring ad at debut.

Walmart’s “Christmas Magic” (Ace Score 687) cleverly depicts the excitement of a young boy selecting a toy to donate through Walmart’s partnership with Salvation Army. Walmart is no stranger to its philanthropic ads taking the holiday ad spotlight. The 2010 ad “Help Home Feel Closer” (Ace Score 623) was the most effective retail ad and among the highest scoring holiday ads of 2010.

Duracell has earned top honors for its holiday philanthropic ads for three years running. This year’s “Very Special Batteries” (Ace Score 658) is the third most effective holiday ad.

While not philanthropic in terms of the brand contributing to a cause, Kohl’s “Christmas Surprise” captures the sentiment of the season and like the Duracell and Walmart ads have an authentic connection to the brand. These three ads each appeal broadly, earning above average scores with men and women of all ages and work on multiple levels – each with Likeability and Attention in the 700s but garnering strong Change, Desire and Relevance scores.

Continuing on with emotionally driven ads, Olive Garden, who debuted only one holiday themed ad this year, went one step further from its typical mouthwatering food shots and jolly friends and family celebrations to include a soldier returning home to join the family for lunch. Women scored the ad 10% higher than men and 20% of the 342 optional verbatim responses mentioned Olive Garden by name.

Maybe Less is More

Retailers remain the most prolific of categories debuting more than five times the number of new holiday creative than automotive and over sixteen times the number of restaurant, technology, or telecom ads. Unlike previous years where retailers made upwards of 50% of the top performing ad list, this year only three retailers debuted holiday creative with high enough results to top the list. Walmart and Kohl’s (above) and Lowes, who’s “It’s Easy” showcases the variety of refrigerator brands and styles available, encouraging us to treat the family to the perfect gift.

Taking Care of Family

The second highest scoring ad of the season was Reynolds “Cookie Magic” (Ace Score 669) –an ad that delights audiences with a symphonic animation that demonstrates the heroic contribution its parchment paper will play in this year’s holiday baking battle. Pillsbury earns fourth place with one of several fifteen-second spots that gave families tasty ideas for fast holiday meals and treats.

A key theme for Casual Dining and QSR this year, IHOP and the aforementioned Olive Garden remind us that the holidays are about time spent with family rather than preparing meals. Lowe’s rounds out the top 10 and is one of only three retailers to make the list with another message of doing right by your family and selecting the perfect refrigerator – proving once again, that appliances have a special place in the hearts of consumers.

Technology and gift ideas overall are surprisingly absent with the exception of Samsung’s Santa-clad ad for the Galaxy Gear. Samsung’s “It’s a Miracle” (Ace Score 649) slides into seventh with the longest holiday ad on the list (all other winners are less than one minute).

Apple’s “Misunderstood” (Ace Score 607) follows this year’s sentimental journey but finds a specific audience with females 21-49. The ad had stunning Likeability, Attention and Relevance (who can’t relate to someone socially absent and transfixed by their phone) but fell short on information and desire – many just were not sure what or who the ad was for.

Santa’s Not a Strategy

Santa makes appearances in approximately 8% of the holiday themed ads each year. But while Santa’s presence contributed to the three most effective ads of the year back in 2011, he was entirely absent from the most effective list in 2012. This year Santa is just as prevalent in the overall sack of holiday ads – but is featured in only one of the top 10 highest performing ads. Samsung’s “It’s a Miracle (Ace Score 649) ranked 7th among the top performers and is the only technology ad to place this year. Perhaps Santa should stick to technology given the highest scoring Santa ad of the past three years was Apple’s “Santa Uses Siri” (Ace Score 652, #1 ranked holiday ad of 2011).

This is but a glimpse of what we learned from this year’s batch of holly jolly ads. If you’d like to dive deeper – give us a call!



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