The Unruly Guide to a Perfect Christmas Campaign

This year we were privileged to attend another wildly successful WPP Stream — and this year might have been the biggest yet.

With over 300 participants across three days there was a lot to take in. But one topic at the forefront of discussion was gender equality, and the responsibility of advertisers and brands to tackle the issue.

It all culminated in a phenomenal Dragon’s Den style-event, put on with the help of UN Women, which explored new avenues to prompt awareness, action and change. The event was inspiring and moving and has certainly set a high bar for years to come.

But what did Unruly do?

In the Stream spirit of sharing best thinking, we wanted to share some highlights from our discussion on how understanding emotions in advertising might inform your video marketing this Christmas and next.

How do you end up with cracker and not a turkey? How do you avoid being haunted by the lyrics, “So this is Christmas, and what have you done”? Luckily we’ve got some stocking-sized insights to help you have a Christmas to remember — rather than a Yuletide hangover.

7. Make it emotional

Emotions matter in advertising. But don’t just take our word for it. You only have to look at the mountain of academic and industry studies published over the last decade which have repeatedly proven the effects of emotional advertising on brand and business metrics.

Having strong emotional appeal is even more important at Christmas, when we are more inclined to think with our hearts than our heads. It’s no wonder that brands such as John Lewis and Sainsbury’s, who both had ads which feature in the top 5 most shared Xmas ads of last year, both had good festive periods.

John Lewis’s revenue jumped 4.1% to £1.81bn in the six weeks to 2 January compared to the same period a year ago, while according to Kantar Worldpanel, Sainsbury’s was the only supermarket among the Big Four chains to increase its share of consumer spending, which grew 0.8% year-on-year during the Christmas period.

6. Pick the right emotion

OK, so you know you have to make your ad emotional. But which emotions do you focus on? Do you try and make people laugh or cry? Well, if you look at the most successful ads from 2015 (chart below), you can see that the emotions that are more likely to resonate during the festive period.

The average Xmas ad is much more likely to make people feel warm, happy, nostalgic and sad than the average ad, while other emotions are average or low.

So we would suggest brands can cut through the noise by doing the classic ‘Christmassy’ emotions particularly well, or by using a less common emotion. But make sure you go for emotions which are right for your brand, and maintain consistency in your approach.

If you look at the chart below, you can see the emotional profiles of the last two Christmas ads John Lewis has released.

As you can see, intense warmth is the hallmark of a John Lewis Christmas ad, but the secondary emotions can change year on year. E.g. Monty was more uplifting, Man on the Moon was sadder.

5. Humour can be polarising

However, one emotion you should be wary of is humour. Making people laugh is an incredibly powerful way to drive business value through your marketing. It can drive strong brand recall, an uplift in purchase intent and is more likely to get people talking about your company.

On the flipside, as any stand-up comedian will tell you, making people laugh is the toughest job in the world. So unless you are confident you are going to make people laugh more than the family’s Christmas crackers, it might be best to stay away.

4. Beware confusion!

Confusion is the most common negative response. It dampens emotions and holds back sharing, but can also have a negative impact on brand metrics such as brand favorability and intent to find out more. Ensure the premise of the ad is clear and that the action is easy to follow. Ensure there is a strong link between brand and content to avoid confusion about the brand’s role or purpose of the ad.

3. Forget the celebs and use real people!

Many Christmas ads feature celebrities, such as this one from Burberry, but very few celebrity ads feature in the top ten most shared. Celebrities in and of themselves do not drive sharing — unless they are used in an emotionally engaging way.

The Burberry Festive Film — Celebrating 15 Years of Billy Elliot

Meanwhile, showing real people in your ad can be a great way to make an authentic emotional connection. This video from Westjet’s classic ‘Spirit of Giving’ is one of the top three most shared Christmas ads of all time (45 million views!)

WestJet Christmas Miracle: real-time giving

2. Be as quick as jack frost

The unveiling of the new John Lewis Christmas campaign has become almost a national event.

Such powerful branding has meant that John Lewis has finished ahead of its UK competitors at the top of the Christmas ad sharing tree for the last four years.

But as they say, if you can’t beat them — join them. And that’s exactly what Aldi did last Christmas with this brilliant parody of the John Lewis ad.

Aldi Telescope Christmas Advert 2015

So as long as it feels authentic to your brand, consider using agile video content to join in conversations on topical subjects.

1. Get into the spirit of xmas

Rather predictably, being part of the Xmas zeitgeist is a powerful reason why people like to share Christmas ads. But if you look below you can see the other most notable reasons why people share Christmas ads.

As you can see, at Christmas time Social Utility (recommending the product/brand) is especially prevalent, as more and more people rush out to the shops to bag themselves a festive bargain.

Brands can play up to these intrinsically Christmassy motivations, but also layer on other social motivations to make the content even more relevant and persuasive to their audience.

That’s all folks!

We heard so many perspectives and insights at Stream, and we hope ours is one to add to the fold.

For more from Genna and Dan you can get in touch with us on

The @WPP (un)conference for (un)conventional thinkers

The @WPP (un)conference for (un)conventional thinkers