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The results of this year’s Christmas ad race are in, and the winner is… Kevin the Carrot! Aldi’s much-loved character repeats his 2020 chart-topping performance with the year’s only five-star ad among over 40 rated on System1’s Test Your Ad platform.

The Christmas ad as you knew it is over. The rules have changed.

Kevin - and new star Ebanana Scrooge - are at the top of a list with a clear message for brands; the Christmas ad as you knew it is over. The rules have changed. Talking of rules, let me give you some context. At System1, we use a star rating system to gauge how an ad will impact long-term brand growth, based on the emotional response of audiences. 

In our research, we ask audiences what they felt about an ad, and how strongly. Ads that resonate strongly and create positive feelings score higher - and consequently generate stronger growth for brands. The star ratings scale ranges from 1 - 5.9, but over half of all adverts published only achieve one-star on the scale, suggesting they do nothing for the brand in the long term.

Aldi – A Christmas Carrot: A Tale by Charles Chickens

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Above: According to System1's Test Your Ad platform, Aldi was top of the Christmas advertising pops in 2021. 


Anyway, Christmas ads; let’s recap. For the last decade the UK Christmas ad race has been dominated by emotional storytelling - stories which flirt with sadness but resolve to happy endings, and touching tales of friendship and gifts. The pioneer of this kind of ad was, of course, John Lewis, whose Christmas ads are some of the most successful and influential commercials ever made.

Fun, food, and fantasy - the new recipe for Christmas ad success. 

But all good things come to an end. Look at the 2021 top scorers – it really has been a supermarket sweep, with Morrisons' fantastic adventure with Farmer Christmas coming in second, M&S bringing Percy Pig to life in third, followed by Tesco's unstoppable granny and her fun-filled race home and Lidl’s sci-fi version of the traditional Christmas feast. 

All were very high-scoring ads with very different looks but a similar feel. These are big, funny, populist ads designed to make you not just smile- but grin. They are unashamedly product-centred, with food playing a starring role, and they are high-energy, imaginative fantasies with lots of little touches for repeat viewing. Fun, food, and fantasy - the new recipe for Christmas ad success. 

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Morrisons – Farmer Christmas

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Marks & Spencer – Percy's First Christmas

Above: Taking second and third place in System1's poll was Morrisons and M&S respectively.


Now consider what isn’t in the Top 10. Coca-Cola is usually right up there, but was absent. McDonald’s charming tale of an imaginary friend didn’t make the cut. Amazon’s emotional story of making the most of Christmas failed to score highly and, of course, John Lewis’ own tale of an Earthling boy and an alien girl fell flat.

After almost two years of stress, worry and loss, it’s no surprise that viewers react better to things that make them laugh.

These all scored between two and three stars - not bad, but a far cry from the five-star ads we usually see. This is a key indicator that the emotional storytelling approach just isn’t getting the response it used to. But why has this shift happened? A lot of the change must be down to Covid-19. After almost two years of stress, worry and loss, it’s no surprise that viewers react better to things that make them laugh, and are cooler about tear-jerking tales.

It’s also clear that it’s the supermarkets, not the premium brands, who have reacted most effectively to this shift in mood. The grocers are back, and the top of our list is dominated by supermarkets like never before, with the budget ones leading the way. 

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Tesco – This Christmas, Nothing’s Stopping Us

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Lidl – Always

Above: Tesco also Lidl scored highly among the UK's Christmas offerings. 


It’s worth saying, too, that a return to humour in ads is exactly what is called for in System1's Chief Innovation Officer Orlando Wood’s recent book, Look Out, where he calls for ads to have more laughter, more vivid characters, and human connections to combat an ‘inward turn’ in our digitally dominated culture. The success of this year’s fresh and funny Christmas ads is a very good sign.

Escapism and fun might well be to 2020s advertising what emotion and purpose were to the 2010s. 

The only remaining question is whether this shift is here to stay? We think it is. The pandemic isn’t over, and the economic and social aftermath will be with us for a long time. Political divisions remain, and hard climate choices lie ahead. Escapism and fun might well be to 2020s advertising what emotion and purpose were to the 2010s. 

Animated carrots, cyborg dogs and flying combine harvesters are the new Christmas ad royalty, and they aren’t going anywhere in a hurry. Well, except for the Tesco granny,

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