How understanding emotions helps create great Christmas ads

In the past a sudden fall in the temperature, a flutter of snow, or the sound of jingle bells would indicate that Christmas was on it’s way. These days it’s marked by the Christmas ads that begin to appear around the beginning of November.

Our UnrulyEQ team have been hard at work trying to decipher which emotions make Christmas ads so moving and memorable. If you think back to Christmas ads gone by I’m sure a whole host of images and emotions pop into your head, from the Coca Cola truck and a man in the moon, to a clumsy cat and a dancing carrot.

The team have looked at some of the most popular festive ads from the past three years to find out what emotions they evoked, and what issues they sought to address.

The overall emotional profile of Christmas

Graph showing overall emotions of Christmas ads

Overall, from our analysis of ads from 2015, 2016 and 2017, we can see that Christmas ads have a clear trend of evoking strong happiness and warmth, followed by inspiration and nostalgia.

It’s no surprise that companies have decided to evoke these emotions from their ads, as for most, of us they come hand in hand with this time of year! We experience feelings of happiness and warmth when thinking about spending time with loved ones. We also experience nostalgia when we think back to what makes Christmas special to us. Normally this is a something we do every year like watching our favourite festive film, coming together to cook a Christmas meal, or playing that board game that only materialises on Christmas day and then disappears for the rest of the year!

The emotional profile of 2015 falls neatly in line with this trend that Christmas ads follow, evoking strong emotions of happiness and warmth, followed by good inspiration, nostalgia, amazement, pride and sadness. This was the year of John Lewis’ famous ‘Man On The Moon’ ad, and the year that Sainsburys brought the children’s book character Mog the cat to life.

The following year saw the strongest emotional response, outperforming across the main Christmas related emotions. This year also saw ads evoke stronger feelings of pride, sadness and hilarity than other years. Think John Lewis’ ‘Buster The Boxer’, M&S’s Mrs Claus, and Heathrow Airport’s ‘Coming Home’ ads.

Last year had a similar emotional profile to 2015, although evoked slightly lower sadness and inspiration but higher hilarity. This year saw McDonald’s launch their ‘Carrot Stick’ campaign, and BBC One created an animated ad bringing a girl and her father together over a Christmas performance.

Top 5 most emotional ads of Christmas

Strongest emotions in the top 5 Christmas ads

The most emotional Christmas ads by year

The common thread running through these three ads is that of familiarity. All of them offer a concept that is familiar to the viewers which results in a low likelihood for confusion and allows for an amplified emotional effect amongst viewers.

Another noticeable theme across these top Christmas ads is that of togetherness and inclusion. All three ads managed to capture the spirit of Christmas in different ways.

Looking at intense emotional response in 3 Christmas ads

  • ‘Man On The Moon’ focused on loneliness around Christmas and the importance of making everyone feel like they matter, regardless of age.
  • ‘Buster The Boxer’ offers a stronger focus on inclusion, which is a common interest which can unite even the most natural enemies.
  • ‘Supporting Act’ showcases the act of being present for one another when it really matters.

Both ‘Man On The Moon’ and ‘Supporting Act’ shed light on important topics of today and put a new spin on the traditional Christmas theme of happiness and warmth. On the other hand, ‘Buster The Boxer’ played on the genuine and childlike happiness that Christmas evokes in many of us, while adding a humorous twist.

The strongest emotions in the top 5

Looking at the top ads from 2015, 2016 and 2017, warmth and happiness were the top two emotions that were evoked. However we were surprised to find that the third strongest emotion was different for each ad.

Breaking down emotions in the 3 top Christmas ads

In EDEKA’s ‘Heimkommen’ ad there was a strong focus on loneliness which evoked considerable sadness amongst viewers. The ad saw a strong emotional response with some polarising views due to the portrayal of loneliness showing the faking his death to bring his relatives together.

John Lewis’ ‘Buster The Boxer’ ad evoked considerable amazement, this was likely due to the highly relatable concept of the simple joy of a trampoline. Viewers were likely further amazed by how well the ad captured the genuine happiness expressed by not only the dog but all the animals playing on the trampoline. This original concept resulted in viewers being surprised by the ad, which likely fuelled the noticeable amazement.

During Barbour’s ‘Snowman’ ad viewers felt highly nostalgic. This was likely due to basing the ad on the famous animation from the 1980s and its sequel from 2012; this allowed for capturing a wider audience that would relate with the concept. The ad further offered a strong nostalgic link due to using the same style of animation as the story it is building on.

Key Takeaways
  • The top 5 most emotional Christmas ads by year shows that the emotional profile of Christmas is strongly led by happiness and warmth
  • The most emotional ad by year showed a common thread of familiarity with a noticeable theme of togetherness and inclusion whilst each offering their individual spin on the theme and hence standing out against the crowd
  • These ads have also shown that addressing important and timely issues or playing on the pure and innocent happiness of Christmas works to evoke an intense emotional response
  • The third strongest emotion by year was the evident differentiator between 2015, 2016 and 2017, offering strong sadness, amazement and nostalgia respectively
  • Aligning with a somewhat different emotional profile allowed brands to stand out by offering a different angle to portraying Christmas

To download the full Christmas Insights slide deck head here.

Find out how UnrulyEQ can help improve the success of your ads by understanding the emotional, behavioural and cultural characteristics that supercharge your campaign.

We are bringing MMS Programmatic to Auckland on September the 27th and to Sydney on October the 4th.

The summits are designed to change the way you think about modern marketing and programmatic innovations. The events will help you uncover new trends, technologies, and case studies to propel your strategy further.

Our Programmatic Lead for Australia, Heath Irving, has outlined five questions which he believes will shape the conversations at MMS Programmatic 2018.

1 – How do we increase trust in programmatic?

Trust has been a key theme this year and you can’t blame marketers for being wary. All you have to do is look at the trade press and it seems there is a new issue nearly every day. From fake news, to brand safety scares, to misreporting of metrics, and most recently shady auction mechanics. Because of this we need to ask how can we be more transparent so brands feel comfortable in knowing end to end where their money is going? What role do the big tech platforms play in enabling higher levels of transparency? Where do agency groups fall into this debate?  

2 – What lies ahead in Australia for mergers and acquisitions?

The abolishment of Australian media regulations which had predated the internet, and as many argued shackled local media companies and inhibited their ability to achieve the scale necessary to compete with foreign tech giants, has led to the sale of legacy print giant Fairfax by broadcaster Channel 9 who will now operate under the Nine banner. This will raise interesting questions at MMS Programmatic Sydney including; what will rival news companies look to do? Will this really mean less share for the big two? Is consolidation really good for the industry?

3 – What is standing in the way for brands to really adopt Connected TV?

smart TV

Heralded as the catalyst to finally bring real investment over from traditional broadcast into digital, two years in and we are still scratching our heads as to why this hasn’t happened yet. I am interested to hear what the key barriers are for brands. How important is having a universal currency to trade on? Is Nielsen’s new all screen offering really going to be a bulletproof solution? How important is being able to manage frequency across different formats? And finally, in terms of addressability what are the main challenges in our local market?

4 – How are brands faring pulling programmatic in-house?

At MMS Programmatic, I’m interested to hear about the motivations of brands that are planning or have pulled their programmatic trading in-house. I also want to compare the reasoning of those that have decided not to. First of all we need to consider supply chain management, technology and vendor selection. We also need to think about data housing and activating, ad serving, and also the role that consultancies might play in this space.

5 – Blockchain – revolutionise the biddable market or just media hype?

There’s been a lot of discussion recently on auction mechanics and how brands can get more transparency from the tech giants. Would trading through a blockchain enabled platform be a better way forward? How would it look using blockchain to support contracts and the reconciliation process of digital advertising? Are we at a stage where this is could implemented, and if so who are the leaders in this space?

Head here to find out more about MMS Programmatic in Sydney.

Head here to find out more about MMS Programmatic in Auckland.

If you can’t make either of the summits but would like to stay up to date with what’s happening at both, follow us on Twitter.

Do you watch TV commercials during your favorite shows? Or do you zone out? Go into the kitchen and make a smoothie or a hot drink? Or even fast forward if you are watching on a digital video recorder (DVR)? Or are you a cord-cutter?

Research shows that people will actively choose to watch a TV commercial (TVC) if the content is strong. Now, with TV audiences only watching under 20% of TV commercials through to completion[1], advertisers need to change their approach and start making ads that work on consumers’ terms.


Eighty percent of Millennials will watch a TV show if a promo has been shared with them. That’s according to our latest report, which looks at how TV networks can use online video to encourage more people to watch their shows.

It also found that Millennials are 10% less likely to share TV promo content than the average TV viewer, suggesting that TV marketers are failing to create content that resonates with Millennials.


But new report from video ad tech company Unruly finds TV marketers failing to engage digital natives; research also finds TV promos generate lower-than-average brand recall

NEW YORK – April 29, 2015 – Eighty percent of Millennials are likely to watch a TV show if they have watched a promo shared with them online.

That’s according to new research from video ad tech company Unruly, which found that 80% of digital natives will tune into a TV show if someone in their social network had shared a trailer, a clip or an original promo for that show. This is compared to 66% of average TV viewers.