It’s that time of year again when we bust out the ugly sweaters, consume ungodly portions of food that even some Americans see as shameful, and can’t go one day without seeing a newly released, tear-jerking, heartwarming holiday ad. You know the ones I’m talking about. Two years ago, it was Sainsbury’s World War I inspired 1914 ad. In 2015, it was John Lewis’ Man on the Moon and EDEKA’s Homecoming Christmas ad, which are respectively at 28 million and 53 million views to date. So far this year, Apple made you feel empathetic towards Frankenstein, John Lewis nailed it again with Buster the Boxer, and who knew learning English could make you so emotional (see Allegro’s English for Beginners)? On YouTube alone, these ads are responsible for over 36 million views and 72 million misty eyeballs.

For a lot of businesses, this time of year can be critical. Potential customers are scouring the web to find something to throw their money at while you’re trying to meet those ambitious, year-end sales goals made last January. Executing a successful ad campaign during the holiday season can be the difference between a record breaking year or just an average one, but before we jump in to what makes for a viral ad in today’s marketplace, I want to take you back 20 years to prime time network television around Christmas in 1996. Just see if you can hold back the tears after watching these commercials:


Holiday ads have changed quite a bit, wouldn’t you say? There were no calls to open your heart to everyone or to make sure you show someone they’re loved this Christmas. The soul purpose of these ads was to increase traffic to their stores by offering door-busting deals, claiming to have the most selection, and proving that even Walter White has to do his own Christmas shopping! If you made it to the very end of the video though, you saw a little shimmer of altruism and togetherness, a personal tone that didn’t quite fit in with the rest. The brand responsible? Apple, of course, and it is probably that kind of forward-thinking and progressiveness back then that makes them a little more relevant today compared to other major corporations advertising in the mid 90s (ya, I’m talking about you JCPenney, Ames, and Sears)!

Gone are the days of shoving holiday products and savings onto viewers all the way up until Christmas Eve, especially if you are trying to target that oh-so-out-of-touch millennial generation (Disclosure: I’m one of ’em). In order to produce a memorable and effective holiday ad in today’s content saturated world, your brand must be open to authenticity and transparency.

According to a survey conducted by The Boston Consulting Group, 50% of U.S. Millennials ages 18 to 24 and 38% of those ages 25 to 34 agree that brands “say something about who I am, my values, and where I fit in.” With so much information and research available without even having to leave the couch, consumers today are making decisions based on a company’s ability to tell a story and personalize the buying experience. The Apple logo is seen for a total of two seconds in their 2:00 minute monster spot, yet it resonates with so many people, especially after such an exhausting and divisive year. Twenty years ago would you have ever seen a brand spend money on a pop-up shop with “Nothing to Sell” like Minute Maid did this year? Absolutely not, but people relate to the #doingood campaign and purposefully spend money on brands that project a more positive image of themselves.

If you are looking to make a quick sale this holiday season, produce a video that highlights everything great about your affordable product or service, but if you are looking to gain a loyal customer for holidays to come, tell an authentic story that people want to be associated with and that proves your brand has more to offer than just 25% off.

Merry Christmas!


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