Cadbury’s and Asda’s Christmas ads crowned most effective of 2022

While effectiveness researchers Kantar and System1 disagree on which Christmas ad is the best brand builder this year, both agree this year’s crop of ads have been stronger than 2021’s.

The Christmas ads of Cadbury and Asda have been crowned the most effective festive TV spots of 2022 by two of the UK’s leading effectiveness research firms.

While Asda’s ‘Have Your Elf a Merry Christmas’ tops System1’s rankings on its potential to drive brand impact, Kantar’s research has pulled out Cadbury’s ‘Secret Santa’ as the ad most likely to prove effective in the long-term.

The Cadbury ad marks the return of its Secret Santa Postal Service for its fifth consecutive year, leading a campaign to give away 120,000 bars of chocolate over the six weeks to Christmas Eve. Created with agency VCCP London, the 30-second spot introduces viewers to the Cadbury postman as he packages the chocolate up and explains how they can secretly send a bar to a friend or family member.

Based on feedback from over 3,750 consumers, as well as facial recognition technology to assess people’s emotional responses to each Christmas ad this year, Cadbury’s stands out as a “brilliant all around performer”, Kantar’s head of creative excellence Lynne Deason tells Marketing Week.

We’ve been testing Christmas ads for a decade and we’ve never seen as much five star work.

Jon Evans, System1

Indeed, the ad is the highest ranking in Kantar’s database of festive campaigns since 2019 and scores in the top 4% of all UK ads on its long-term brand-building potential.

Despite an only average performance on its ability to actively engage viewers and elicit an emotional response on their faces, the ad falls in the top 5% of UK ads on building a sense of brand difference which, according to Deason, is often a “missed opportunity” for Christmas ads.

“We know that for brands to justify a price premium, a sense that your brand is different in some way to other alternatives is really important. At a time when people’s pockets are tight and there’s less money to go around, justifying that premium is important,” she says.

“But it’s not just about now, it’s also about the longer term…When you build your brand more holistically, you’re future-proofing yourself for success.”

The advert also falls into the top 5% of ads for creating a sense the brand is setting trends and in the top 4% for ad distinctiveness.Study finds ad effectiveness does not ‘wear-out’ over time

Meanwhile, Cadbury’s focus on giving – both between the brand and its customers and among friends and family – has seemingly tapped into the right festive mood this year, with 89% of respondents agreeing the ad is “appropriate”, versus an average of 76% across the rest of 2022’s festive ads. The Cadbury’s advert also came in the top 9% of ads for delivering a ‘feel good factor’.

Best Christmas for effective ads

However, in System1’s ranking Asda’s spot tops the list, achieving the research firm’s top score for its potential to drive long-term brand impact.

The ad sees Will Ferrell’s character Buddy the Elf play out iconic scenes from the 2003 film Elf, set in an Asda store during a chaotic trial shift. The supermarket used the power of visual effects to transport the character directly out of scenes in the film and reinsert him in its 90-second spot.

Trailing in second, third and fourth place are ads from Amazon, Aldi and M&S. Like Asda, all three ads achieved an “exceptional” star rating of 5.9, the highest score System1 can award. However, Asda’s ad also demonstrates the strongest potential to drive short-term sales growth, pushing it into the top spot.

In fifth place is Lego’s Katy Perry-fronted ad with a score of 5.8, followed by The National Lottery (5.7), Disney (5.5), Lidl (5.4), Barbour (5.3), Tesco (5.2), Cadbury (5.2) and Boots (5.2).

Festive storylines can overpower commerciality, meaning brands are wasting media investment and handing competitors the advantage.

Lynne Deason, Kantar

This year an unprecedented 16 Christmas ads achieved five star scores. Ordinarily just 1% of ads in System1’s testing reach the top rank, and in 2021 only two Christmas ads made the cut: Aldi’s ‘A Christmas Carrot’ and Coca-Cola’s annual ‘Holidays are Coming’.

Given the quality of this year’s ads, brands which usually score highly – including Coca-Cola, John Lewis, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and M&S Food – have been pushed out of the top 12.

“Marketers had a tricky job this Christmas thanks to the cost of living crisis and most of them got their ads bang on target,” says System1’s chief customer officer, Jon Evans.

“We’ve been testing Christmas ads for a decade and we’ve never seen as much five star work. We test Coke’s classic Christmas trucks ad every year as a benchmark and it usually places in the top three. This year it would barely scrape the top 10.”

Reflecting on the common themes across the top 12 ads, Evans adds that these brands got the tone “right” by “quietly acknowledging” the challenges many families face from the cost of living crisis, but also prioritising “feel good” stories.John Lewis fails to beat Asda in Christmas ad effectiveness rankings

“It’s a sign they’ve learned from ads during the pandemic which lost all individuality in an attempt to sound caring,” he says.

“As we enter recession it’s really important to maintain a positive presence in people’s minds, so they’re more likely to choose your brand when recovery does come. The Christmas ads of 2022 understood that assignment perfectly.”

Don’t forget the brand

Kantar also identifies Asda’s ad as a top performer this year, ranking as the supermarket’s most effective festive ad to date within the firm’s database. The ad scored in the top 3% of all UK ads for its ability to elicit smiles on viewers’ faces.

“The task they set for that ad was to create joy and make the Asda brand more famous, and it’s done that job. So in terms of the task at hand, it’s delivering against what it was set to do,” Deason explains.

Meanwhile, Aldi’s Christmas ad – a reimagining of the classic 1990 film Home Alone, starring the supermarket’s longstanding festive brand character Kevin the Carrot – scored particularly well on its ability to evoke humour, sitting among the top 5% of ads.

John Lewis’s purpose-fuelled spot fell in the top 1% of ads for ’emotive power’ and in the top 6% of ads on enjoyability. It also ranked as the most enjoyable ad of Christmas this year.

Cadbury shows there are many different ways to crack Christmas creative effectiveness and do so in a way that is brand centric.

Lynne Deason, Kantar

Overall, the “brand building power” of 2022’s Christmas ads has improved since last year, Deason says. However, “too many” festive spots continue to sit in the bottom third of all UK ads.

Often, the problem is one of branding. An ad might be entertaining, enjoyable and evocative, but if it doesn’t intuitively connect to the brand, it won’t reap the brand building rewards.

“If nobody knows who these campaigns are from, then they aren’t doing their job,” Deason explains.

“Festive storylines can overpower commerciality, meaning brands are wasting media investment and handing competitors the advantage by not putting their messages front and centre. This is vital to deliver return on creative campaigns in the short and long term.”

Nevertheless, she says the key takeout from this year’s crop of ads is that there is no one way to create an effective Christmas spot.

“People tend to think there’s a formula…I think Cadbury shows there are many different ways to crack Christmas creative effectiveness and do so in a way that is brand centric,” she says.

“So not losing sight of your brand strategy and using this as an opportunity to reinforce…It shows you can use this as a strategic, long-term brand-building piece, not just to evoke those Christmas emotions.”