The Best Christmas Marketing Campaigns of 2016:What makes your brand stand out in the most wonderful time of the year

The nerves are raw and the pressure to be perfect is high, the air is electric with love and consumerism. Like most holidays, Christmas is a great opportunity for brands to reach out to their fans with emotional marketing campaigns.

TV ads, YouTube videos, social media hashtags — many brands are going all out for the holidays. Here are some of the best campaigns that have come out for Christmas 2016.

It’s not about the product

You might not know this, dear reader, but a month ago I relocated from Austria to Scotland. I moved here just in time for the iconic Christmas ads coming out. Each year mid-November, big UK brands launch their emotional Christmas TV ads, which then spread to the rest of the world thanks to YouTube. And there is always much debate over which ad is the best any given year.

The best ads are usually the ones that don’t try too hard to sell a product but rather go for emotions and Christmas spirit. Charities are often involved as well.

Sainsbury’s, Christmas is for sharing (UK)

Sainsbury’s 2016 Christmas advert “Christmas is for sharing” is all about how the greatest gift we can give each other is time. An original song, performed by James Corden, tells the story in this animated short film. The song “The Greatest Gift” is also available on iTunes, with part of the proceeds going to the Great Ormond Street Hospital charity.

Of course, Sainsbury’s has transferred the campaign smoothly to social media as well, making good use of Facebook’s live broadcasts. The brand has been setting up “Sing with Sainsbury’s” karaoke boxes in stores, giving shoppers a chance to sing along to the song from the ad, and broadcasting some of them live on the Sainsbury Facebook page.

Furthermore, Sainsbury’s is asking fans on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to upload a video of them singing a line from “The Greatest Gift” and to share it using the hashtag #ChristmasIsForSharing (on Facebook, Sainsbury’s fans can post their entries as comments under specific posts). The incentive — except a load of fun people seem to already be having doing this — is the chance to have their video broadcast live on Facebook and to win a £1,000 shopping spree.

H&M, Come Together (UK)

Another ad that gets by completely without mentioning any products is H&M’s “Come Together” video. The advert, directed by Wes Anderson, stars Adrien Brody as the train conductor of the “H&M Express”. It’s December 25 and it’s just been confirmed that the train has been delayed for another 11 hours — which means the travellers on board will not make it home in time for Christmas. Fortunately, conductor Brody and his colleague pull out all the stops to make Christmas happen for their passengers, including a little boy travelling on his own.

The ad is full of whimsy and has a strong Grand Budapest Hotel aesthetic. Aside from only a short fade-in of the H&M logo at the end, the video feels much more like a short film than an ad.

Marks & Spencer, #LoveMrsClaus (UK)

Marks & Spencer has cleverly woven its products into the story told by its Christmas advert. Instead of Santa, the story is centred on Mrs Claus and her secret life behind the scenes of Christmas. In the ad, Mrs Claus gets busy making this Christmas special for one little boy and his sister.

M&S built a whole life for Mrs Claus on the ad’s landing page, describing her work, her hobbies, her musical tastes, her style. There’s even a Pinterest-like photo board called “At home with Mrs Claus”, featuring quaint descriptions by Mrs Claus. A partnership with Channel 4 has Mrs Claus making cheeky appearances on the telly as well.

Marks & Spencer is making full use of Mrs Claus in its social media marketing as well, tying everything together with the hashtag #LoveMrsClaus. The M&S Twitter account is posting relatable little clips featuring its star. Mrs Claus is taking signups for her Christmas card list. And then there are the donations in Mrs Claus’ name to Marks & Spencer’s usual charities.

There’s a hashtag campaign as well: fans can try to get on Mrs Claus’ Nice List in order to win one of 500 gifts. To take part, users need only watch a short video uploaded by Marks & Spencer, take a screenshot at the right moment, then share it and tag a friend using the hashtag #lovemrsclaus.

Allegro, English for Beginners (Poland)

Brands outside the UK have been equally busy getting their heart-wrenching Christmas ads out. Polish auction website Allegro is tugging at the heartstrings with its ad about a man learning English in anticipation of meeting his grandchild.

Notable mentions

Australian department store Myers has released a Toy Story-like ad where a bunch of tree decoration characters find a creative way to save Santa’s star using products from the store.

Dulux UK meanwhile, is looking for the best Christmas front door 2016. The hashtag campaign simply titled #ChristmasDoor2016 was run on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The winner received a personalised Christmas wreath, a professional photo shoot and some Dulux goodies.

Three UK wants people to not let their smartphones ruin Christmas and simply go #ColdTurkey on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp and Co. Amazon Prime has developed a touching video about the friendship between an Imam and a Vicar.

And while not exactly a Christmas ad, there’s always Google’s Santa Tracker to while away some time with. Google has expanded its service to track Santa on Christmas Day and added a bunch of interactive features, games and learning opportunities to Santa’s Village.

Story > Product

What we can take away from these Christmas marketing campaigns is that brands don’t need to push their products to make their Christmas adverts work. On the contrary, pushing products might not enthuse audiences too much. Personally, the Argos Yeti ad leaves me cold because there’s no story to draw me in. I’ve already half-forgotten the ad.

It’s not that brands shouldn’t show products at all — the products just shouldn’t be the focus of the ad. Marks & Spencer shows that having products (e.g. the shoes) in the ad is fine, as long as the attention is on the story. And while the actors in the H&M ad are definitely dressed in H&M clothes, the video doesn’t plug the products directly. Instead, it relies on the story, the distinct style of Wes Anderson’s directing, and the recognisability of Adrien Brody to be memorable.

While we don’t have a Christmas advert for you, all of us here at would like to wish you a happy Christmas. Hopefully, these Christmas ads will tug at your heartstrings a little. Here’s one last tearjerker video, this time from Heathrow Airport. Because coming home, wherever and whoever that is for you, really is the best gift of all.

Happy Christmas!