We love an emotional advert don’t we? ‘Sadvertising’ is all around us this Christmas, led by the high profile John Lewis and Coca-Cola ads and chased hard by the likes of Sainsbury’s. They’re great ads that bring important messages into focus, such as John Lewis’ tie up with Age UK. But while they’re extremely worthy, for many of us, it’s just not Christmas.


As other commentators across the industry (such as BrainJuicer’s Tom Ewing in his recent post) have asserted, this style of emotive advertising is the current trick-in-the-book for brands looking to build a lasting resonance with its target audience. Sadness simply follows in the footsteps of other worthy levers like comedy and boy meets girl drama that have dominated our screens for a time and then slipped slowly away. ZappiStore, the online marketplace for consumer research has entered the fray with some research of its own and the results might just make us redefine what the notion of ‘Christmas spirit’ means in modern, commercial Britain.


We tested 11 Christmas ads from well-known UK supermarkets and stores and weren’t remotely surprised to see John Lewis and Sainsbury’s rated significantly ahead of the pack in a host of emotive measures, chief amongst these being ‘sadness’. In fact, ‘sadness’ had the strongest correlation with people loving an advert. So Sadvertising still works. No need for a new trick just yet. But what these ads didn’t win out on was Christmas related measures – neither of them were ‘festive’ and neither ‘put us in the Christmas mood.’ John Lewis particularly so.


If you really want to feel Christmas, look to a whole host of glitzy ads from the likes of Aldi, Waitrose, Boots and Morrisons, with their big smiles and shiny baubles. Because what gets people in the Christmas spirit is happiness, not sadness at all. ‘Happy’ had one of the tightest relationships to that Christmassy feeling and sadness one of the weakest. Cynical as it may sound, in this age of rampant consumerism, the real Christmas spirit is bright lights, presents and eating as much as you can. For sure, we love to be reminded of the beauty of human decency and to think of those in need and how we can help. Even more so, we love an advert that offers these sobering thoughts and follows up quickly with a happy ending, but maybe this is tapping into a human spirit that should always be in residence, rather than necessarily a Christmas one.


John Lewis and Sainsbury’s assault on our emotions is picked up with considerable aplomb by German supermarket, Edeka and the Spanish lottery, but these heart strings could just as easily be tugged around other charitable times of year like, in the UK, Children in Need or Comic Relief. The general public seems to have clearly compartmentalised this recognition of the human spirit away from what Christmas means to them in this day and age.


But does being Christmassy even matter? Interestingly, ‘happy’ is also in bed with behavioural change and, of course, every brand wants to inspire action. But one suspects that these ‘happy’ Christmas ads are short term sales drivers. A very different play to the long human spirit game that tries to distract us from the happy and easy-going time we really want Christmas to be…


Want to know more about how we evaluated each ad? You can view the full report here.


ZappiStore’s Christmas Advert Creative test evaluated 11 adverts using our in-house automated research approach, with 1,000 responses captured in partnership with SSI in just a few hours.


Jamie Shacklock

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Jamie Shacklock

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