We are in the thick of the holiday season, and as usual, emotions are running high. Whether it’s stress, joy, comfort, or nostalgia, it can feel like a bit of a rollercoaster.

As it turns out, almost all of these emotions are reflected in this year’s crop of holiday car commercials. Not content to show off a shiny car with a bow on it, different manufacturers tested out different holiday emotions to see which might strike a chord with viewers.

In this post, we discuss why this approach might work, and look at the range of emotions being explored in these ads. We’ll wrap it up in a neat package with key takeaways for your next video campaign.

Why Emotions Work

Emotions are key to motivating viewers to take an action, whether it’s share, comment, or buy. It doesn’t really matter what time of year it is.

The holidays are a particularly emotionally charged time of year. It’s no wonder so many marketers try to tap into those holiday feelings.

Video marketing is the most effective way to do that. Why? Because video allows you to tell stories with heightened drama and emotional cues.

Unlike writing, there is no need to spend a lot of time addressing every important detail because that is done via context in videos. This context is found in every detail of your video: the people you feature, the music and sound effects you use, the background scenery, etc.

We looked at car commercials for this particular analysis of holiday emotions in video because these manufacturers have big budgets to play with, and big ticket items to sell. How did they try to stand out in a crowded market? Did it work?

Let’s break it down!

1. Stress

Stress. It’s normal, and everyone is familiar with the holiday variety. What should you get your mother-in-law? How are you going to fit 27 people at your dining room table for dinner? Where can you find the season’s hottest toy for little Chelsea? What can you get your grandpa, the man who has everything? Oh, and how are you going to pay for all of this?!

It may be the hap-happiest season of all. But, it doesn’t come without a little (or a lot) of extra stress for most people.

Audi exploits this fact of life in its very funny 2017 holiday ad. In the commercial, two ordinary men driving Audis pull into the parking lot of their local mall. Everything is normal… until an all-out competition ignites for a parking spot.

The driving scenes (going fast, making quick stops, turning tight corners, etc.) are the brand’s opportunity to show off the car’s abilities. Even though most drivers are much more cautious in tight quarters, it sure looks like fun. 

There are more subtle cues to let you know that these cars are exceptional. When the drivers take a leap of faith of the ramp to a nearly vacant lot, the brand shows us that Audi is separate from the rest (of the cars) and its drivers end up on top (of the parking deck). 

Why it Works

Stress just might be the most relatable emotion associated with the holidays. Whether it’s end-of-year reporting, the holiday party circuit, or last minute gift shopping, nearly everyone experiences some level of stress during the holidays.

By tapping into this common human experience, Audi prompts viewers to picture themselves as the driver behind the wheel. After all, wouldn’t your holiday errands be a lot more fun if you could whip around the turns like that?

2. Joy

Quick! What three-letter word do you think of when you think of the holidays? J-O-Y!

In these humorous spots, Lexus showcases the childlike joy and wonderment the holidays evoke. Yes, they are silly. But, they are also charming.

Part of the fun of the holidays is feeling like a kid again. With all the parties and gifts, it’s hard not to get excited around this time of year.

Why it Works

By featuring a child, the ad captures the viewer’s attention because we’re wondering, “Why is this cute little boy, with amazing dance moves, so excited about this car?” When a woman interrupts him to ask, “Happy?” we realize we just witnessed his inner child celebrating the gift. Ah, ok – that makes more sense!

Most viewers also have an inner child that would jump for joy if offered such a gift. The car maker went with this particular angle on the holidays not once or twice, but three times!

Clearly, they believe that no matter their demographic, their potential customer has an inner child just as excited about the prospect of a brand new Lexus for Christmas as those in their ads.

3. Comfort

Compared to our last two examples, Toyota’s 2017 holiday ad is much more of a tearjerker. In just 30 seconds, the ad manages to tell an emotional story of family and friends welcoming a soldier home from deployment for the holidays.

Why it Works

Further differentiating itself from the other holiday car commercials, Toyota keeps the focus on the people in the ad, rather than the features of its cars.

This type of heartwarming message is a tried and true approach in holiday advertising, and Toyota does a great job of it with this ad.

4. Nostalgia

What are the holidays for if not for feeling nostalgic and sentimental? Toyota really doubled down on a trip down memory lane in their charming and whimsical holiday spot.

One of the longer ads in our series of examples, Toyota tells a wonderful story about a very special gift. It definitely tugs at the heartstrings, and helps remind us of what the season is all about.

Why it Works

Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to deliver a subtle marketing message. This ad is no exception. Toyota’s cars and trucks barely feature in the spot, but are an important subtext to the main message.

Because the central message is around family, nostalgia, and thoughtful gifts, the fact that Toyota’s cars and trucks are playing a supporting role is highly palatable. They stand out just enough to make sure viewers know the brand has a part to play in this emotional story.

The ad ends with the family gathered around the overflowing table and the words “Let’s bring everyone closer this holiday” written across the screen. And with that happy ending, we can now equate Toyota pickups with aspirational, wholesome holiday family moments. Brava, Toyota, brava.


To wrap it up, let’s review the takeaways from these emotional holiday marketing videos. Use these tips for your own videos, holiday or otherwise:

  • Audi: Even if it’s over something “negative” like holiday stress and frustration, authentically relating with your audience will go a long way. In fact, connecting with them on something like this can be even more effective than focusing only on “positive” emotions because a lot of brands aren’t willing to try it.
  • Lexus: Appealing to joy is a surefire win, especially when you use precocious kids to make your point. Another important lesson? If you can segment your audience to deliver a video experience that will uniquely speak to each segmentation, do it!
  • Chevrolet: Make your ads feel personal. The more your audience feels they can connect with you, the more likely they are to feel they can trust you (and want to spend money with you).
  • Toyota: Once you’ve determined your video strategy, don’t be afraid to take a deep dive into it. Really go for it, even if it does get a bit over-the-top. Just make sure your service and products live up to the aspirational tone you’re setting for viewers.

What holiday ads have stuck with you? Do you love or hate these types of emotional hooks? Share your thoughts in the comments below!