One of our favorite things to do this time of year is look back over the best holiday commercials. Company strategies for holiday marketing videos tend to be more story- and emotion-driven than any other event or time of year. For this reason, there’s a lot to learn from these viral hits.
Whether it’s a tear-jerker or a fall-off-the-sofa funny advertisement, there’s something wonderfully evocative about festive ads. We’ll look at the very best holiday marketing videos throughout time, consider why they went viral or became a classic, and discuss tips that you can use to create a great holiday marketing strategy. Prepare your tear ducts.
Top Holiday Marketing Videos of All Time
10. Christmas Advert (Apple, 2019)
For many people, the holiday season is a reminder of family members who have passed on, underlining the joyous festivities with grief. In this video, we follow a family getting together for Christmas. It’s soon revealed that this is the first year since Nana died. Feeling their grandfather’s sadness, the children have a creative idea for his holiday gift.
Why It Works: Apple is great at creating holiday videos with a lot of product placement that (barely) manages to not feel pushy. We are accustomed to Apple products speckling the background of our lives, and Apple uses this to their advantage. Therefore, it’s easy to forget this is an advertisement and become engrossed in the family’s story, one that is widely relatable. Consider how you might position your products in the greater context of your holiday marketing video without directly promoting it.
9. Crazy Target Lady (Target, 2010)
In 2010, Target hired comedian Maria Bamford and released a whole series of short commercials promoting its two-day Black Friday sale. These videos were inescapable for anyone who had cable that year, and you’ll likely remember at least one of the silly sketches.
This video highlights the way advertising has shifted over the years as well. It’s significantly younger than the classic commercials on our list that rely heavily on nostalgia, and much older than the story-based, viral videos we’ve become accustomed to brands releasing. Yet, it’s just as effective (especially in 2010).
Why It Works: Much of the success of the video is down to the character played by comedian Maria Bamford. She’s a ‘love her or loathe her’ character. But whatever your opinion, she’s certainly memorable! Target featured Bamford in more than ten holiday commercials; meaning, viewers knew it was a Target ad as soon as they saw her. From this we can conclude that using a character who appears in each of your videos is an effective way to immediately connect viewers to your brand.
8. Kindness, The Greatest Gift (Amazon, 2021)
This tear-jerker acknowledges the rise of anxiety, particularly in young adults, as a result of the pandemic. We follow a student as she navigates life in a big city alone…until a bond with a neighbor begins to take root, and then is strengthened by an act of kindness.
Why It Works: Few companies have chosen to address the collective grief the world is still grappling with from the pandemic. This ad doesn’t shy away from that. Instead, it focuses on the immense feelings of isolation that were overwhelmingly present as we entered the 2021 holiday season. As a result, there is something here for everyone.
The takeaway? Involving current events in your story that are broadly relatable is one way to create a meaningful connection with viewers. Keep in mind that current events tend to have a certain weight behind them, so approach this type of video carefully and sincerely.
7. Northern Lights (Coca Cola, 1993)
One of the sure signs that the festive season is upon us is the annual Coca-Cola holiday video. But how on earth do you choose the best one? Choosing our favorite resulted in a lot of debate in the office! In the end, the 1993 Northern Lights video won, thanks to the legacy that it inspired — though it’s fair to question what that legacy will ultimately be.
The mark of a truly innovative video is one that’s not just an immediate hit but has a lasting impact on the videos that follow it. In fact, this groundbreaking commercial influenced the technology that was used in subsequent commercials and movies.
Why It Works: The standout message is not that cute animals are popular with viewers (which is true!), but that taking a risk can pay off. This can involve using exciting new technology that you might not be familiar with, or sharing a bold message that’s a little different to everything else out there. The holiday season is the perfect time to get creative.
6. Reindeer Games (Microsoft, 2018)
As the video opens, we see a boy running down the street calling to every child on the block, “He’s gonna do it!” A crowd of children gather and join him as the kids race down the street. They burst through a front door to cheer on their friend, Owen, who is using an Adaptive Controller to win the video game. They all do a celebratory dance when he does.
Why It Works: The Adaptive Controller allows people with various disabilities to enjoy the full gaming experience. This is one of the few ads we’ve included that promotes a specific product and it does so brilliantly. The product is inclusive, created specifically for gamers with disabilities. The entire neighborhood of children is excited to see their friend win, and the sense of belonging is felt from start to finish. Promoting your values as a company is one of the strongest ways to align with those who will appreciate what you have to offer.
5. Share Your Gifts (Apple, 2018)
With its annual holiday ads, it may not come as a surprise to see two Apple videos on our list. The two ads could not be more different, however. In ‘Share Your Gifts’ we follow Sophie — an incredibly creative girl who enjoys writing and hanging out with her dog. Throughout the video (full version above), we see her struggle to share her creativity with others. That is until her dog opens the window and lets her work fly into the bustling town square.
Why It Works: A lot of love was put into this video and it shows. The production (see the behind the scenes video), music, and combination of real sets with animation tell a wordless story that, once again, showcases the main character using Apple products while centering her journey.
It leaves the viewer feeling inspired and encouraged, making this ad feel like a message meant for the viewer that goes beyond the products being sold. This video, ultimately, showcases a company indirectly promoting the use of their products by encouraging their users, which can be applied to various different brands across industries.
4. “They Do Exist!” (M&M’s, 1996)
I have no doubt you’ve seen this M&M’s holiday commercial once upon a time. As the red and yellow M&Ms sneak into the classically Christmas decorated living room, they startle Santa who is laying out presents. Both declare that the other does exist, then Santa faints.
In this video, the use of symbolism associated with the season creates a decidedly holiday atmosphere, letting the viewer immediately know this is a Christmas commercial. If you want to create a marketing video that evokes an immediate response in this way, be sure to use imagery the audience expects — which can vary greatly depending on the community or culture and its traditions.
Why It Works: There are lots of festive videos that tap into nostalgia. But, this classic ad stands out because it injects fun into the message. Moreover, the humorous spot is consistent with the brand. Which is especially impressive because humor is difficult. It can so easily fall flat, confuse, or even offend. When using humor, make sure everyone else gets the joke too.
3. Christmas Miracle: Uniting Through Traditions (WestJet, 2019)
This unique holiday ad went viral in 2019. In the ad, WestJet surprises three different groups of people with unexpected visits from loved ones who live far away. As a Canadian airline, the theme of travel is easily on-brand while revolving the story around the joy of reunion.
Why It Works: The internet loves a positive social experiment and this fits the bill perfectly. Travel is a core component of the video, yet it focuses on why we generally travel during the holidays: to visit those we love. If your team is feeling stuck on how to craft a marketing story, consider how your brand can make someone else’s holiday brighter.
2. Let It Snow (Campbell’s Soup, 1994)
This classic holiday commercial is one you may remember seeing on TV in the 1990s and 2000s. A snowman outside in the cold goes in for soup. At the table, the snowman begins to eat and melt, revealing a young boy. The narrator chimes in, “nothing melts away the cold like a delicious bowl of hot Campbell’s soup.”
Why It Works: The brand solved the question of how to promote an ‘everyday’ product and make it appealing during a time when many people allow themselves a degree of excess. The marketing team behind the video looked at the properties of their product — the comforting, warming attributes of soup — and worked out how these could fit in with the season and the message they wanted to share (eat our soup, it’s tasty!).
There’s a place for every product over the festive period, and it doesn’t have to be costly or ostentatious either. A successful video comes from highlighting what makes a product special, important, and sincere.
1. The Beginner (John Lewis & Partners, 2022)
The most recent holiday marketing video to go viral is also our favorite on the list. It’s one of the rare videos that succeeds at selling a brand without outwardly selling any products. The video opens with a couple clearly excited and preparing for something. The husband is slowly (emphasis on slowly) but surely learning how to skateboard. The ending is a heart-warming surprise, promoting a specific cause.
Created by John Lewis & Partners, the UK brand sells everything from clothing and homegoods to sports gear and insurance. However, the company releases a story-based video ad every holiday season, with fans who now await the new video each year. Another viral hit from John Lewis & Partners features Elton John and moves chronologically backwards through his life, to the day he received a piano as a Christmas present when he was child.
Why It Works: With over 3.5 million views at the time of writing, this advertisement not only feels wonderful to watch, it created a lot of positive public perception of the brand. Instead of carefully crafting a video to remind viewers to buy their products, the company chose to uplift a cause and create indirect buzz around their brand. As a holiday video marketing strategy, this approach embraces the parts of the holiday season that can’t be bought…and will likely sell a whole lot of products in doing so.
How to Create a Great Holiday Marketing Video
We’ve featured some of the most memorable and viral holiday marketing advertisements. But a phenomenal marketing video doesn’t need to be from a big brand or have a large budget to be impactful. These tips will help you craft a video marketing strategy for the holiday season that connects with your audience.
Key tip: Don’t compare your commercial to corporations. Instead, focus on showcasing the important qualities of your products and the values of your brand.
1. Center the Viewer’s Experience
Whether the commercial was funny, nostalgic, or heart-warming, all of the videos we featured centered the viewer’s experience. In other words, none of the videos directly sell a product. Some create a certain atmosphere, others rely on humor we can all appreciate, and many modern commercials touch on universal themes that are widely relatable and emotional.
Whatever approach your holiday video takes, remember who it’s for and what it intends to convey. Unlike traditional advertising that showcases the reasons a customer should buy a product, holiday marketing is about creating an emotional connection. Even when the theme is sad, holiday ads are generally uplifting or jubilant as they conclude.
2. Include a Call-to-Action
As I’m sure you noticed, this list features mega brands with large marketing budgets. Aside from the Target ad (which had a very clear call-to-action), most of the videos focus on creating brand awareness, reminding customers of their existence during the holiday season. For medium and small businesses, create specific goals for your marketing video and ensure it aligns with the desired results.
The Microsoft video, for example, promoted a niche product. But moreover, it buoyed public perception of the brand during a season that is focused on goodwill and kindness. The brand’s goal was likely not to sell a million Adaptive Controllers; rather to spread awareness of the product and convince consumers that Microsoft is a good company to buy from.
For holiday marketing videos in particular, your call-to-action does not need to be direct. For example, the Target ad directly promoted a 2-day sale, while the Apple commercial ended with, “share your gifts.” This is a very generally uplifting statement that implies you would create and share those talents with Apple products.
3. Tell the Story of Why
Whether you want to pull on people’s heartstrings, make them laugh out loud, or sink into the fun of nostalgia, use your product or brand’s ‘why’ to determine what kind of story you should tell. For example, in the videos we featured above, every single ad focuses on why their existence matters to the viewer in some way:
- The Coca-Cola ad showcases the comradery of witnessing a beautiful view with friends and family (and who doesn’t want a refreshing drink for the occasion).
- The Apple ads promote the ways that people use technology and how that impacts their life and those around them.
- Even the series of Target ads with Maria Bamford pokes relatable fun at holiday sales while promoting one (at a store that will make your holiday shopping easier, of course)!
Consider your values as a brand, who your products matter to, and why your company exists. There’s a relatable story there that will warm hearts or make others giggle.
If you’re inspired by these holiday marketing videos, there’s no time like the present to get started. Even if you’re working by yourself, you can achieve a professional result for your holiday video. For more helpful information, check out How to Produce High-Quality Videos on Your Own — perfect for solopreneurs and companies with a small team — and Create an Entertaining Holiday Video in Less Than a Week.