Brands face special challenges this year with holiday ads. How do you strike the right tone during a global pandemic? Is it OK to show people being together? As it turns out, people just want to see good holiday ads. A recent Ace Metrix report finds that ad campaigns referencing the reality of Covid-19 fare slightly better with viewers, but not in any meaningful way. So what does a successful ad look like this year? As the following examples attest, there are still many ways to tell a story.
Resilience and Love
Some brands, like Coca-Cola, aren’t so much depicting life during the pandemic as underlining the qualities that serve us well, good times or bad. In Coca-Cola’s global spot, a dad takes an epic journey to deliver his daughter’s letter to Santa. The ad covers a lot of ground, following Dad as he scales cliffs, swims seas, and braves snow and ice to make his delivery. The story comes full circle when Santa makes wishes come true and delivers the intrepid traveler safely home. Resilience and love screen well any time, but during a pandemic year, those themes seem to resonate more than ever.
Even Santa Gets Stressed
Xfinity, by contrast, addressed the year just past more directly. In “The Greatest Gift,” Steve Carell appears as a maxed-out Santa who takes it upon himself to wow kids the world over after an unprecedented 2020. The ad nods to 2020 realities: Santa has to videoconference with his elves, for example, at one point forgetting to take himself off Mute. When an enterprising elf suggests packaging traditional holiday cheer in a new way, the ad brings its message home: that is, technology can bring people together, even when they can’t gather in person. And Carell is an inspired Santa, grounding the spot in humor as he frets and stress-eats his way to what ends up being the perfect solution. Ultimately, “The Greatest Gift” does a masterful job of acknowledging the year just past without getting stuck in a bleak place. As Carell noted in a statement, “The holidays are really about moments of togetherness with the people you love, and serve as a reminder for what’s most important, especially given the hardships of this past year. I hope that this sweet little story will bring a bit of cheer.”
Magical Surrealism Meets Burgeoning Talent
Apple takes a slightly different tack, elevating music as the harbinger of good cheer this season. The tech company, which seems to have an eye for new talent (past Apple ads have featured artists like Billie Eilish), this year gives American rapper and songwriter Tierra Whack a platform. And Whack is a revelation, bringing charisma, whimsy, and music to the new spot for Apple’s HomePod Mini voice assistant. Two Whack songs —“Feel Good” and “Pepper and Onions”— are featured in the spot, which opens with a downtrodden Whack returning home on a cold night, and ends on a note of magically surreal color and song. The ad’s theme? Music can boost our mood. It’s a joyful, welcome reminder during a long, strange year—and a nifty introduction to an emerging talent.
If You Don’t Laugh, You’ll Cry
Finally, check out the Match.com ad that in essence throws up its hands and says, with the kind of off-the-chain year 2020 has been, we may as well laugh rather than cry. The spot, created by Ryan Reynolds’ creative company Maximum Effort, asks what might happen if Satan met 2020 personified? Answer? The chemistry, including TP hoarding and selfies in front of a blazing dumpster, is amazing! As Reynolds said in a statement to TODAY, “Match is responsible for bringing millions of people together and even in this dumpster fire of a year, people somehow found love on Match. We just imagined what a ‘2020 match’ would look like and this video was the natural, slightly warped result.”
It’s worth noting that these ads, while varying widely in theme and approach, do all aim for a certain north star—what Liz Matthews, senior VP of brand, creative and experiential marketing at Dell Technologies calls “realistic optimism.” The magic of these ads is that they don’t give into fear, even as they demonstrate empathy through storytelling or humor. It’s a delicate balancing act, but as Matthews notes, “It all comes down to remembering the human side of your brand. Tap into that to make sure you are delivering a message that aims to connect, not instill uncertainty.”
Contact True Interactive
Looking to establish that elusive blend of humanity and realism in your digital advertising? While striking that balance can seem like capturing lightning in a bottle, as these ads demonstrate, it’s not out of reach. Contact us. We can help.