Top global Christmas ads: Coca-Cola most emotionally engaging

Dec 17, 2020 | Content marketing, Online advertising, Online video

Top global Christmas ads: Coca-Cola most emotionally engaging
Despite a challenging and turbulent year across industries, Coca-Cola UK’s joyous ‘Holidays Are Coming’ Christmas ad tops both the global and domestic leaderboards of favourite Christmas ads in 2020, generating the strongest emotional reaction in audiences.

It also proves that consistency in creativity has been a winning strategy after a difficult year as we see the brand return with its familiar creative which has run for over 20 years.

The annual leaderboards*, compiled by London-based System1, the global experts in advertising effectiveness, was revealed as part of a joint webinar with broadcaster ITV in the UK on Wednesday 16th December titled ‘The Nation’s Favourite Christmas Ads’. As part of their unique testing method, viewers are asked to determine how they feel about an ad and how powerful that emotion is which is then used to create a ‘star rating.’ (Full testing methodology below)

Creativity is the winner

The testing, which has been ongoing as each UK, US and global brand has revealed its Christmas campaign, measures creative effectiveness through emotional engagement. Interestingly, despite the backdrop of coronavirus in 2020 and logistical and financial constraints on advertising, the average star rating in the UK was up from 3.0 stars in 2019 to 3.3 stars in 2020 making it the best year for Christmas ads that System1 has tested. The same picture is seen in the US with the average star rating up from 3.4 star to 3.8 star.

In the UK – don’t mention the C word

Whilst this year will have seen creative departments no doubt agonising over how to handle the issue of COVID, the results in the UK were very clear. Avoiding any reference to it was the best plan for brands – advertisers that referenced COVID, however subtly, saw an average decline of 1.0 stars vs last year. Those that didn’t saw an average increase over last year of 0.3 stars. This shows how audiences are keen to not be reminded of the turmoil the pandemic has created and are looking for more escapism this year. Amazon in the UK, saw the biggest drop of all advertisers that chose to place COVID as the backdrop to the narrative, compared to last year when they created one of the most effective ads of 2019.

Diversity wins the hearts of UK audiences

The results revealed that it was the most diverse year for Christmas advertising to date. Removing Aldi, which features a carrot, 5 out of 9 ads at the top of the global list had diverse central characters and 6 out of 9 did in the UK, proving that viewers are positively reacting to the increase. Interestingly, despite the UK media speculation that some people were reacting negatively to Sainsbury’s featuring a British black family, testing with a secondary creative for the brand that featured a white family as the central characters did not perform as well.

Consistency pays off

Despite a year like no other in recent history, the results proved that creative consistency was successful for brands such as Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot and Coca-Cola’s ‘Holidays are Coming.’ In fact, results show both have consistently improved in effectiveness since 2017:

Coca-Cola UK ‘Holidays are Coming’

  • 2017 – 4.9
  • 2018 – 5.1
  • 2019 – 5.2
  • 2020 – 5.9

Aldi UK – ‘Kevin the Carrot’

  • 2017 – 3.4
  • 2018 – 3.4
  • 2019 – 5.0
  • 2020 – 5.8

Global top 10

1. Coca-Cola – Holidays are Coming 2020 (UK) – 5.9 star rating / 1.63 spike rating
2. Toyota – ‘Come Home’ (US) 5.9 star rating / 1.50 spike rating
3. Macys – ‘In Dad’s Shoes’ (US) 5.9 star rating / 1.43 spike rating
4. Woodie’s – ‘We’re All Homemakers’ (US) 5.9 star rating / 1.41 spike rating
5. Coca-Cola – Christmas ad (UK) 5.8 star rating / 1.76 spike rating
6. Lidl – Christmas ad (IR) 5.8 star rating / 1.75 spike rating
7. Aldi – ‘Kevin the Carrot’ (UK) 5.8 star rating / 1.47 spike rating
8. Etsy – ‘Personalised, Handmade, Thoughtful’ (US) 5.5 star rating / 1.68 spike rating
9. DFS – ‘A Comfy Carol’ (UK) 5.5. star rating/ 1.53 spike rating
10. SodaStream – ‘The Small Things’ (US) – 5.5 star rating / 1.37 spike rating

UK Top 10:

1. Coca-Cola – Holidays are Coming 2020 – 5.9 star rating / 1.63 spike rating
2. Aldi – ‘Kevin the Carrot’ – 5.8 star rating / 1.47 spike rating
3. DFS – ‘A Comfy Carol’ – 5.5. star rating/ 1.53 spike rating
4. Thorntons – ‘Love, Passion & Care’ – 5.4 star rating / 1.52 spike rating
5. Sky Cinema – Christmas Advert 2020 – 5.2 star rating / 1.53 spike rating
6. Papa John’s – ‘Giving More This Christmas’ – 5.1 star rating / 1.57 spike rating
7. Puffin Books – ‘Pass on a Dream’ – 5.0 star rating/ 1.32 spike rating
8. Disney+ – ‘Make This Christmas Wonderful’ – 4.9 star rating/ 1.59 spike rating
9. Coca-Cola – Christmas Commercial 2020 – 4.9 star rating / 1.55 spike rating
10. Baileys Irish Cream – ‘Get Creative: Antlers’ – 4.9 star rating/ 1.43 spike rating

Jon Evans, Chief Marketing Officer at System1, says: “The results this year have been incredibly revealing about the effectiveness of Advertising after such a challenging period. The last thing we want is a reminder of the tough year we have had so this is definitely a case of the ‘old normal’ being preferred to the ‘new normal’. Despite everything we have faced as an industry this year the data shows that Creativity is alive and well with the average star rating actually going up from 3.0 star to 3.3 star making it the best Christmas yet. What is also clear is that ‘familiarity breeds contentment’ as both Aldi and Coke have demonstrated. The payback for brands who stick with a strong creative idea over time and leverage their fluent devices is significant. One additional highlight is that despite media speculation in the UK that some people were reacting adversely to the Sainsbury’s spot featuring a black family as the central characters, the results show the opposite is true – audiences are embracing an increase in diverse representation.”

*results as of Tuesday 15th Dec 2020 – ongoing testing may affect the final results


Each ad is tested on 150 people
106 ads were tested in the UK
62 ads were tested in the US
Globally 225 ads have been tested to date

System1 tests ads within 24 hours on measures which predict long-term brand growth (Star Rating) and short-term sales growth (Spike Rating).

The Star Rating is the crucial one for long-term brand building. System1 has validated it using the independent IPA database and also against real sales data at a category level. Star Rating is based on emotional response to an ad – viewers are asked what they felt about it and how strongly. Ads that resonate strongly and create positive feelings score higher and will generate more growth for brands.

Each ad scores between 1-5 Stars (they’ve included Decimal Star ratings for finer gradations). Across every ad that airs, only 1% score 5-Stars, though at Christmas higher scores are expected than the average. The higher the Star Rating, the more the quality of the ad will amplify media spend on it. A 1-Star ad will have zero effect on brand growth, a 5-Star ad will have an exceptional impact (up to 3 points of market share gain, depending on investment).

Spike Rating is also based on emotional response – how intensely people react to the ad – but also on how quickly and strongly they recognise the brand an ad is for. Spike Rating predicts short term sales impact. For Spike Scores below 1, System1 predicts low or no short-term impact on sales from the ad. For Spike Scores above 1.33, System1 predicts exceptional short-term sales impact.


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