A year ago, I put a lump of coal in the stocking of John Lewis & Partners, a chain of high-end department stores that operate throughout the United Kingdom, for creating its 2018 Christmas advert, “The Boy and The Piano.”
If you are curious about why a Christmas video that featured Elton John failed so miserably, then read, “3 Reasons Why the New John Lewis Christmas Ad Is a Flop.”
But, this is a new year. And, presumably, lessons were learned on the other side of the pond.
Hopefully, this means there are also important lessons that American retailers can learn from their British cousins, who have shops on the high street.
Spoiler alert: You won’t be disappointed.
So, did John Lewis create one of the top 2019 Christmas adverts?
Well, it depends on how you measure success.
The Top 10 Videos in the U.K.
If you use “views” as a key performance indicator (KPI), then the top 10 videos that have been uploaded by retailers to YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter in the last 30 days in the United Kingdom are:
This 1-minute-long video was uploaded by Walkers Crisps to Twitter on November 1.
As of Sunday, November 17, it had 13.7 million views and 99,300 engagements. Watch to see what Mariah Carey really wants for Christmas.
Uploaded to YouTube on November 4, the video had 8.2 million views and just 381 engagements.
This 2-minute-55-second-long film was directed by Nabil Elderkin and stars Noomi Rapace, Miguel, Daniel Arsham, and friends.
As part of their Future Fantasy Christmas – where Selfridges is celebrating a thoroughly modern take on the festive season – the retailer has joined forces with some of the most exciting names in fashion, film, and design today to explore what festivities might look like 1,000 years from now.
This 2-minute-30-second-long video was uploaded by Waitrose to Twitter on November 14, and had 8.2 million views and 204,000 engagements three days later.
This 2-minute-31-second-long video was uploaded to YouTube on November 13, now has 7.7 million views and 74,000 engagements.
Together with Waitrose & Partners, John Lewis shared the festive tale of a little girl and her excitable friend, Edgar.
The retailer’s story this year is all about the magic of friendship and how one thoughtful gesture can make all the difference.
Edgar’s excitement around the festive season can often lead to fiery consequences, but Ava sparks an idea for the perfect present to help him light up Christmas in his own special way.
This 2-minute-30-second-long video was uploaded by John Lewis to Facebook on November 14, and had 6.3 million views and 184,000 engagements three days later.
The 2-minute-32-second-long video was uploaded to YouTube on November 6, and now has 5.8 million views and 15,500 engagements.
150 years ago Sainsbury’s opened their first store and Christmas changed forever. Coincidence? Almost certainly… ho ho ho.
This 37-second-long video was uploaded to YouTube on November 1, and now has 4.6 million views, but only 137 engagements.
Argos renames the catalog ‘The Book of Dreams’ as a dad’s childhood dreams are awoken when he sees the drumkit his daughter has circled. You can shop your own dream gifts.
This 1-minute-long video was uploaded by Visa UK to Twitter on November 5, and now has 4.0 million views, but just 5,600 engagements.
Watch this Christmas ad featuring real shopkeepers and join Visa in supporting the High Street because #WhereYouShopMatters this Christmas.
This 31-second-long video was uploaded to YouTube on October 25, and now has 3.6 million views, but only 4,200 engagements. It’s the time of year to get together. And the Amazon boxes are back singing to get everybody in the festive spirit.
This two-minute-31-second-long video was uploaded by Sainsbury’s to Twitter on November 11. It now has 3.3 million views and 19,700 engagements.
Coincidence? Almost certainly. Ho ho ho.
Ranking Videos by Views Is Problematic
Now, it’s worth noting that John Lewis and Waitrose, its sister brand, have three of the top 10 videos in the chart above. But, it’s also worth noting that ranking videos by “views” is problematic for three key reasons.
Reason #1: Launch Dates
Some retailers in the UK publish their annual Christmas adverts right after Halloween, while others wait until mid-November.
The Brits don’t celebrate Thanksgiving like the Yanks do, so they don’t wait until Black Friday to try to drive shoppers into their stores.
And, John Lewis and Waitrose uploaded their Christmas video to YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter just a few days ago, so they may rank even higher the night before Christmas, when this year’s shopping season officially ends.
Reason #2: Organic vs. Paid
Some brands upload their Christmas videos and hope they go viral organically, while others promote their videos with advertising campaigns. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)
But, it’s fairly easy to spot the videos that were heavily prompted: They have anemic engagements.
For example, take a second look at the videos by Selfridges and Argos and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Then, examine the videos by Visa UK and Amazon.co.uk and decide if they fall somewhere in between.
Reason #3: Multiple Platforms
Comparing YouTube views, Facebook views, and Twitter views is like comparing apples, oranges, and tangerines.
According to YouTube, you pay for a “view” when a viewer watches 30 seconds of your video – or the duration if it’s shorter than 30 seconds – or engages with your video, whichever comes first.
According to Facebook, you pay for a “view” when a video is displayed in a user’s news feed for 3 seconds or more, even if the person doesn’t actually click on the video to watch with the sound turned on.
But, according to Twitter, a “view” occurs when any video is “at least 50 percent in-view for 2 seconds.” That means that to count as a view, at least half of video has to be visible and playing on a user’s screen for at least two seconds.
So, this opens the door to other methodologies for ranking the top Christmas adverts by UK retailers.
Another Way to Measure Success
One of the most unique, relevant, useful, and valuable methodologies that I’ve seen was developed in the UK by the folks at Unruly.
Founded in 2006, Unruly was the first vendor to bring emotional intelligence to video advertising.
Unruly has analyzed the emotional responses of 3,071 UK consumers to 19 Christmas ads released this year using its content measurement tool, UnrulyEQ.
This tool uses a combination of audience panels, facial coding, and machine learning to help advertisers understand the emotional triggers in their advertising and build out target audiences for campaign distribution.
The results of this year’s 10 Christmas adverts were then compared to Unruly’s database of thousands of ads and smuggled to me in advance to share with Search Engine Journal’s readers.
The Top 10 Most Emotionally Engaging Christmas Ads of 2019
Here are the most emotionally engaging Christmas ads of 2019.
1. Very.co.uk Christmas Advert 2019 | Get More Out of Giving
This 31-second-long video was uploaded on November 1, now has 2.2 million views and only 200 engagements.
But, it finished on top after 40% of viewers had a strong emotional response to the campaign, twice as intense as the UK norm. Why?
The animated ad was also four times more heart-warming, three times more likely to make people happy and twice as sad as the average UK ad.
Very’s Christmas advert tells the story of a community that comes together to give Sidney, a lonely man, a Christmas that he’ll never forget.
Watch as the community races to pack a pink parcel full of Christmas delights to make the festive season special for their “neighbour.”
2. Christmas 2019 Ad | John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose & Partners
As I mentioned above, this two-minute-31-second-long video was uploaded to YouTube on November 13, now has 7.7 million views and 74,000 engagements.
But, John Lewis and Waitrose’s excitable dragon, Edgar, left 38% of viewers feeling very emotional, putting it in second place.
3. Barbour Christmas Advert 2019: 125 Years of Blooming Barbour Christmases
This one-minute-53-second-long video was uploaded to YouTube on November 4, and now has 339,000 views and only 537 engagements. But, it got an Emotional Engagement score of 37%.
This Christmas, they are celebrating 125 years of Blooming Barbour Christmases with Raymond Briggs’ beloved Father Christmas.
4. Nicholas the Sweep | Sainsbury’s | Christmas 2019
As I mentioned above, this two-minute-32-second-long video was uploaded to YouTube on November 6, and now has 5.8 million views and 15,500 engagements. But, it also got an Emotional Engagement score of 37%.
5. Let’s Make Christmas Extra Special I Asda Christmas TV Advert 2019
This two-minute-long video was uploaded to YouTube on November 2, and now has 308,000 views and 1,600 engagements. But, it got an Emotional Engagement score of 36%.
Why? Take a look at their Christmas TV ad, and follow Jack and Tilly as they spread Christmas magic around their town.
6. Visa Christmas Ad 2019 – #WhereYouShopMatters (Extended)
This one-minute-31-second-long video was uploaded to YouTube on November 4, 2018, and only has 3,100 views and just 15 engagements. But, it got an Emotional Engagement score of 31%.
Why? The advert features 13 real shopkeepers – including a bookseller, greengrocer, antique dealer, and café owner – encouraging shoppers to show their High Street some love and shop local.
So, it seems that consumers in the UK respond to the message, “Show your High Street some love!”
7. Aldi Christmas Launch Advert 2019
This was uploaded to YouTube on November 6, now has 3.1 million views. But, it also got an Emotional Engagement score of 31%. Why?
Roll up! Roll up! The Amazing Aldi Christmas Show is here. Witness the Flying Tra-peas, a guest appearance from bad guy Russell Sprout, and of course, the star of the show: Kevin the Carrot.
8. Walkers Crisps Christmas Advert 2019 | All Mariah Carey wants this Christmas | Too Good To Share
This one-minute-1-second-long video was uploaded to YouTube on November 1, and now has 645,000 views and 18,900 engagements. But, it got an Emotional Engagement score of 29%.
Why? Christmas is a time for sharing…or is it? Watch their Christmas advert to see what happens behind the scenes when global megastar Mariah Carey and a Christmas Elf discover the last bag of Walkers Pigs in Blankets.
10. Iceland’s Christmas Ad 2019 – #Magicoffrozen
This 40-second-long video was uploaded to YouTube on November 1, and it now has 711,000 views and just 700 engagements.
But, it also got an Emotional Engagement score of 29%. Why? Three words… Perfect Christmas Dinner. Plus, Disney’s “Frozen 2” premieres in “cinemas” (theaters) on November 22.
11. Lidl | A Christmas You Can Believe In
This one-minute-1-second-long video was uploaded to YouTube on November 6, and now has 18,100 views and just 86 engagements. But, it also got an Emotional Engagement score of 29%. Why?
At Lidl, they’re Big on Christmas. Big on a Christmas you can believe in.
Big on naughty treats that taste too nice. Big on the joys of giving and getting more for your money.
Big on award-winning spirits measuring up to high expectations. Big on mighty mains and decadent desserts.
They’re Big on all things festive. Except of course, on price, because that’s where they’ll always be Lidl.
11. Argos Christmas Advert 2019 – The Book of Dreams (Extended Version)
This two-minute-51-second-long video was uploaded to YouTube on October 30, and now has 446,000 views and 4,200 engagements. But, it also got an Emotional Engagement score of 29%. Why?
Argos renames the catalog ‘The Book of Dreams’ as a dad’s childhood dreams are awoken when he sees the drumkit his daughter has circled.
So, what lessons can American retailers can learn from their British cousins, who have shops on the high street?
Lesson 1: Be True to Your Brand
First, it’s important to remember the observation by Scott Cook, the co-founder of Intuit, “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.”
Last year, John Lewis decided to “turn left” when creating its annual Christmas ad campaign, “The Boy and The Piano,” and paid the price.
This year, John Lewis and Waitrose returned to their successful formula for creating Christmas adverts with “#ExcitableEdgar,” and the retailers got top rankings not only in “views” but also with “emotional engagement.”
Lesson 2: Think Multi-Platform
It’s well worth noting that the different versions of #ExcitableEdgar did well across YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.
Yes, these platforms all different definitions of “view.” But, enchanting videos on these social video platforms can get millions of views and hundreds of thousands of engagements.
So, retailers on both sides of the pond need a multi-platform video strategy not only for Christmas but also for the rest of the year.
Lesson 3: Tell an Engaging Story
Toss out the conventional wisdom that advises you to create “snackable content.” Yes, the attention span of a goldfish is five to nine seconds long, depending on which source you believe.
But, you aren’t creating Christmas adverts for goldfish. You’re creating them for consumers.
To tell a story that emotionally engages consumers as well as combines John Lewis’s positioning around “thoughtful giving” with Waitrose’s of “thoughtful hosting” with the theme of bringing people together over the festive period, their YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter videos were all two minutes and 30 seconds long.
So, thanks to John Lewis and Waitrose for teaching all of us three important lessons just before Christmas.
Oh, and kudos to Sainsbury’s for their appearance on both lists of the top 2019 Christmas adverts, too.
Perhaps those of us on this side of the pond can return the favor when we roll out of Super Bowl ads early next year.
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