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20 Emotionally Engaging Online Ads for Holiday Marketing

YouTube is a valuable marketing tool during the holidays. Watch some brands' holiday video ads and gain valuable SEO insights from them here.

According to a Spencer Stuart study, the average tenure for chief marketing officers at leading U.S. consumer brand companies is 41 months.

The median tenure of CMOs at 100 of the most-advertised American brands is 30 months.

So, if American CMOs want to keep their jobs for more than 2.5 to 3.5 years, then they should immediately assign whoever is in charge of video marketing at their companies to analyze the most emotionally engaging Christmas ads in Great Britain.

And even online retailers in the U.S. should ask:

  • Why didn’t Amazon’s Christmas advert in the U.K. use video SEO?
  • Why should CMOs on this side of the Atlantic Ocean analyze the Christmas adverts on the other side of the pond?

Well, it’s crucial to learn lessons from the campaigns for the shops on “High Street” in the U.K. in time to apply them to the stores on “Main Street” in the U.S.

Now, this was easier in previous years because the run-up to Christmas normally kicked off right after Halloween in Great Britain, but traditionally waited until the day after Thanksgiving in America.

However, to enable shoppers to remain socially distant in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, Black Friday is transforming into a month-long event in the U.S.

So the differences are blurring this year.

U.K. Holiday Shoppers Will Be Driven to Digital This Year

Nevertheless, one of the things that remains different on the other side of the pond in 2020 is the response to the global pandemic.

In the U.K., nonessential retail stores were shut down in England on November 5, 2020, as part of strict lockdown measures.

So, English consumers who wanted to purchase anything other than groceries or medications can’t do so in a store until December 2, 2020.

As a consequence, the lockdown will have a huge impact on British shopping trends in the coming holiday season.

According to eMarketer research:

“Brick-and-mortar holiday season sales … will plunge by 19.0% to £60.04 billion ($76.63 billion). In-store sales will account for just over two-thirds of total holiday season sales, down from over three-quarters last year and 81.6% in 2016.”

The market research company adds:

“This year, retail ecommerce holiday season sales will reach £28.51 billion ($36.38 billion), up 16.7% over last year, and account for a substantial 32.2% of total U.K. holiday sales in 2020. That’s more than three in 10 holiday retail pounds—the highest proportion ecommerce has claimed since we started tracking this metric.”

By comparison, there hasn’t been a strict lockdown in the U.S., although Ohio has said all retail businesses must close from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. for three weeks.

As a result, eMarketer forecasts that U.S. brick-and-mortar retail will decline only 4.7% to $822.79 billion in 2020, while U.S. retail ecommerce sales will jump 35.8% to $190.47 billion.

The market research company also expects ecommerce to account for 18.8% of total retail sales on this side of the pond.

So, the 2020 holiday season in the U.K., which is going to be very different this year, may be a sneak preview of what is in store for top retailers next year in the U.S.

This is especially true for Walmart, Target, and other big-box retailers, which are facing increasing competition from Amazon.

So, holiday shopping trends are different in the U.K. and the U.S.

But, the battle between Amazon and retailers is similar on both sides of the pond.

In other words, there are subtle, but significant lessons to be learned by comparing and contrasting Christmas ads in the two countries separated by a common language.

The Most Emotionally Engaging Christmas Ads of 2020 (So Far)

That’s why the CMOs at the most-advertised American brands should immediately assign whoever is in charge of video marketing at their companies to analyze the emotionally engaging Christmas adverts in Great Britain.

But, which metrics should these video marketing executives use to measure how well a Christmas ad changes the hearts, minds, and actions of shoppers?

Well, as I pointed out a year ago in an article titled, Did John Lewis Create One of the Top 2019 Christmas Adverts?, using “views” to compare videos is problematic.

Christmas ads are launched on different days.

Retail brands have different ad budgets for promoting their holiday adverts.

Plus, the United Kingdom has a population of 65 million, while the United States has a population of 329 million.

That’s why I prefer using a different methodology for measuring how well a Christmas ad changes the hearts, minds, and actions of shoppers.

This methodology was developed in the U.K. by Unruly, which is now is part of Tremor International Ltd.

Founded in 2006, Unruly was one of the first vendors to measure the emotional, behavioral, and cultural drivers of a video marketing campaign’s success in countries around the world.

And last week, the folks at Unruly launched a new holiday ad chart that takes a closer look at which Christmas campaigns are generating the most emotional engagement.

Using data from their content measurement tool, UnrulyEQ, their chart includes many of this year’s festive campaigns in the U.K. and the U.S.

(Why not all of them? Well, some brands haven’t uploaded their holiday commercials yet.)

But, the most emotionally engaging Christmas ads of 2020 (so far) have been launched by the following brands.

1. Kohl’s Give With All Your Heart

UnrulyEQ Score: 7.9


“This year looks different – and so do our wish lists. Where once we just wished for things like toys and tech, we’re now wishing for happiness, understanding and kindness more than ever. And time spent together is the greatest gift of all. This year looks different because the world is different. So give with all your heart. Happy holidays from Kohl’s.”

2. Etsy’s Gift Like You Mean It: Nana

UnrulyEQ Score: 7.8


“The perfect present goes the distance, even when you can’t. Find the right gift for the right one on”

3. Macy’s In Dad’s Shoes

UnrulyEQ Score: 7.6


“A daughter takes an unexpected journey in finding the perfect gift for her dad this holiday season. The lesson in the end? This year, the real gift is the thought you put into it.”

4. Anthem’s America’s Cart

UnrulyEQ Score: 7.6


“What we needed changed this year. But what’s truly essential didn’t change at all. Walmart gives you easy and safe ways to get you everything you need online, and end the year with what matters.”

5. Gap’s Dream the Future

UnrulyEQ Score: 7.4


“For us, this holiday is all about hope. And when we look forward to the season ahead, we hope for a kinder, more loving tomorrow, where we see, dream, and think in color. And celebrate as individuals, together.”

6. Best Buy’s Dear Best Buy

UnrulyEQ Score: 7.3

Description: “The best gifts for the special people in your life. Fast Store Pickup. Ready in one hour.”

7.  Hudson’s Bay’s A Call to Joy

UnrulyEQ Score: 7.1


“We asked Emmy winners Catherine O’Hara and Annie Murphy to help us spread the holiday joy this year, and they’ve made it clear: When it comes to joy, more is more!”

8. Not On The High Street’s The Magic of Small Things

UnrulyEQ Score: 6.9


“Excited faces, thoughtful gifts, cosy new PJs… it’s the small touches that make Christmas magical. Find unique present ideas and festive magic from the U.K.’s best small creative businesses.”

9. M&S FOOD’s This is M&S Christmas Food

UnrulyEQ Score: 6.8


“ONE magical range of festive food. TWO million pounds donated to U.K. charities. NINE world-famous icons (plus some very special M&S colleagues). This is not just any Christmas Food ad… Introducing the first our nine delicious festive ads voiced by Olivia Colman.”

10. Aldi’s Christmas Launch Advert 2020

UnrulyEQ Score: 6.7

Description: “Kevin’s out in the cold. Will he get home in time for Christmas?”

11. Lidl’s Big on a Christmas You Can Believe In

UnrulyEQ Score: 6.7

Description: “Could a friendship be ahead? No. It’s a Christmas ad for Lidl with great prices instead!”

12. Amazon’s The Show Must Go On

UnrulyEQ Score: 6.7


“This is the story of a young dancer whose spirit and tenacity triumphs through the challenges of 2020. All with a little help from her family and community.”

13. Barbour’s Father Christmas to the Rescue

UnrulyEQ Score: 6.7


“This #BarbourChristmas, we are joining Raymond Briggs’ beloved Father Christmas on a very special adventure to the Barbour factory in South Shields. Share our Barbour Christmas film, based on a true story…”

14. John Lewis’ Give A Little Love

UnrulyEQ Score: 6.4


“We believe that the world would be a better place if we all gave a little more love. So this year we’re celebrating kindness, whether large or small, showing how each and every act of love has a positive impact on the world around us, as we pass them on to others.”

15. Asda’s That’s an Asda Price Christmas

UnrulyEQ Score: 6.4


“Watch Asda’s Christmas advert – our superfan Sunny is back to show everyone they can have the Christmas they need, at the prices they all want. He’s enlisted the help of his family – and a giant illuminated Pocket Tap. That’s an Asda Price Christmas!”

16. Argos’s An Evening with AbracaDaisy & the Incredible Lucy

UnrulyEQ Score: 6.4


“This year, the magic of Christmas is captured by two sister’s dreams of becoming master magicians, and after they circle a simple box of tricks, we witness a very special performance for their most adoring fans – their family.”

17. Hobbycraft’s Craft Together This Christmas

UnrulyEQ Score: 6.2


“Together we’ve seen our lives change – but we’ve found different ways to share ideas, learn new skills and help each other. We’ve created things to let others know we miss them and brought families together even when we’re apart. It’s the joy of making and the gifts we share, so let’s craft together this Christmas!”

18. TK Maxx’s The Lil’ Goat

UnrulyEQ Score: 6.2


“After the year we’ve had, everyone deserves to feel special this season. And that includes everyone in our lives, even pet goats. Join our Lil’ Goat as she struts her fabulous fashion stuff in the snow, looked on adoringly by her proud parents, who bought her these wonderful gifts. How festive. Big Love at Small Prices – this Christmas at TK Maxx.”

19. Deliverloo’s Christmas Is On!

UnrulyEQ Score: 6.1


“Get the best food of the festive season delivered to your door, with festive specials from Pret, Burger King, KFC and more, delivered only by Deliveroo.”

20.Tesco’s No Naughty List

UnrulyEQ Score: 6.1


“After a year like this, we believe there is no naughty list. So go on Britain, treat yourself to the best Christmas ever.”

Although Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla in retail ecommerce, it’s worth noting that the brand isn’t swatting away biplanes from the top of the Empire State Building.

Amazon’s Christmas advert, “The show must go on”, ranked #11 with an UnrulyEQ of 6.6.

This indicates that the brand has a strong emotional grip on consumers, but 10 other brands have even stronger grips on the hearts, minds, and actions of shoppers.

As Nick Woodford of the Unruly Blog observes:

“Using ‘sadvertising’ and appealing to viewers’ lockdown frustrations, the ad left 38% of viewers feeling intensely emotional, telling the story of a young ballerina who gets her big break, only to have it taken away by the lockdown.”

He adds:

“The spot takes viewers on an emotional rollercoaster, ending on a high while shining a light on the young people and the arts industry that have both been heavily affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.”

By comparison, “Give With All Your Heart | Kohl’s Commercial” tells the story of an unlikely friendship that blossoms over the holiday season as a little girl communicates via handwritten signs with the elderly woman next door.

After a brief and disappointing absence, the neighbor returns over Christmas.

This example “trackvertising” uses the soundtrack of Willie Nelson singing “Rainbow Connection” to leave 64% of viewers feeling intensely emotional after watching the older woman hold up a sign asking, “Did you get what you wished for?”

The little girl nods happily.

Amazon vs. Google – The Battle for Product Search

Earlier this month, European Union regulators filed antitrust charges against Amazon, accusing the ecommerce giant of using its access to data from companies that sell products on its platform to gain an unfair advantage over them.

But, back in January 2020, Stephen Bench-Capon, posted the results of a study on the Searchmetrics SEO & Content Marketing Blog, which paints a more complex picture:

“Amazon is the largest marketplace the world has ever seen, and more product searches take place directly within Amazon than on Google. However, Google remains an important source of traffic for all online retailers, including Amazon.”

Searchmetrics took a detailed look at how Amazon uses a combination of organic and paid listings to vie for shoppers’ clicks.

The digital marketing analytics company conducted a study that examined 10,000 keywords, which Amazon ranks in the first organic position in Google’s search results.

The study removed brand searches and found that:

  • Amazon buys Google Ads for 10.5% of the keywords analyzed, giving it duplicate organic/paid listings.
  • Amazon appears in the Google Shopping box for 31.1% of the keywords analyzed, and owns a total of 16.2% of the individual Google Shopping ads found.
  • Amazon has at least one other organic result for 45.0% of the keywords for which it is already ranking on position one.
  • Amazon appears in image boxes on 41.5% of Google’s SERPs where it also has the top ranking, meaning that there are very few image boxes without an Amazon result.
  • On the other hand, Amazon doesn’t provide any video content that appears in video carousels.

Since the overwhelming majority of video carousel results come from Google-owned YouTube, this means video SEO is Amazon’s only strategic weakness in Google search results.

You can see this for yourself by closely examining The show must go on, Amazon’s Christmas advert in the U.K.

If you use Google Trends, then you’ll discover that there is 4.5 times more web search interest in “Amazon” than there is in “John Lewis” over the past 5 years in the U.K.

And there is 2.0 times more YouTube search interest in “Amazon” than there is in “John Lewis” over the past 5 years – except around mid-November, when the annual John Lewis Christmas advert is launched.

But, Amazon didn’t include its brand name in the title of its Christmas advert, so it isn’t “optimized” for that term.

Now, if you look at the list above, Walmart, Gap, Hudson’s Bay, Not On The High Street, and Deliveroo don’t include their brand names in their titles, either.

So, Amazon isn’t the only one that doesn’t understand how video SEO works.

But, 14 other brands do.

You’ll also see that 10 brands use the keyword, “Christmas” in their titles.

One uses “Xmas”, and another uses “holiday.”

Now, I realize that this can trigger arguments over political correctness, but there is no debate that there is significantly more web and YouTube search interest in “Christmas” than there is in these other two synonyms.

So, leaving the keyword, “Christmas” out of the title of its Christmas advert is a missed opportunity for Amazon.

A similar case can be made for the keyword, “advert,” in the U.K., although “commercial” and “ad” are more popular terms in the U.S.

Finally, the phrase “The show must go on” is a search term, but it’s also the title of a song by Queen as well as a cliché used in show business.

As a result, Amazon’s Christmas advert doesn’t appear at the top of Google’s SERP when you search for “the show much go on.”

And Amazon’s Christmas advert also fails to appear at the top of YouTube’s SERPs when you search for “the show must go on.”

So, sometimes, you need to avoid using popular search terms when optimizing the title, description, and tags of your YouTube video ad.

And speaking of tags, I used vidIQ to examine ‘The show must go on’ and found that it doesn’t use tags – another indication that Amazon’s Christmas advert doesn’t use SEO.

Oh, and it’s worth noting that the comments are turned off for “The show must go on.”

So, you can bet your last tin of biscuits (box of cookies) that the video marketing professionals who work for Amazon haven’t read YouTube Algorithm: 7 Key Findings You Must Know which explains:

“The goals of YouTube’s search and discovery system are twofold: to help viewers find the videos they want to watch, and to maximize long-term viewer engagement and satisfaction.”

How can I be so certain?

Well, it’s hard to find Amazon’s Christmas advert, even if you want to watch it.

And turning comments off for everyone who has watched ‘The show must go on’ undercuts viewer engagement, even if the young dancer’s story of personal triumph provided them with a significant level of satisfaction.

So, if the people in charge of video marketing at 100 of the most-advertised American brands provide this kind of analysis to the CMO of their company, then I’m fairly confident that they will get the budget and executive support they need to create a more emotionally engaging Christmas advert next year.

And if they also learn how to use video SEO, then their Christmas advert (commercial) will not only be discovered by more viewers, it will also change the hearts, minds, and behavior of more shoppers during this vital holiday season for retailers.

More Resources:

Image Credits

All screenshots taken by author, November 2020

Category Content YouTube
VIP CONTRIBUTOR Greg Jarboe President and co-founder at SEO-PR

Greg Jarboe is president of SEO-PR, which he co-founded with Jamie O’Donnell in 2003. Their digital marketing agency has won ...

20 Emotionally Engaging Online Ads for Holiday Marketing

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