Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Patrick Collister: Christmas Ads 2021: The definitive rankings

By Patrick Collister Executive Creative Director for, Curator of The Caples Awards and Editor of Directory, and NDA’s creative columnist.

#1 according to YouTube

#7 according to Ad-Lib

#1 according to Kantar

#2 according to YouTube

#3 according to Ad-Lib

#1 according to Ad-Lib

#2 according to Kantar

#10 according to YouTube

In December, British consumers spend 29% more than in any other month.

Retailers are all anxious to get some of that extra dosh and go large with their TV ads.

It’s our Superbowl, when the commercials generate almost as much interest as the event.

I’ve taken a look at ten of them.

1. Aldi’s ‘A Christmas Carrot’. (HERE)

2. Argos, ‘Baubles to Last Year’. (HERE)

3. Asda, ‘Make Christmas Spectacular’. (HERE)

4. Boots, ‘#BagsofJoy’. (HERE)

5. John Lewis’s ‘Unexpected Visitor’. (HERE)

6. M&S, ‘Percy Pig Comes to Life’. (HERE)

7. Sainsbury’s ‘Christmas to Savour’. (HERE)

8. Smyth’s Toys, ‘If I was a Toy’. (HERE)

9. Sports Direct, ‘Go All Out’. (HERE)

10. Tesco, ‘Nothing’s Stopping Us.’ (HERE)

By and large, creative directors have been lukewarm.

Photocopying their bottoms would have sprinkled on some magic,” wrote one about one of the ads above.

As a creative director myself, with 30 years’ experience in upsetting creative people, I could give this year’s turkeys a good old basting. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time at tech start-up, opinions count for nothing.

What does the data say? 

Well, looking at the number of YouTube views, it turns out one ad is a lot more popular than the others.

And I mean a LOT.

The data says that the Smyth’s Toys ad has performed 6 times better than Colin the Carrot for Aldi and 275 times better than ‘Baubles to Christmas’ from Argos.

That I did not expect. What it tells me is that kids watch a lot more YouTube videos than their parents.

1. Smyth’s Toys, 50 secs: 17 million views.

2. Aldi, 80 secs: 2.9 million views.

3. John Lewis, 120 secs: 2.6 million views.

4. M&S, 70 secs: 1.7 million views

5. Asda, 60 secs: 945,000 views.

6. Sainsbury’s, 60 secs: 716,000 views.

7. Boots, 180 secs: 516,000 views.

8. Tesco, 90 secs: 447,000 views.

9. Sports Direct, 60 secs: 181,000 views.

10. Argos, 60 secs: 63,000 views.

Elsewhere in the forest, Kantar interviewed 3,400 people and measured their emotional responses (dilating pupils etc) to all the holiday ads in order to come up with a ranking by effectiveness.

Now we have a very different-looking list.

1. Aldi

2. Argos

3. Asda

4. Boots

5. John Lewis

6. M&S

7. Sainsbury’s

8. Sports Direct

9. Tesco

They didn’t look at Smyth’s, which is interesting in itself. The question is, how scientific can you really get with this sort of thing?

Creative judgment is a matter of opinion, even if, as with the Kantar study in Campaign, you’re aggregating opinions at scale.

Well, maybe not any longer. I’ve just spent several days playing with a tool that assesses creative both objectively and meaningfully.

So, rather than pointing out unhelpfully that I think the Tesco ad is sh*t, I’m now in a position to report that bits of it are really good. And if the agency was to re-cut the film, they might go whizzing up both Kantar’s ranking and the YouTube Leaderboard. 

What the Ad-Lib bot does is break down every ad, shot by shot. Then, borrowing fifteen years’ worth of Google data, it assesses each for memorability and aesthetics.  

So, this is the Ad-Lib data-driven list of ‘best’ Christmas ads, with their memorability and aesthetics scores combined to give a total out of 100.  

1. Argos – 74.5

2. Tesco – 72.45

3. Aldi – 71.88

4. Sports Direct – 71.4

5. John Lewis – 71.24

6. Asda – 70.85

7. Smyth’s – 69.88

8. Boots – 69.75

9. M&S – 68.8

10. Sainsbury’s – 67.10

How has Argos, with the least number of YouyTube views gone shooting up to #1?

If you take a look at their ‘ABCD Guide to More Effective Advertising’ (free to download HERE), YouTube declare that A is for Attract Attention.

Start with a bang, they say. And the Argos ad does that literally. A house explodes, there’s a spoof of a movie trailer and a shot from a newsroom. In the first five seconds.

The data suggests that spending a bit more money on YouTube pre-rolls would be money well spent.

Start explosively…

By contrast, Boots ‘BagsofJoy’ may have the lovely Jenna Coleman but it starts with all the speed of sludge from a drain.

Yet, exactly 60 seconds in, it has the single most memorable shot of any of all the ten ads. Jenna emptying a bag of presents onto her bed. Got a score of 99. The internet loves it.

If I could talk to Mr. Boots and his agency friends, I’d be saying, open with that shot.

Lose the dull bits (and I can tell you precisely which bits they are) and you’ll have a much shorter and much more successful film.

And to Mr. Tesco, I’d be saying, your gran in a motorcycle helmet is a 98.

Do more with her.

Forget your eight-second establishing shot. Everyone’s skipped by the time she puts on her goggles. Start with a close-up of her under the helmet.

Your performance scores will rise, I betcha.

To Mr. Sainsbury I’d say, what dragged your overall score down are your aesthetics. The whole thing looks as if it’s been shot on brown paper, it’s so dark.

And the same observation to John Lewis.

That said, they might like to know that they have the second most memorable shot from all the ads. It’s the crucial moment the boy gives the girl his jumper.  

The point of the whole ad. (And a big tick against C for Connect, using emotion to engage.)

To Smiths I’d say, you scored low for aesthetics.

But who cares?

The ad is fun, it has a clear idea (‘If I was a toy…’) and it scores high on memorability.

It turns out that a T-Rex on the rampage is even more memorable than a flying galleon captained by Super Mario. But only just.  

I could go on,

I could give you chapter and verse to each of the holiday ads and tell you precisely how and where to tighten it up.

This is forensic judgment.   

And it’s tremendously exciting.

As a creative director, Ad-Lib’s amazing tool is giving me the ability to inspect an ad through the prism of data. (Sorry if this looks like a blatant plug, but the tool is amazing. And as far as I know, no-one else has anything like it.)

Now when I suggest changes, I don’t think they’ll improve the work, I know

In fact, if any of the marketers behind any of the ads above want a detailed breakdown of their scores, ping me. Indeed, the same goes for any marketer who would like their ad scored and assessed. I’ll put it through the whizzer and let you know the results.

Data, dontcha just love it?