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Fashion's five most emotional Christmas ads

Very, Get more out of giving

Editor’s Comment: Christmas ads fail to ignite our emotions

Creating emotional engagement through Christmas ads has become a key weapon in the armoury of brands and retailers. Drapers rates this year’s crop

Christmas ads have become one of biggest moments of the year for retailers. As attention spans shorten, competition becomes more intense – brands are battling to get the most likes, the highest number of views, and, of course, the biggest slice of consumer spending.

Over the last decade, retailers have turned to upping the emotional ante to achieve this. Since John Lewis launched its 2011 Christmas offering, The Long Wait, story-based ads designed to tug on viewers’ heartstrings have become the format to emulate. At their best, these ads cut through December’s fever-pitch promotional noise and create strong links between a brand and the magic of Christmas. But when they miss the mark, the effect can be more cheesy or mawkish than festive and memorable.

It is worth making the effort to get it right. A 2016 Nielsen study found ads that generated above-average brain activity – a method used to measure someone’s non-conscious response to ads – were associated with a 23% lift in sales volume. Below-average ads, conversely, were associated with a 16% decline in volume.

Getting the right emotional tone is tough – even the industry’s biggest names do not always get it spot on – and technologies are emerging to help brands measure the emotional effect of their ideas earlier on the in ad-making process.

RealEyes is one technology company using facial tracking software that maps viewers’ faces as they watch an ad. Working with at least 300 participants in each study, it uses cameras to watch facial expressions, while embedded algorithms produce an average rating for an emotional response to an advert.

For Christmas this year, it has ranked the top 55 festive ads in terms of the emotional responses observed on viewers’ faces as they watched each one.

It found that, among fashion retailers, the Marks & Spencer Paddington Bear campaign performed most strongly – it was ranked fourth overall. It was ahead of Debenhams, Very, John Lewis and Peacocks, who all made the top 20. Coca Cola, Vodaphone and McDonalds were the high-rated three ads overall.

The ranking is an interesting measure of an ad’s impact, as it gives a sense of viewers’ non-conscious responses to it. Measuring emotional response to ads has become a useful tool, and has gained importance as playing on people’s emotions in advertising has never been so important for brands.

“We’re no longer in a world where we can buy people’s attention,” says Sarah Baumann, deputy chief executive at advertising agency Leo Burnett. But, she adds, authenticity is crucial: “Brands need to turn the business problem that they solve into a human problem.”

Dom Boyd, chief strategy officer at ad agency Publicis, says emotions are “the single most powerful weapon at marketers’ disposal.” The way to translate an effective emotional connection into sales, he adds, is to make sure that communication of the message continues beyond the ad itself, and that execution of that message in sales channels is strong: “There’s no point creating a powerful emotional ad if the website is awful – you’re creating demand that can’t be satisfied.” Both websites and stores need to play their role, and make it easy to find featured products while also echoing the magic the ad has created.

Continuing the message in other digital channels is just as important. Simon Lewis, chief creative officer at video marketing production agency Magnafi, which worked on Very’s Love Giving social campaign, says different channels, platforms and screens offer different things: “Good planning before production is essential. On the Very campaign, we knew Facebook was key and that the audience was strongly mobile-centric, so that very much influenced how we went about extending the brand’s broadcast TV campaign.”

Attempting to tug on the heartstrings has become an unavoidable, and often extremely effective, part of the Christmas period for retailers. But throwing every Christmas-related sentiment at an ad does not work. Consumers pick up on anything inauthentic, and those performing best this year are those with a lightness of touch and that play on themes and feelings that are relevant to the brand. Emotions matter, but authenticity and strong in-store and digital execution is what turns them into sales.


The top five fashion ads by emotional response 

M&S, Paddington and the Christmas Visitor

1 Marks & Spencer: Paddington and the Christmas visitor

RealEyes Facial Tracking Ranking: 4th place

The M&S ad was a winner judging by Realeyes’ facial tracking results, and viewers loved its depiction of Paddington’s Christmas adventure.

The Drapers Verdict: The combination of Paddington bear and M&S – two of the most quintessentially British symbols around – is a clever Christmas match. Following the trend for ads that are not obviously pushing product (save for an M&S mince pie), M&S serves up a story brimming with festive charm and warmth.

With its cinematic production, the ad is beautiful to watch, and the story is told well. A cynic might say that the film tie-up is a touch trite and overly commercial for the retailer – but for me, Paddington and his marmalade sandwiches were a festive delight. 

Harriet Brown


Debenhams, You Shall

2 Debenhams: You Shall

RealEyes Facial Tracking Ranking: 15th equal

Debehams embraces the storytelling approach, choosing to follow a love story. Viewers rooted for the two protagonists, and engagement was helped by actor Ewan McGregor’s appearance at the end.

The Drapers Verdict: Debenhams aspires to win sales by showcasing its products, while relying on a familiar fable to pluck at the consumer’s heartstrings, but the balance between the two here seems to be a bit off.

The ranges on display are ultimately let down by an unoriginal storyline. Viewers nowadays expect a more compelling narrative, having become accustomed to ads such as Marks & Spencer’s superior festive fairy-tale mash-up in 2013, which offered its own twists at a compelling pace.

It has all the ingredients for a great campaign – plenty of in-store products being shown off, enough star power in the form of a cameo from Ewan McGregor, high production values, an appropriately schmaltzy soundtrack – but its well-trodden and cringeworthy plot has not done it any favours. The jury is out on whether it has done enough to boost sales for a happy ending to the calendar year. 

Pui-Guan Man


Very, Get more out of giving

3 Very: Get More Out of Giving

RealEyes Facial Tracking Ranking: 15th equal

Viewers’ engagement with the Very ad picks up at the end, when the animated story reaches its climax – a little girl is reunited with her friend.

The Drapers’ Verdict: Shop Direct’s festive offering for Very this year centres on the happiness of giving and features a young girl and her toy wolf delivering pink gifts. The animation reminded me of the Disney sensation Frozen, particularly when the protagonist is struggling through the snow to deliver a present to Santa. For that reason, I think the ad would appeal to children, but I don’t see it pulling on the heartstrings of Very’s target young-mum shopper.

While the campaign is perfectly pleasant, it did not give me the warm fuzzy feeling that Shop Direct was going for, and it pales in comparison with other retailers’ emotive Christmas campaigns. 

Jill Geoghegan


John Lewis, Moz the Monster

4 John Lewis: Moz the Monster

RealEyes Facial Tracking Ranking: 17th place

The surprise of the year – John Lewis was number one in Realeyes’ 2016 ranking – Moz the Monster did not connect with viewers quite so successfully as the retailer’s past ads.

The Drapers Verdict: The release of the John Lewis Christmas advert has become a moment in the nation’s calendar. After last year’s bouncing dog, Buster the Boxer, the retailer has returned this year with Moz the Monster, a snoring blue creature who lives under the bed and comes out at night. John Lewis has stuck to its tried-and-tested formula of a tear-jerking story featuring a very cute child, but for me it is not as effective as in previous years.

The message is this year’s ad is not as clear and instantly recognisable, and it does not raise quite the same smile as 2014’s Monty the Penguin or 2011’s The Long Wait. 

Emily Sutherland


Peacocks, Xmas Factor

Peacocks, Xmas Factor

Peacocks, Xmas Factor

5 Peacocks: Xmas Factor

RealEyes Facial Tracking Ranking: 18th place

Not normally known for its imaginative approach to Christmas ads, viewers liked Peacocks’ humourous approach to the festive season.

Drapers Verdict: Peacocks’ Christmas offering this year uses former X Factor contestants – singers Jedward and rapper Honey G – to bring a sense of humour and a lightness of touch to its ad. There’s no storytelling, sweetness, or cloying sentimentality, which is refreshing, although viewers’ enjoyment of the ad will depend entirely on whether they find this kind of novelty performer annoying or not – many people will. However, it is likely that Peacocks has pitched the ad perfectly at its target audience, and it is a relief that they went down the humour route instead of the other X Factor-related option: weepy back stories and overdone ballads. The idea is more original than many Christmas ads, and the effect is fun – it suits Peacocks’ brand and is memorable. Rebecca Thomson



Top 11 fashion brands in the RealEyes top 50 

  1. M&S, Paddington and the Christmas Visitor
  2. Debenhams, You Shall
  3. Very, Get more out of giving
  4. John Lewis, Moz the Monster
  5. Peacocks, Xmas Factor
  6. TK Maxx, Sky Cinema
  7. Matalan, Creating value in every moment
  8. Barbour, The Snowman and the Snowdog
  9. House of Fraser, Bring Merry Back
  10. New Look, Be Together
  11. Mulberry, My true love gave to me



RealEyes’ Top 20 Brands




Gogglebox meets Coca- Cola



A Christmas love story



Carrot stick Christmas



Paddington and the Christmas visitor

Joint 5th


Merry Techmas

Joint 5th

H Samuel

Beautiful gifts

Joint 7th


Christmas together

Joint 7th


Bears Christmas

9th equal


Do get what you wish for

9th equal


Turkey, every which way



Free from



Kevin the Carrot


Virgin Atlantic

Get where you want this Christmas

14th equal


You shall find your fairytale Chritsmas

14th equal

Not on the high street

Presents Christmas

14th equal


Get more out of giving


John Lewis

Moz the Monster



Xmas factor



Give the gift of imagination


TK Maxx

A white Christmas advert


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