Christmas Adverts Through the Years: A Timeline of the Best


Every year, Christmas seems to be starting earlier. But when is that defining moment? On the first day of December? When the Christmas lights are turned on? When your tree’s up? For many now, it is when the first Christmas ad hits our screens.

It’s coming up to the most wonderful time of the year and the big retailers are doing all they can to make their Christmas ads stand out from the rest. The unveiling of the array of festive retail ads has become a modern tradition. So much so, we even have rumours, release dates and teasers. For John Lewis’ 2017 advert, for example, we were primed with a hint of the hashtag “#underthebed” as early as the start of November for this year’s ad. This attention isn’t really surprising when a reported £7 million went into this year’s ad alone.

But this wasn’t always the case. So, how did Christmas advertising begin?

1961 – Hoover https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oK_v76vkVMs

Bearing in mind the first TV advertisement was aired on September 12, 1955, this really is one of the earliest recorded Christmas ads. In the 30 second video, the audience is asked “What does mother really want?”. The answer is of course, a hoover. The actress opens a present addressed ‘To Mother’ then gets back to work. In this instance, the entire advert is revolved around the product and is far too politically incorrect for the present day. Christmas spirit is at a minimum; we’re not even shown any family or festive Christmas décor.

1978 – Woolworths https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Li2XRVt9Clo

Though Woolworths are no longer around, their questionable adverts remain. The Christmas ad here focuses on the products and prices, having no emotional content and very slapstick humour. The music is created solely for the adverts and is specifically pinpointing the deals a long list of the shops items. Here we do, at least, have a bit more reference to Christmas with the (very modern at the time!) white décor in the background.

1984 – Oxo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtEBtv64LBM

This famous Oxo advert was part of a series of as following the ‘Oxo family’ over 16 years from 1983 to 1999. The advert sees a little girl of the family describe her Christmas day. This advert taps into the emotional consumer as viewers felt as if they knew the family, with the series being compared to a soap opera over its 42 episodes. The family was very representative of middle class Britain at the time, and the Christmas ad contains a lot of generic happenings on a hectic Christmas Day. A lot of can relate with the ‘embarrassing grandad’ and ‘unruly brother’ causing havoc. This Christmas advert was also actually broadcast again in 2014 in memory of the late Lynda Bellingham who played the Oxo mother, showing just how much the nation fell in love with the family.

1995 – Coca-Cola https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQ8icLgshdo

You are likely to have at some point heard “It’s not Christmas until I’ve seen the Coca-Cola advert”. Despite having earlier Christmas ads dating back to the 1950s, the Coca-Cola truck ads actually only featured the Coca-Cola truck from 1995. This well-known Christmas ad is still broadcast every year, meaning we are conditioned to have the ad heavily associated with Christmas itself. The repeated exposure to the exact same advert may form emotional ties with it, making us nostalgic of previous Christmases when the ad ran. The truck is that ingrained in Christmas that people even attend the annual Coca-Cola truck tour – see the dates here: http://www.coca-cola.co.uk/stories/keep-on-trucking

2006 – Irn-Bru https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yZOab5gl-4

Coming into the noughties, The Irn-Bru advert used a popular Christmas film “The Snowman” to trigger that Christmassy feeling in us, with a humorous twist to the words. An angelic voice sings the famous song “We’re walking in the air” which taps into our emotions, and is edited to add humour to the ads on top of this. This ad appeals to us on two levels. On the shallow level, if not paying much attention, the viewer is likely to enjoy the familiar song. On a deeper level, if paying attention, the cheekily edited lyrics may make the viewer laugh, as well as recognise the clever association of Irn-Bru’s tag line “It gives you wings” with the Christmassy flying snowman. The appealing looking, family friendly cartoon also appeals to all age groups.

2011 – John Lewis https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSLOnR1s74o

By 2011, it seems that the ads have come a long way from targeting consumers with low prices alone to turning adverts into emotive stores. John Lewis’ Christmas ads even have titles now – in 2011 being “The Long Wait”. This particular story sees a young boy impatiently waiting for Christmas Day to arrive, which we later find is so he can give a surprise gift to his parents. Notice, not one of John Lewis’ products are being advertised – we aren’t even shown what the present contains. Christmas ads no longer rely on advertising actual products, or even factors of the brand. The ads are becoming increasingly emotive. The music has also taken a turn, with covers of well-known songs being a popular choice of the retail giants. Though this was the big year John Lewis rose the stakes when it comes to Christmas ads, they did in fact start producing them in 2007.

2017 –

This wide variety of methods are making us wonder what is it that attracts us. So, what is the key to a successful Christmas advertisement? Is it pulling at the nations heart strings a la John Lewis? Should we stick with the cheap and cheerful slapdash? And is it really worth the budget? With this in mind, we are conducting an experiment on the effects of a range of different Christmas TV ads on viewers’ emotional valence using Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) as a measurement. Look out for our next blog post to see how we got on.

But first, check out our Twitter account for the results of our recent poll on the best Christmas ad of 2017: