The Best Holiday Ads of 2016

It’s that time of year again. Time to dust off the tried-and-true holiday-themed ads that pull at our heartstrings and make us think about all that we have to be thankful for.

We decided to take a look at what really makes a holiday ad stand out from the pack. Given the divisive political climate from which we just emerged, it’s no surprise that unifying, emotional messages are resonating with American consumers this season. So, get your tissue box out … because we dare you not to shed a tear watching the top three holiday winners of 2016.

Every year during the holidays, Luntz Global Partners uses our unique Instant Response Dial Sessions to gauge the impact and effectiveness of ads with consumers. Participants in our focus groups are told to react to the effectiveness of the ad on a second-by-second, word-by-word, visual-by-visual basis on a scale from 0-100. Zero means that the ad completely MISSED the mark. A score of 100 means that it was incredibly impactful, kept their attention and made them think about the company or product in a more positive way. The dial lines you see are the aggregate – the average – of the responses of our focus group participants. When you see the dial lines rise closer to 100, it means the ad resonated with our group.

By analyzing every second of these ads, we’re able to pinpoint what works and what doesn’t. It’s simply the most effective tool available to gauge the emotional response people have to advertising. And emotional response matters.

Here are the three winners from 2016.

Amazon Prime – A Priest and Imam Meet for a Cup of Tea

If you can’t grab your audience’s attention in the first five seconds, you’ve generally lost them. We regularly apply that standard in our focus groups because our participants are essentially a captive audience – if you can’t get their attention, you’re in trouble.

And this ad falls into that trap. There’s simply too much explanatory narrative setup at the outset of the commercial. Granted, it’s necessary to deliver the ad’s message, but there’s still too much. So even after 50 seconds, our focus group participants were still wary of what they were watching. Perhaps the inclusion of an imam and a priest made them wait for a punchline (or a rabbi.)

But this ad still is effective (assuming the audience is still watching). The dials finally start to climb the moment the men open their Prime boxes. The dials inch higher as the friends put on their new accoutrements, because who doesn’t love getting a gift they can actually use?

To be clear, Amazon isn’t advertising knee supports. They’re advertising how their service can connect two friends. They’re advertising the bridges that can be built between people who come from completely disparate cultures. They’re telling us that no gap is too wide for Amazon to help us cross. It’s a vital message of community, sharing, tolerance and togetherness – and that’s what brings this commercial across the finish line as one of the most impactful holiday ads of 2016.

Comcast – Hooking Up Grandma’s House

Some of the most memorable commercials of all time utilize humor to convey their message – and help consumers remember their message. Comcast’s lighthearted destruction of the technophobic, off-the-grid grandparent stereotype is one of these ads.

The best part? This ad works for EVERYONE. Grandparents see this ad and want to mimic the behavior. What grandparent wouldn’t want to provide the environment that brings people together? Parents see this ad and see their kids actually engaging with their family. And kids envision a holiday trip that won’t bore, as well as a way to remain connected to their friends over their school break. In short, Comcast communicates that they’re solving the problems that each age group might have with an extended family gathering.

So, the ad grabs attention with comedy, but it keeps attention with relatability. Framing Grandma’s house as the “gates of hell” might be hyperbole, but if you’ve ever faced data limits or overage fees, there is reason to fear. Everyone’s been in this type of situation before and that relatability – showing a vignette that is familiar to us – immediately makes consumers think about how Comcast could solve their problems too.

Pay attention to how long it takes these grandparents to call, setup service and become experts in the technology’s use. The entire transaction takes only six seconds. This isn’t accidental. Comcast knows that customers dread calling their customer service line – it’s a hassle. But they’ve done a bit of reputation management in this ad by minimizing the appearance of that hassle. The process looks simple, easy … even fun.

Another thing to pay attention to is our gender break. We’ve included our female focus group participants on the green line – who loved the shots of family gathered around the TV to watch a movie together. That type of togetherness is exceptionally impactful to that targeted audience. They also dialed up the scenes in which the teenager is being social with her smartphone: taking selfies with her grandmother, and Instagramming vintage photos from the mantle.

This ad didn’t need 120 seconds to get its point across. But for all its excess, this Comcast ad successfully communicates their product as a way to bring together different generations, with very different expectations about how to survive being in the same house. For holiday hosts who are “not up to date,” this is an effective ad for showing how Xfinity services can enhance family time.

Kohl’s – Give a Little More: The Dinner

Let’s face it. The holidays can be stressful. You have presents to buy, trips to plan, dinners to cook. Sometimes we just wish we could have a helping hand. Kohl’s positions their narrative on this relatable idea – providing some holiday elves to help a stressed-out mom with her baking.

What makes this ad impactful is the unexpected response from the mom’s son. Seeing her struggling, he offers a helping hand in a moment that is sure to make any mom melt. Kohl’s is then able to link this connection back to their “give a little more” campaign.

Now, while the story might be impactful, you might be asking, “what on earth did that have to do with Kohl’s?” And you’d be right to ask – the ad didn’t feature any Kohl’s products. They didn’t even mention how Kohl’s plays a role in the connection that’s built on screen. But by linking that warm, fuzzy feeling with their brand, Kohl’s does manage to shape their reputation. The hope is, the next time moms go shopping, they’ll remember that connected feeling and choose Kohl’s over another option.

Last year, we split the focus groups differently. Instead of men and women, it was between people who were easier targets for marketing, and people who were more skeptical of ads. The strongest theme of 2015: embracing reality, warts and all. Whether it was laughing at irreverent cousins, needing a map (and an app) to navigate a big-box store, or finding gifts for eccentric coworkers, the best spots injected a bit of comedy into the mundane. You can view the 2015 winners here.