7 min read

2017 Christmas adverts: a digital perspective

Since the release of John Lewis’s famous Christmas advert ‘The Long Wait’ back in 2011, Christmas adverts have become the official start of the festive season. There is a frenzy of anticipation each year, and the adverts are now a crucial touchpoint for brands to connect with an audience of Christmas fans who are ready to shop. 

iThinkMedia’s content team got thinking about what makes Christmas adverts such successful pieces of content marketing. We’ve collated our thoughts, analysed the adverts from a digital perspective and ranked our top five Christmas adverts from 2017.

The Impact of Social Media

Social media has become a vital part of an advert’s success with millions of views and thousands of mentions spanning across all platforms. Newsfeeds become cluttered with Christmas related posts and brands know exactly how to tap into these conversations.

Before adverts are released, brands have started to release teasers on social media. This creates a huge buzz and generates instant engagement as people eagerly await the launch of the advert. Before this year’s John Lewis advert was released, a five-second trailer accompanied by the hashtag #UnderTheBed started to circulate on Twitter.

Brands have also started to create specific hashtags for their adverts, such as Sainsbury’s #everybitofchristmas. By doing so, they can easily monitor the success of their adverts across social media and gain feedback on what people think.

Leading Christmas advert brands are trying new social media tactics this year. Facebook launched a filter where you can turn yourself into Moz as well as Paddington bear from the M&S advert. Last year John Lewis teamed up with Snapchat allowing users to turn themselves into ‘Buster the Boxer’. This allowed the brand to reach a whole new audience, contributing to the overall success of the advert.

The table below shows that as of today (16 November 2017), the John Lewis advert is the most viewed Christmas advert so far. Marks and Spencers aren’t too far behind, although their advert was released three days before the John Lewis advert.

Screen Shot 2017-11-16 at 17.50.06

Search volume

With November 2017’s data not currently available, we’ve compared the search volumes from 2015 and 2016 for “Christmas advert” and [brand + ‘Christmas advert’] to get an insight into how the Christmas ad craze affects people’s searches.

We used keywords including six of the largest brands who create Christmas adverts, including John Lewis, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Marks and Spencers and Amazon.

Due to the searches mainly occurring around a certain month, we’ve looked at the volume of searches in November, rather than average monthly searches.

The search volumes show that the anticipation lies in November as this is when most of the adverts are released and most talked about. During the lead up to Christmas, these adverts are eagerly awaited and are now, some may argue, a part of Christmas tradition here in the UK.

With the total number of monthly searches for ‘Christmas advert’ and all the branded variants increasing from 260,720 in November 2015 to 856,600 in November 2016, it’s clear that Christmas adverts are gaining more traction each year.

Cashing in on this increase in popularity, it’s estimated that this year brands will spend £6 billion on Christmas advertising, an increase of £4 million from last year’s £5.6 billion. More coverage will create even more awareness, in turn increasing searches.

Search volume broken down by brand:

Screen Shot 2017-11-16 at 17.51.28

With John Lewis being a fan favourite, searches for their Christmas advert have risen over by over 500,000 in a single year. This may be because, for some people, the yearly John Lewis advert marks the official beginning of the Christmas period.

The Sainsbury’s advert has remained strong with 110,000 searches in both 2015 and 2016. Could Sainsbury’s be a close competitor for creating meaningful and sincere ads?

Since their spine-tingling Christmas truce ad, Sainsbury’s have taken a step towards light-hearted fun. This year the ad features real-life customers and workers in a catchy sing-a-long video that looks more like a Youtube video than a traditional TV advert. This digital styling may be an attempt to take advantage of the current video trend on social media at the moment.

Amazon picked up traction with their heartwarming advert last year featuring a friendship between a priest and an imam, whilst their ad this year has caused quite a stir with claims that the advert ‘ruins Christmas’. People have criticised that it’s spoiling the festive season for children by showing that – spoiler alert! – Santa Claus isn’t real.

This may be reflected in the search volumes for November. As the controversy and extra coverage from media outlets creates more awareness of the ad, we predict search volumes for November of this year for Amazon Christmas advert will be higher than previous years. 

Know your Christmas audience

Where did you first see the 2017 John Lewis Christmas advert? Was it on TV during the Gogglebox ad break on 10 November along with 3 million other UK viewers? Or was it on YouTube? Or facebook? Did you stumble across it by accident? Or did you Google it, having been sucked into the Christmas advert hype?

The way that people consume Christmas adverts is changing, and we wonder how this affects the creative process that goes into them. With brands spending millions of pounds and many months on their Christmas ad campaigns, are they missing a trick by still thinking of them as “TV” adverts?

Does the customer’s mindset change when they go from a passive armchair viewer to an active consumer of the advert, searching for a particular brand’s Christmas content? Can brands capitalise on this? And if so, how?

To date, more than 26 million people have viewed last year’s Buster the Boxer John Lewis advert on Youtube and according to SocialBakers this represents only 40% of online views. Their 2016 social media analytics revealed that 90% of all interactions and 60% of all online views of Christmas TV adverts were via Facebook.

These are huge viewing numbers from a more pre-engaged audience than passive TV viewers. Surely brands would be mad not to use this to their advantage.


In my opinion, Sainsbury’s are in the lead with their shift towards YouTube-style content for their Christmas advert. It resembles a homemade singalong music video, and a click through to a karaoke version- catering for a predominantly online audience. This is a great example of the creative process beginning with the audience and platform it will be most viewed on. It also crucially keeps the magic of the Christmas advert, the feel-good family warmth and fun that is at the heart of this genres’ success. It is a YouTube video first and a TV advert second.

The Argos advert has a built-in “Shop Now” button at the end of the online video, encouraging immediate online conversions.

Debenhams’ Cinderella story is a classic TV advert but is also supported with the hashtag #youshall, and offline marketing such as carrier bags branded with the “You Shall” slogan and a predicted shopping frenzy for the Jenny Packham glittery slipper available online and in store.

I’m already looking forward to seeing how online sales are affected by brands being aware of their online audience and how they take it further next year. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the creative planning process for these adverts!

Our top 5 Christmas adverts

Natalie Howard, Digital PR Specialist votes for the Amazon advert as her favourite

“Don’t get me wrong – I love a soppy family Christmas advert, complete with lump-in-the-throat music as much as anyone, but I LOVE this year’s Amazon advert.

Amazon has addressed the ‘hands-off’ nature of Christmas shopping online – there are no sparkling lights or merry mobs of shoppers, just you, sitting on the bus (or more likely at home in your pants), shopping for your cute niece (panic buying gifts for distant relatives).

They have given a glimpse of the inner mechanics of Amazon distribution, which must be a dull sight, but the advert makes it as magical as a factory full of elves. The singing boxes rival Moz the Monster for cuteness and the Roger Hodgson soundtrack is awesome.

Now, instead of feeling guilty about my impersonal amazon parcel reaching Auntie Vicky in Australia wrapped in dull brown paper, I will instead image it singing its way there cheerfully and making Auntie Vicky’s Christmas.”

(Music Credit in Video: Roger Hodgson)

Max Kinsella, Content Executive votes for the Tesco advert as his favourite.

“Tesco take the idea of a Christmas advert and go back to basics, creating a heart-warming experience with no gimmicks. It properly encapsulates the feeling of Christmas at home: mums trying to keep the lid on a serious amount of pressure, backseat chefs telling you what you should be doing and small hiccups in the preparation of dinner (in the form of giblets.)

But my favourite part is the dad sunken in his armchair, Christmas hat still on, going for yet some more food. His reluctant ‘Oh, go on then’ perfectly sums up that Christmas feeling we all know so well – eating until you fall asleep, waking up and eating some more. For eating yourself into a food coma, not material possessions is the ‘Spirit of Christmas’.”

Sophie Eldon, Project Manager votes for the M&S advert as her favourite.

“Starring the much-loved Christmas character Paddington Bear, M&S have opted for a classic, heartwarming advert that encapsulates the Christmas spirit. The advert is a lot less product heavy compared to previous M&S Christmas ads, which I think is great as it’s not an obvious sales pitch. 

Without sounding really cheesy, Christmas is all about families coming together. M&S clever decision to choose the well known and family loved character Paddington Bear allows people of all ages to connect and enjoy the advert together.”

Katie Moore, Content Manager votes for the Waitrose advert as her favourite:

“Waitrose this year has taken the top spot for me. Why? Well, I am all for a fantastic storyline in an advert and conveying a heartfelt message. For me, the 2017 Waitrose advert is exactly what Christmas is all about – celebrating it with friends and family, without all the fuss of decorations and presents. It’s the only one, in my opinion, this year that’s tapping into that nostalgic messaging to evoke the magic of the festive season.

Going into 2018 I do believe more advertisements will tap into the storytelling phenomenon and really hit hard on their audience’s pain points or values to convey a more powerful, heartfelt message. The problem with adverts is audiences are turning off, so unless it’s brilliantly clever or anticipated it’s getting harder to cut through the noise.

Perhaps in 2018, we’ll see more brands focussing on just social media adverts rather than designed for TV which may bring more exciting formats such as 360 videos, which will add that element of excitement to the mix. I think this year’s Christmas adverts show just that, with more brands pushing budget towards their end of year showstopper they are really going to have to keep pushing the boat out and going that one step beyond of the competition.”

Mellisa Hutchins, Content Executive for the John Lewis advert as her favourite:

“Every year I look forward to seeing what John Lewis has in store for their Christmas advert. Yet again, they have not let me down. This year, there is something so innocent about the relationship between the child and Moz the Monster that it tugs at the heartstrings. For me, Moz the Monster is a reminder of what Christmas really means – selflessness.

In my opinion, there aren’t enough adverts these days that make you think about the impact you can have on another person. Instead, they try and force you to buy an endless amount of products that you are never going to use.

Moz the Monster encapsulates all that is good and selfless in the world, and something so pure as this should be an example to all. And as for the £7 million that John Lewis spent on creating the ad, well maybe that was a tad extreme. That aside, I really do think that John Lewis will get the top spot this Christmas. How could they not with an adorable imaginary monster?”


Tweet us at @Honcho_Search or comment below letting us know your favourite Christmas advert of 2017! 

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