Battle of the Christmas ads: John Lewis, Aldi, and Norway’s postal service

December 2, 2021

Written by Benedict Nicholson

We’ve officially reached the last month of 2021, and as we approach the countdown to the end of the year, it’s that time again when brands are beginning to compete for the honor of who has the best Christmas ads. 

In the UK at least, this has become a sort of mini Super Bowl ads competition, where the biggest brands and agencies join forces to make us laugh, cry, and everything in between with the most cinematic entries they can muster. 

A successful ad only has as much impact as it does when people talk about it, and these ads are designed to do just that — to create conversation. To get a sense of which ads have had the biggest impact since their airing, we looked back at the earned media coverage — and the public interest in that coverage — of Christmas ads since October to determine the big winners.

Christmas ads coverage since October 1st

Normally we wouldn’t go back this far when looking at the top Christmas ads, but this year we were forced to in order to mention an outlier.

Graph of media and public interest in reporting about Christmas ads since October 1, 2021
On October 1st, e-commerce site very.co.uk launched what was billed as the year’s first Christmas ad, airing on national broadcaster ITV nearly three full months before the big day. If this was a ploy to avoid the melee of coverage that comes as Christmas approaches and steal the spotlight for themselves, it worked to a certain extent, at least in generating media coverage.  There were 65 articles written about Very’s ad, but the needle of public interest barely moved, with almost no sharing or engagement with those articles, as the chart above shows.
Most of the action has come from the beginning of November onwards, and there have been three distinct spikes since then.  The first came with the release of the Christmas ad of one of the pioneers of the genre — John Lewis around November 3rd. This was when media interest peaked and there was also a high level of public interest.
In mid-November there was a slew of competitors releasing ads that saw another rise in both media and public interest.  Finally, at the end of November came the biggest spike in public interest, despite only a modest media interest rise. This was thanks to an ad from the Norwegian postal service featuring a gay Santa. Let’s take a deeper look at the stories that drove the most engagement.

The top stories 

Unsurprisingly given the level of public interest in the coverage of the ad, the most engaged stories were about the ad for the Norwegian postal service which featured Santa and his new boyfriend.

Table showing the top stories about Christmas ads in 2021
The top article was from UNILAD and had more than 34k engagements, while the second most engaged had 24k and came from Pink News. In fact, five of the top ten articles were for the Norwegian postal service.
While it was written about a lot, John Lewis’s ad only had one article about it that made the top ten, which came from The Sun and pointed viewers to where they could watch it. 

Aldi performed very well this year, and articles about it compared it favorably to John Lewis’s effort, with reviewers praising it for its many layers and for its humor.

Even Christmas ads couldn’t escape Covid this year, and Tesco’s sparked some controversy by showing Santa shopping at the supermarket using his vaccine passport. The ad sparked complaints and boycott threats from anti-vaxxers in particular, which caused some hilarity on social media and messages of support from others.

Those are the most engaged stories overall, but which brands dominated the top 100?

Top brands that appeared in the top 100 stories about Christmas ads

In the top 100 articles about Christmas ads, the Norwegian postal service was once again the runaway winner, though it was a closer race than you might guess given the table above.

Pie chart showing the brands mentioned in top 100 christmas ad stories

There were 27 stories about that ad, with perennial high achiever John Lewis getting 19. Supermarkets Aldi and Tesco shared the spoils with 16 each. Other brands that appeared in the top 100 included Disney with six stories, Marks & Spencer’s with four, and McDonald’s with two. 

While the postal service was not so far ahead in terms of the number of stories written, the engagement level was well ahead of its rivals. The 27 stories written about its ad had a total of 180k engagements, while John Lewis had 63k, Aldi had 57k, and Tesco coverage had 51k, meaning the Norwegian postal service had as much engagement as its three closest competitors combined. 

This shows why it’s so important to measure both the public interest and media interest in a topic, as they often tell quite different stories.

So, while John Lewis had another successful year and cemented its place as a leader in the Christmas ad space, both Aldi and the Norwegian postal service saw significant attention paid to their campaigns and are serious contenders for the John Lewis crown.

While TV ads are important, influencers have become a crucial part of advertising in 2021. Check out our recent blog on the top Instagram influencers here.

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