5 of the Best Holiday Ads & What We Love About Them

December 12, 2019

If you’re anything like most small business people, finding inspiration for new marketing and advertising campaigns can be difficult.

It’s easy to develop a set-it-and-forget-it approach, allowing the same campaigns or ads to run for years.

But that won’t break through the noise of today’s cluttered marketplace.

You need a unique approach. A burst of creativity.

The best way to do that, as Steve Jobs said, is to steal. We don’t mean committing a criminal act, of course. But by digging into popular holiday ads and marketing campaigns, your business can find ideas, emotions and inspiration that can be repurposed for your own campaign.

To get you started, here are five of the best holiday ads we’ve seen and advice on how you can apply the same principles to your advertising regardless of the time of year.

1. Starbucks

Holiday cups have been a part of Starbucks’ marketing strategy for more than 20 years.

As the largest coffee shop chain in the United States with more than 14,000 locations, the unveiling of the cups each year signals the start of the holiday season to many people, as well as the availability of seasonal drinks (Peppermint Mocha, anyone?).

Starbucks further capitalizes on the power of its holiday cups by creating new designs each year. Each one is beautiful and unique, and they often spark conversations on social media from faithful patrons.

Starbucks also wisely incorporates these cups into all of its holiday ads and marketing, whether it’s a TV commercial, print ad or a photo on social media.


How To Make This Idea Work For You

You probably don’t own a multi-billion-dollar company like Starbucks. But you can still create traditions that connect with your customers around holidays or seasons.

If you’re a tax services company, you could create a customized folder each year to hold client tax returns. Maybe you could even incorporate a roundup of current events from the year into the design.

This may not sound as exciting as a festive cup full of sweetened coffee. However, it can still provide what author and marketing expert Jay Baer calls a talk trigger, which pushes individuals to organically share thoughts about your business with others.

2. Hershey’s Kisses

Hershey’s “Christmas Bells” ad debuted two decades ago in 1989. Since then, it has aired every holiday season, making it the longest-running commercial from the chocolate manufacturer.

That’s because this 15-second spot works well on a number of levels.

First, the colors of the holiday Kisses and the tree shape develops an immediate association with Christmas. Second, the choice of an easily-recognizable song, “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” is played by a bell choir, which evokes memories of Christmas bells and holiday concerts for many viewers. Finally, the Kiss at the end of the spot adds a dash of humor by seeming to wipe sweat from its brow after its harrowing solo.

Hershey’s has further capitalized on this well-known ad by creating an interactive Instagram Stories project in 2018. People were able to play and hear new bell sounds, create a video using the bell sounds and then share it on playthekisses.com.

How To Make This Idea Work For You

Your product or service may not come in holiday colors. But you can still find creative ways to incorporate seasonal music or colors into your ad.

If you own a home improvement store, for example, you could promote Fourth of July savings by arranging tools or other items into an American flag design. The image could then be used for social media posts, or print and digital ads.

For a service business, consider making a video with team members each singing one line of a popular holiday song. Then piece it all together to create a humorous video for social media or an email newsletter.

The goal is to find ways to incorporate seasonal elements into your marketing and advertising campaigns to remind customers about your business and humanize it without creating an overly commercialized message.

3. Harvey Nichols


Most of us know that feeling of opening a gift and receiving something we (A) don’t want; (B) don’t need; or (C) flat-out don’t like.

As polite individuals, we still say thank you. And, if you’re like 72% of adults in this survey from luxury British department store Harvey Nichols, you don a “gift face.” In other words, you feign excitement, happiness or gratitude to spare the feelings of your loved one.

That’s why this multichannel campaign from 2015 is so clever.

By capitalizing on this universal truth, Harvey Nichols taps into our desire to not foist a similar “giftface” experience on someone we love.

How To Make The Idea Behind This Holiday Ad Work For You

What emotion do you want your customers to experience? For Harvey Nichols, the emotion was satisfaction and confidence that customers found the right gift for their loved ones.

This could translate a variety of ways for different businesses.

Let’s say you own an agency that offers homeowners’ insurance. Your clients want to be assured that they have the right coverage for their home. You want them to feel calm, confident and have peace of mind. So a print or digital advertisement showing a home disaster, like a flooded basement, with a woman who appears unruffled and the tagline, “She’s not worried. She’s covered,” would provide an eye-catching image while also evoking emotional peace of mind.

4. Budweiser

Clydesdales have been associated with the Budweiser brand for more than 80 years. It all started in 1933, when a six-horse Clydesdale hitch was sent to New York to commemorate the repeal of Prohibition.

So it made sense for the brand to incorporate the famed horses into many of its holiday ads, including this well-known commercial that aired in 1987.

This campaign works so well because the imagery powerfully encapsulates the feelings of the holiday season by sharing a scene familiar to us either in real life and in our favorite Christmas movies. Horses march through snow-covered roads. Backgrounds show warmly-lit homes decorated for Christmas and evergreen trees dusted with snow, all within red or green frames.

These are reasons why the Clydesdales were featured in the brand’s holiday commercials for two decades following the 1987 commercial. And while they are no longer part of the commercials, Budweiser still incorporates the horses into their holiday packaging and digital campaigns.


How To Make This Idea Work For You

Budweiser incorporated an element associated with its brand – the Clydesdales – into holiday ads that captured the nostalgia and warmth of the season.

You can do the same by examining the elements associated with your brand. It could be a historic building or sign, a well-known business owner or a catchphrase shared with clients.

For example, a local bookstore known for its inviting atmosphere could incorporate its interior features into an advertising campaign.

Over the winter, the bookstore could feature the reading nook or a fireplace in ads or social media posts. During the summer, the store could partner with a nearby coffeeshop to offer a discount on books for every iced coffee purchase. This could then be promoted with digital and social ads, as well as in local print publications and radio spots.

5. Folgers

“Peter Comes Home for Christmas” originally aired in 1986. It was so successful that it ran for more than 10 years until 1998, and then again in an edited format from 2004 to 2005.

And it’s easy to see why.

This commercial hit straight to the heart of the holidays by showing the sweet homecoming of a beloved brother and son early on Christmas morning. By the end, you can’t help but have warm fuzzies as you remember your true Christmas wish is to simply spend time with your loved ones.

The cheese factor is present as the son brews Folgers coffee to wake up his family. But it wasn’t too out of the ordinary since many of us do wake up to the smell of coffee (albeit typically from pre-programmed coffeemakers), and many families do enjoy coffee together during the holidays.

How To Make This Idea Work For You

The greatest lesson of this commercial is to tell a heartwarming, relatable story that involves a product or service but keeps promotion subtle.

Let’s say you’re a contractor who specializes in remodeling. You could show a mother with her child in a beautiful nursery. Different angles would reveal design elements in the background like crown molding, a large closet and a built-in dresser. But the focus remains on the mother, following her throughout different tasks in her home. The tagline would be, “Your space should reflect your life.”

Following the story of your customers, rather than the story of your product or service, will make your ads more interesting and memorable.

Finding Inspiration from Holiday Ads

Each of these campaigns does a great job of capturing the emotion of the holidays and the winter season. They focus on the customers rather than the companies’ products or services.

Take some time to evaluate your current marketing and advertising campaigns. Ask yourself:

  • What advertising and marketing campaigns do I like the most?
  • How could we tell a more interesting story?
  • What emotions do we want to evoke from customers?
  • What seasons or holidays are important to my business or my customers?

The answers to these questions can provide an endless source of inspiration for your advertising and marketing campaigns.

Because while you may not have a million-dollar marketing budget, you can still, as Steve Jobs said, steal from the best.


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Fresh Creative is a full-service digital marketing agency serving international, national, and local clients. Local areas include Lebanon, Hershey, Harrisburg, York, Lancaster, Lititz and Reading, Pennsylvania.