Holiday advertising. It seems like a simple recipe. The just-add-water cake in an industry satisfied by nothing less than a hand-made crème brûlée. Mix snow or Santa Clause with ribbons and smiling families, throw in a reindeer, add Bring Crosby, snap your fingers and BAM. Instant holiday happy.
In that sense, then, holiday ads must be the easy, quick-hit projects of the advertising industry.
Um, well. No. Not really.
There is clearly a right and wrong way to do a holiday ad. So, out of total denial for the end of the holiday season, please enjoy this list of the NAUGHTY and NICE Christmas ads of 2014.
3. “Magic” — Kohl’s
Starting off the naughty list is Kohl’s with their spot called “Magic.” It opens with a cliché moment of a father trying to connect with his tuned-out son by taking him to a place his father took him as a boy. They arrive somewhere remote and get out of the car. Some dirty, disheveled bearded man feeds a bunch of reindeer (is that supposed to be Santa?). Then, one of the reindeer makes some sort of telepathic connection with the boy and flies into some fog.
Why is the dad walking away at the end? His son finally gets excited about something that isn’t his cell phone, and instead of sharing the moment with him, he walks away wearing some smug, knowing grin. Granted, the kid catches up with him right after, but still. It just didn’t feel right.
2. “Santa Karma” — Infiniti
Infiniti takes second place on the naughty list this year after their less-than-inspiring ad called “Santa Karma” for their holiday sales event featuring a black Q50. Watch, and be disappointed.
Okay, we can learn a lot about Infiniti’s target market based on the curly haired man. Apparently, Infiniti customers are successful, self-righteous businessmen who help others as a means to satisfy their own, personal goals (in this case, kissing up to Santa Clause). And since they’re clearly such good people, they deserve to reward themselves with a new Infiniti Q50 this year. Because they earned it by doing so many good things. Because they’re so good.
It’s just sad. If advertising mirrors society’s values to stay relevant, then what does this say about us? When I saw this for the first time, I think I rolled my eyes more than Red Foreman on That ‘70s Show.
In the spirit of fairness, and trying to look at this objectively, the ad probably resonated with its intended audience fabulously. They clearly know their demographic, and I’m sure it made potential Infiniti owners smile and feel inspired. The copywriter in me understands why they wrote it this way.
However, the idealist in me was annoyed.
1. “Alice in Marshmallow Land” — Target
The most bizarre Christmas ad of 2014 has to go to Target with their spot called “Alice in Marshmallow Land.” This one is almost painful to watch.
This ad does nothing for people with any real buying power. Target walks viewers through a cliff-notes version of Alice in Wonderland in just one minute using a cute kid, made-up toys and drugged marshmallows — and then it ends. Viewers watch the entire spot without learning anything interesting about Target, and that’s a problem.
A Christmas commercial has one job: make an emotional connection relating to tradition or family. It can appeal to humor, love, happiness, adherence to cherished traditions, and more, but it has to make a connection. This story is shallow, showing little effort to make any connection on a deep, emotional level, and that’s why it fails.
All right, have your excuses/tissues ready, because the following ads did exactly what the Target ad couldn’t do. They make you feel.
3. “The Hoop” — Dick’s Sporting Goods
I can’t remember one commercial for Dick’s Sporting Goods, but I’m going to remember this beautiful one-minute spot called “The Hoop” for years. It effortlessly tells the story of a father watching his daughter grow up by focusing on the one activity that brought them together the most: basketball.
The lyrics are weaved perfectly into the story as well, especially that moment when, “I wish I had held her longer,” plays right as she embraces her parents, wishing them goodbye before she heads out on her own.
The father sinks one last shot as the ad comes to a close, and it’s a touching moment that drives home the whole story. He bought the hoop so he could teach his daughter how to play. And by simply buying the hoop, he created more memories than he ever thought possible.
2. “Monty the Penguin” — John Lewis
For the second-nicest ad of the 2014 holiday season, we have to take a trip across the Atlantic. It’s a two-minute spot for John Lewis, a chain of upscale department stores located in Great Britain. “Monty the Penguin” may not win the top spot on my list, but it definitely wins a gold star for being the cutest and most creative ad of the holiday season.
Nothing beats the impact of that shot when the reality of Monty the Penguin is finally revealed. The whole story seems like a tale of fantasy right up until that point — the moment when a mental switch clicks from “doesn’t get it” to “gets it.” The boy’s imagination tells the story right up until Christmas morning, and then, we finally get to see Monty through Mom’s eyes. It’s fantastic.
But it loses to my number-one pick for one reason: it’s an amazing story, but it barely includes the brand. I’ll remember this ad as, “that awesome commercial with the penguin,” not, “that sweet John Lewis ad with the kid and his pet penguin.”
1. “The Song” — Apple
And now, the winner of the nice list goes to Apple and their total cry-fest called “The Song.” If you haven’t seen it, prepare yourself. It’s wonderful.
The adorable story is only a piece of what makes this ad so fantastic. Apple makes its brand bigger than the stylish manufacturer of electronics we’ve all come to know. They demonstrate how it’s possible to immortalize a memory that’s been locked away in obsolete technology, and use a myriad of Apple products to do it. It weaves the products into the story to the point where it wouldn’t have been possible to create the girl’s thoughtful gift without them.
Put simply, it’s brilliant. And it absolutely gets my vote as the best ad of the 2014 holiday season.