Brands that referenced Covid in Christmas ads turned off consumers

Amazon saw the biggest slump in its performance between 2019 and 2020 in System1 testing.

Amazon: consumers may not have appreciated reminders of the year's challenges
Amazon: consumers may not have appreciated reminders of the year's challenges

The Covid-19 pandemic has dictated daily life in 2020 to such an extent that it was no surprise a number of major brands – including Amazon, Tesco and Asda – chose to reference it in one way or another in their Christmas ads.

But according to a new ranking of ads’ emotional impact from System1, they were, in most cases, unwise to do so. The effectiveness agency tested 112 ads with UK consumers, awarding each a star rating for emotional resonance from 1.0 to 5.9.

It found that brands that referenced Covid-19 in their ads achieved a rating on average 1.0 star lower than last Christmas – while those that avoided the subject all together increased their star rating by an average of 0.3.

System1 counted 14 of the 112 ads as referencing Covid-19; it did not include in this group those with a loose thematic connection to the challenges of the pandemic, such as John Lewis & Partners/Waitrose & Partners' "Give a little love" by Adam & Eve/DDB.

Asda, whose spot featured the brand’s “superfan” character Sunny talking about how “Christmas is going to be different this year” by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, experienced one of the biggest drops, from 4.0 stars to 2.7.

Tesco, meanwhile, may have been the favourite Christmas ad of registered Campaign readers, but the brand’s star rating of 4.1 was down 0.9 points on last year. The ad, "No naughty list" by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, featured quips on a number of lockdown phenomena, such as panic-buying toilet roll, and donating to celebrity fundraiser Captain Tom.

Amazon, which last year came second on System1’s list of the most effective Christmas ads with a score of 5.4, this year recorded a score of 4.9 stars for its story of French ballerina Taïs Vinolo, whose dreams were jeopardised by the crisis. The ad was created by Lucky Generals.

System1’s annual leaderboards were revealed as part of a joint webinar yesterday with ITV, The Nation’s Favourite Christmas Ads.

The top-ranked ad in both the UK and globally was Coca-Cola’s “Holidays are coming” by Wieden & Kennedy London, which first aired 25 years ago, and scored the maximum 5.9 stars. In the UK it was followed by “Kevin’s journey” by McCann, the fifth festive campaign featuring Aldi’s carrot mascot, which scored 5.9. DFS ad "A comfy carol", created by Krow and featuring Aardman characters Wallace & Gromit, was third on 5.5.

System1 pointed to both the Coca-Cola and Aldi campaigns as evidence of the power of creative consistency. Coke’s long-running ad has increased its star rating in each of the past three years, from a starting point of 4.9 in 2017. The “Kevin” campaigns meanwhile, have significantly grown in effectiveness, scoring just 3.4 in 2017 and 2018, but rising to 5.0 last year.

Jon Evans, chief marketing officer at System1, said: “The results this year have been incredibly revealing about the effectiveness of advertising after such a challenging period. The last thing we want is a reminder of the tough year we have had so this is definitely a case of the ‘old normal’ being preferred to the ‘new normal’.

“Despite everything we have faced as an industry this year, the data shows that creativity is alive and well with the average star rating actually going up from 3.0 star to 3.3 star making it the best Christmas yet.

"What is also clear is that ‘familiarity breeds contentment’ as both Aldi and Coke have demonstrated. The payback for brands who stick with a strong creative idea over time and leverage their fluent devices is significant.”

He continued: “It is clear that ads using Covid as its context saw a drop in effectiveness. The FaceTrace shows that any kind of reference creates sadness in the audiences which will pull the score down. With all the challenges this year what we needed was the comfort of the familiar, and the benefit of some Christmas escapism, rather than being reminded what a year we have had.”

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