Holiday ad campaigns tend to take a similar holly, jolly approach year after year, and often feature familiar sights like performances of The Nutcracker and shots of Santa popping down the chimney with presents.
The 2020 season, however, is far different from any other in recent memory. Covid-19 is affecting everything from how people interact to where they shop. The traditional tropes can sometimes feel out of place (would that many people really be able to watch the Nutcracker together in a theater?) or even somewhat questionable (shouldn’t Santa put on a mask before he comes down the chimney?).
Marketers have had to adjust their campaigns to address these issues, and while balancing inspiring holiday cheer with acknowledging a global pandemic has posed a challenge, it’s also sparked impressive creativity. By moving away from the tried-and-true approach this year—either overtly or subtly—many brands have discovered fresh ways to connect with audiences and spark emotion.
For example, these 10 brilliant holiday ads show how this strange season has brought out the best in marketers.
1. Amazon: The Show Must Go On
Many people have had dreams deferred in 2020 because of Covid-19. In its beautiful holiday ad about a young dancer, e-commerce giant Amazon highlights this sobering reality but also provides a hopeful message. While we might not have gotten exactly what we wanted this year, we can still triumph by persevering individually and coming together collectively.
2. PayPal: Make It One to Remember
PayPal’s holiday commercial has a similar theme to Amazon’s—it too features a young dancer dealing with the challenges of 2020—but its tone is quite different. The adorable ad from the financial services company showcases the great (and very funny) lengths a family will go to in order to ensure this unusual season is both safe and memorable for a little dance fan.
3. Walmart: America’s Cart
“This year was like any other … until it wasn’t.” That’s how Walmart starts off this moving holiday ad. The spot from the retailer smartly mixes uplifting music, product features, and heartwarming shots of people to show that while our shopping carts were very different this year from the norm, the thing that matters most—our connections with other people—are enduring.
4. TK Maxx: The Lil’ Goat
“Did you buy the goat a designer outfit?” asks the wife in this commercial from TK Maxx. “Yes, she’s had such a hard year,” replies the husband. That little back-and-forth captures the savvy approach the UK retailer takes with its holiday ad. The brand acknowledges that 2020 has been difficult. But rather than dwell on the downsides, it seeks to lift spirits with some much-needed absurdity.
5. Miller Lite: Farewell, Work Holiday Parties
Miller Lite takes things one step further by highlighting an upside of 2020: The absence of work holiday parties. The very funny (and somewhat creepy) seasonal ad from the beermaker showcases the pitfalls of many office celebrations—the forced celebratory flair, the bad DJs, etcera—and then ends with this nice note: “Here’s to more time with real friends.”
6. JOANN: Crochet Kitten Mittens with Phyllis and Vincent
Speaking of offices, this holiday spot from JOANN Fabric and Craft Stores features Phyllis from The Office living her best life in 2020. This adorable holiday ad shows the beloved character ostensibly “working” from home while actually concentrating on a crochet project for her Secret Santa exchange (along with her “Crochet Neighbor” Vincent).
7. Waitrose & John Lewis: Give a Little Love
While some brands decided to overtly address the strangeness of 2020 in their holiday ads, others took a different approach and focused on broad, timeless themes that are especially relevant this year. For example, in this gorgeous spot from UK retailer Waitrose & John Lewis the message is simple and enduring. “Give a little love; together we can make a big difference.”
8. McDonald’s: Inner Child
In this poignant ad, McDonald’s also focuses on a universal theme: how quickly children grow up. The food giant combines a beautiful cover of the song “Forever Young” with an animated story to show that while it may sometimes be hard to get tween and teen kids into the holiday spirit, the inner child remains in all of us.
9. Disney: From Our Family to Yours
Disney takes a similar approach to McDonald’s in this 2020 ad, and uses a combination of music and animation to tell the story of a girl, her grandmother, and growing up. Of course since this is Disney, the visuals are even richer and the heartstrings are tugged even harder (and the product placements are even more prominent).
10. Coca-Cola: Christmas Commercial 2020
Finally there’s Coca-Cola’s 2020 Christmas commercial. It also covers a timeless theme—a father’s desire to make his daughter happy for the holidays—but what makes it different is scale: The spot showcases stunning scenes from the sea, the desert, and even the North Pole. While the look is epic and timeless, the accompanying text is focused and perfect for 2020: “Be it in person, over an awkward video call, or just a quick message, making time for the ones you love is what makes Christmas truly the most special time of year, no matter how you do it.”