How emotionally intelligent were the most talked about Christmas ads of 2020

Christine Obsborne - Head of Experience Design,

We believe emotionally intelligent brands behave with integrity, empathy and coherence, earning them trust which ultimately leads to more sales and repeat purchases. So when this year’s biggest Christmas ads from the well-known supermarkets hit our screens, we were keen to see which brands were able to emotionally connect with their viewers and which, if any, had got it wrong this year. 

In a quest to understand the most memorable, shareable and emotionally charged supermarket Christmas ads, we joined forces with Freemavens and Stack (two of our sister agencies at MSQ) to uncover insight into how the ads from Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Lidl, Asda, Morrisons, Aldi and M&S were making people feel.

Combining a blend of media tracking, social listening and data science, we were able to identify the most talked about Christmas adverts online. From here, our User Experience (UX) team utilised state-of-the-art facial expression analysis to closely track how viewers were reacting in real-time and how they really felt. After all, a facial expression is worth a thousand words.

Social tracking

Social listening tools provide a unique snapshot into the public minds of consumers. When it came to generating a social and organic search buzz, Aldi, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s were the clear winners vs Media Spend.

This buzz was clearly supported by a strong share of positive emotional sentiment too (as shown in the graph below):

Facial expression analysis

Using iMotions, our facial expression recognition software, we tracked viewers’ emotional response to each supermarket ad and were able to identify which of the most talked about ads were able to capture people’s attention and really tap into their emotions.

The Christmas ads that were the most talked about and talked about in a positive light largely triggered a feeling of joy alongside a good balance of other emotions too. Interestingly, the ads that evoked too much or not enough joy had far less impact.

Ads that were able to tell stories through peaks and troughs of emotions (whilst still focusing on one emotion at a time) had a stronger impact overall than those that had a stable balance of emotions throughout.

The Aldi Christmas ad 2020

Style: Animated

Main character: Aldi have been building a recognisable theme around Kevin the carrot for the last few years

Storytelling: A very strong single storyline around Kevin the carrot’s epic return home for Christmas

Balance of emotions: The Aldi ad came top for levels of engagement, holding viewers’ attention throughout. The storytelling element means we can see more concentrated peaks of emotion at key events throughout the ad. Whilst overall this advert shows the lowest amount of fear, this is concentrated around the time when Kevin the carrot and his hedgehog companion race towards the cliff. Anger and joy are prevalent and peak around that time too. Joy builds towards the end as we see Santa and Kevin arrive home safely.

Soundtrack: Adventure film score style music helps to build the emotional peaks and troughs

The Waitrose & John Lewis Christmas ad 2020

Style: Animated

Main character: The ad features lots of different characters

Storytelling: Lots of micro-stories make up the theme of give a little love rather than the strong single narrative that was played out in the brand’s TV ad last year

Balance of emotions: The emotional response is well balanced with some peaks as micro-moments of fear and sadness become micro-moments of joy. Lower on engagement overall than a lot of the other TV ads in general, engagement and joy both start to build around the mid-point of the ad when we see the heart-shaped haircut, as viewers start to make sense of the theme. Interestingly, this advert elicits more fear than all the adverts overall, but it is less concentrated in one place compared to what we recorded in the Aldi ad.

Soundtrack: A little Love by Celeste – Heart-warming and thematic

Sainsbury’s Christmas ad 2020

Style: A realistic Christmas during Covid-19

Main character: Embarrassing Dad

Storytelling: The story revolves around memories of a family Christmas – photos and home videos are played over a phone call between a Dad and his Daughter, giving a realistic depiction of what many people's Christmas might look like this year

Balance of emotions: The Sainsbury’s ad showed the second highest overall level of engagement. We saw a predominantly balanced response, but with a slight bias towards negative responses of anger and contempt (especially when Embarrassing Dad starts singing!)

Soundtrack: Ambient background music behind a phone call

Family gatherings fall flat

Despite many brands choosing to use 'the Christmas meal' as a set-piece to build their story around, the scenes showing families gathered around the dinner table seemed to miss the mark this year. Family meals elicited either little in the way of emotion or showed some levels of contempt and disgust – perhaps because the idea of the big Christmas meal in this form seems hard to comprehend for many people in the UK right now.

What we’ve learnt

Aldi and Waitrose were the strong winners, not only creating the biggest search and social buzz, but they both had a strong theme. This in turn built more concentrated peaks of different emotions, making these ads much more memorable for viewers. In essence, you could argue that these ads provide a level of escapism away from the pandemic.

The supermarket brands that were able to showcase a realistic view of Christmas this year were the ones that resonated better with viewers, compared to those that showed a “normal” or “traditional” family Christmas gathering - supporting our view that consumers responded better to complete escapism or realism, not fantasy.

You can learn more about how we use iMotions software to test everything from creative to websites here. If you’d like to talk to us about how we could help you, please get in touch.

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