The best Christmas ads of all time

Right alongside carols, bells, twinkling lights, and evergreen trees, nothing signals the start of the holiday season like the arrival of the Christmas ads.

Recently we set out to find the absolute best commercials of all time, ever, and found that many of the most iconic and beloved ads are holiday-centric, up there with the other stars of the advertising world — Super Bowl commercials.

Many brands use the occasion to simply wish audiences a happy holiday, generating brand awareness and building goodwill in the process. Others aim to sell a product or more overtly promote the brand (it is the biggest shopping season of the year, after all!)

Whichever goal you have in mind, Biteable makes it simple to create your own ad, with our easy-to-use Christmas video ad templates. Check out a few of our favorites below:

Need some inspiration? Below we’ve rounded up the best Christmas ads of all time, but we also learned some things while we were doing it.

What makes a great Christmas ad?

Some of these ads are heartwarming, some are funny. Some are cinematic, others are simple as can be. But they all share the key elements that make an effective ad:

  • They evoke an emotional reaction. Whether that’s a warm feeling of nostalgia, a tug at the heartstrings, or making us chuckle. That makes these ads memorable, worth talking about, and worthy of sharing with others.

  • They communicate something about the brand’s values. This is particularly key at Christmastime. It’s a tough balance to strike — the goal of any advertising campaign is sales — but it’s also a season when many consumers are aware of the sometimes over-the-top commercialism of the holiday. Ads that try to capture or convey the “true meaning” of Christmas tend to work well. Themes of family, togetherness, and giving are especially common.

  • They capture the brand’s voice and identity. Whether fun and playful, classic and familiar, or thoughtful and heartwarming, the best ads communicate the spirit of the company, in order to appeal to the audience they want to reach.

  • They end with a call to action (usually). The conventional wisdom is that an ad must tell the viewer what they should do next (visit a website, buy a product, etc.) But Christmas ads are often more subtle. Sometimes they simply wish the viewer a “merry Christmas from X brand.” And that’s OK too! Christmas is a great time for brands to build trust and brand awareness, even if it doesn’t immediately lead to a purchase.

The best Christmas ads ever

John Lewis – “The Long Wait” (2011)

What Super Bowl commercials are in the US, Christmas ads are in the UK. They’re an event, with brands pulling out all the stops to debut memorable, sentimental campaigns. None more so than John Lewis.

We included the UK retailer’s 2013 ad in our list of the best animated commercials ever, but really, it’s tough to choose a favorite. We went with “The Long Wait” for being just so sweet (we’re not crying, you’re crying.) But do yourself a favor and watch runners-up “Monty the Penguin” and “Man on the Moon”.

Bonus: This year’s delightfully meta ad from Twitter UK pokes fun at the John Lewis phenomenon.

Hershey’s Kisses “Christmas Bells” (1989)

This iconic commercial has aired every holiday season since it first debuted in 1989. At just 15 seconds it’s short but sweet (much like a Hershey’s Kiss!)

Today it’s Hershey’s longest running commercial ever, and it remains as timeless as the candy itself. Which makes it all the more surprising that it wasn’t originally signed off on by the brand — an employee made the ad first, figuring he’d sell his boss on it later — and the rest is history.

Apple – “Misunderstood” (2013)

Apple’s Christmas ads typically highlight how their technology, so often accused of making us “tech-obsessed” and isolated, actually brings people together (see also: “The Song”).

This Emmy-winning iPhone ad conveys that message perfectly, with a switcheroo payoff that will almost certainly make you well up.

Anuncio Lotería de Navidad – “Justino” (2015)

Spain’s annual Christmas lottery is a beloved tradition dating back to 1812, and they’ve produced ads promoting it for years. But it wasn’t until 2015’s “Justino” that one went viral.

In beautiful Pixar-style animation, the ad tells the story of a night watchman at a mannequin factory, and the dayshift workers he doesn’t meet, but strives to connect with. The ad quickly racked up millions of views and won several Cannes awards, among other accolades.

M&M’s – “Faint” (1996)

This memorable campaign has aired every Christmas season for what seems like forever. As our wisecracking spokes-candies set out a bowl of (special holiday edition) M&M’s for Santa, they’re surprised to find that “he does exist.”

Thanks to the ad’s effective use of humor, the ad has stood the test of time, and even inspired a sequel some 21 years after Santa first fainted.

Unicef – “Three Wise Men” (2012)

Do we really need all the stuff we buy each other every year? Given that consumers return millions of items every year after Christmas, maybe not.

Instead of myrrh (is that what children like?) why not make a lifesaving donation? We love the use of humor in this ad from Unicef Sweden, as well as the message of giving back.

Folger’s Coffee – “Peter Comes Home For Christmas” (1986)

The “home for the holidays” theme is a popular one for Christmas ads, and this perennial favorite is a perfect example. When Peter makes his way home on Christmas morning, he surprises his family with, what else? The familiar smell of Folgers coffee.

Though Folgers was already a household name, the ad certainly didn’t hurt. It ran for over 17 years, making it one of the best known vintage Christmas ads.

Coca-Cola “Northern Lights” (1993)

Coke’s polar bears are iconic today, and have appeared in dozens of commercials since they first debuted during the 1993 Academy Awards. That spot, “Northern Lights” won instant acclaim with viewers and media.

The CGI animation was ahead of its time, and though it’s a bit rough today, the bears (who were inspired by their creator’s labrador puppy) remain as adorable as ever. The short, simple ad needed no words to convey the familiar feeling of cracking open a cold beverage.

Sainsbury’s – “1914” (2014)

This ad from the British grocery chain commemorates the true events of Christmas 1914, when during World War I a temporary truce found two enemy armies exchanging gifts and playing football together.

Viewers and critics were split on this ad. Many were touched, praising the moving story and cinematography. Others were offended, accusing the brand of exploiting one of the bloodiest wars in history for sales. Though it was produced in collaboration with the Royal British Legion, with proceeds from the chocolate bar depicted benefiting the organization, critics nonetheless found it insensitive.

Despite the controversy, we’ve included it here both because it was a very popular, successful ad, as well as a good lesson for any business considering sensitive subject matter for an ad.

Budweiser (1987)

This vintage Christmas ad from the King of Beers features the brand’s beloved clydesdale horses trotting through one snowy holiday scene after another.

It’s wholesome and nostalgic, with picturesque backgrounds and wagons full of Christmas trees. There’s not a beer in sight, just a simple message from the brand wishing viewers “the very best of everything this holiday season.”

WestJet – “Christmas Miracle” (2013)

WestJet got into the spirit of Christmas with this unique campaign, collaborating with Old Saint Nick himself to surprise 250 of the airline’s travelers with their Christmas wishes.

The video quickly went viral, topping 13 million views and bringing tears to many an eye. Best of all for the brand? While the big surprise was in the works for months, and required coordinated efforts from around 150 employees, the cost of the stunt was “a mere fraction” of what large brands typically spend on holiday campaigns — proving building some holiday goodwill doesn’t have to cost a lot.

Campbell’s – “Snowman” (1993)

Q: Does anything melt away the cold like a delicious hot bowl of Campbell’s soup?

A: No, nothing.

This long-running commercial is a winter favorite, featuring a cute little snowman who gradually melts away into a cute little boy, thanks to some steaming chicken noodle soup.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this visit from the Ghost of Christmas Ads Past! Check out Biteable’s ad maker and our holiday video ad templates to get started making your own Christmas ads for free!

Any classic Christmas commercials we missed? Tell us on Twitter @teambiteable!