W e are feeling decidedly holiday here at The Mark—our tree is up and our IKEA fairy light haul has paid off—coming into the office now feels like entering our very own Santa’s Grotto. We’ve had our Christmas Party (we’re official Escape Room heroes!) and coffee chocolate buying has increased three-fold. But there’s something else getting us in the festive mood this year, and it’s the increasing number of excellent holiday videos making their way onto our newsfeed.

They’ve made us laugh, cry, but most importantly they got us thinking… does it pay to invest in holiday brand marketing? We think it does. And so do the European and the UK brands. They are already leagues ahead of North America in terms of spend and commitment to holiday as a key brand marketing initiative. It is estimated that UK companies will spend $10 billion on brand marketing in the run-up to Christmas—that’s $550m more than in 2015. Canadian and American companies have been slower to follow suit, but with our feeds full of UK or European holiday videos we wondered… what makes a truly effective holiday brand video? We’ve compiled our Top 5 Holiday Brand Videos of 2016 below.

5. Westjet – Fort McMurray

The only Canadian brand video on our list, West Jet’s latest campaign brings the holiday message much closer to home. Focusing on the devastating fires that swept through Fort McMurray back in May, the campaign attempts to bring some Christmas cheer to residents who are still coming to terms with the aftermath of the disaster.

Shot in documentary style the video opens with residents emotionally describing the impact the fires have had on their lives. In distinctive West Jet fashion, (the company surprised a whole Dominican town with presents for their 2015 campaign), they give the residents an outdoor holiday party and a much appreciated gift—a personalised Christmas bauble containing a complimentary flight.

West Jet have become synonymous with their effective Content & Cause Marketing campaigns over the past few years. All with a common theme—bringing joy and happiness to customers and the general public alike.  Back in 2013 their holiday campaign was one of the most watched viral ads worldwide, exceeding its view goal of 500k by 7,000%. West Jet’s sales rose by 86% that year—an excellent example of the effect a successful holiday campaign can have on profits. This year’s video is trending very well with many shares on social, and glowing and positive comments from across Canada, such as, “Wow, I’m crying. I think we will always fly WestJet in the future.” Now that is some powerful brand loyalty from one video.

From our point of view—and we seem to be the cheese that stands alone on this one—we felt that the video was a bit heavy-handed with the “The Grinch” style VO, and were left scratching our heads as to whether a party and a flight (to where?) were really the best way to address the Fort McMurray tragedy. Since the previous WestJet videos were so incredibly well thought out and poignant, this one felt, well… a little less so. Plane tickets for people who lost everything? Well, it is the holiday season, and maybe a vacation away from reality is just what they need. Still, well done Westjet, but it’s not our top pick for this year.

4. John Lewis – #Bustertheboxer

In just 5 weeks Buster the Boxer has over 22 million views on YouTube. Created for British retailer John Lewis, the highly anticipated video follows a little girl named Bridget who loves to bounce, and when her parents buy her a trampoline for Christmas they realise she’s not the only one with a passion for jumping….cue Buster the Boxer (and his woodland friends).

Alongside broadcast spots, the campaign has its own hashtag #BusterTheBoxer, as well as its own dedicated area on the John Lewis website with links to Buster and Friends merchandise, and a live feed of their Twitter account. The campaign is also being supported across Snapchat with exclusive filters available at all of their stores throughout the holiday season.

The 2015 John Lewis holiday campaign cost over $11 Million to produce (2016 figures are not yet available), but the company estimates that since 2012 its sales have increased more than 35 per cent thanks to the success of their holiday advertising. We were pretty excited to see the newest installment from John Lewis here at The Mark—and they didn’t disappoint with this warm and wonderful spot.

We’ve read some bizarre comments that people were upset because the spot implied Santa didn’t exist, that is wasn’t Christmassy enough, that it amounted to animal cruelty… or our favourite from The Guardian “… A sledgehammer allegory for Donald Trump. A woman who gets shoved aside by an unthinking, self-interested animal.. .”

Unlike some of the earth-bound curmudgeons out there we loved the notion that joy can be experienced in the smallest ways by any creature. The fun the animals are clearly having is beautiful to watch even if we know it’s not based on reality.

The holidays are supposed to be a magical time, so we say some people need to lighten up and enjoy the festive cheer.

3. H&M – Come Together

When you’re a globally recognised brand like H&M, there’s some serious pressure to create a holiday commercial which delivers. So what better way to make an impression than to bring award winning director Wes Anderson and actor Adrien Brody on board…on board the H&M Winter Express to be precise.

Shot in Wes’ signature quirky style, the campaign acts as both a holiday commercial celebrating togetherness and also as a promotional tool for their upcoming collection. H&M’s 2016 commercial feels like more of a short film rather than an advert, branding is kept minimal throughout and it taps into festive cheer. Created by Adam&Eve/DDB, this is Branded Content at its finest with an award winning director, a touching Christmas message and a way to subtly showcase their latest collect.

We had a bit of a mixed reaction to this one in the office. Some loved how beautifully shot it was and the endearing story of everyone coming together for the one young boy all on his own on Christmas. While others felt it was a bit odd, empty and devoid of emotion and just a vehicle to showcase their new line of clothes— with an ending that was a bit of lunchbag letdown.

The lovers of this one outweighed the naysayers, which is why it ended up as #3 overall on our list.

2. Marks & Spencer – Mrs. Claus

Another British retailer getting our attention this holiday season is Marks & Spencer, who focused their attention on an elegant and extremely sophisticated Mrs. Claus. Directed by Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech” & “Les Miserables”) the video sees Mrs. Claus on her own Christmas Eve mission, after she receives a letter from a little boy wanting to surprise his sister with a new pair of sneakers. The video steps away from our traditional perception of Mrs. Claus, a rotund doting housewife, and portrays her as an unflappable, glamorous, helicopter flying badass— a big thumbs up from us.

Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, executive director of customer, marketing at M&S.com, said: “She (Mrs. Claus) epitomises the huge efforts our customers put in to making the festive season special and represents the love and togetherness that customers want to feel and see in abundance at Christmas.”

This spot’s message of family love, despite the fights and disagreements, brings home that warm and fuzzy Christmas feeling that epitomizes the holiday for many of us. And we loved the rethinking of Mrs. Claus into a modern day, strong heroine instead of the smiling older lady baking cookies while trying to fatten up Santa.

She’s a three dimensional, smart and sophisticated character played by Janet McTeer, an established British actress—and we love her! The focus on this new Mrs. Claus, combined with the well told story, the excellent direction and cinematography made this video one of our top picks this year.

M&S has been hit with declining profits over the past few years and it is hoped that they’ll win back some core customers with their latest campaign. The spot is the last Christmas campaign by agency RKCR/Y&R for the retailer. Grey London will take over the account next year—no pressure guys!

1. Allegro – English for Beginners

When rumours started circulating about a Polish video featuring the world’s most adorable grandpa, we knew it was going to be emotional. The video, created for Polish Auction website Allegro, documents a Grandpa’s dedication to learn English ahead of meeting his grandchild. It has everything a fantastic Christmas advert needs, a loveable main character, parts that make us smile, a relatable family theme, and an ending that makes us cry and smile in unison.

The heartwarming video, has amassed over 1,200 comments on its Facebook page, nearly all of which Allegro has responded to. It’s got nearly 13 million views in on YouTube—that’s just 50% less than John Lewis—and we think it’s safe to say that Allegro probably didn’t spend over $10 million dollars on this campaign.

It’s wonderful to see that this humble and genuine brand video with brilliant storytelling, beautiful direction and minimal branding is really hitting the mark with viewers. The brand is used to frame the video, but doesn’t interfere or detract from the story—something many brands find it hard not to do. But the fantastic response proves that viewers do respond to a great story and will remember the brand that told it.

It’s a fantastic example of the underdog coming in and stealing the limelight from the big players! It’s official—at The Mark we agree with just about everyone we talked to—we think it’s the best Christmas advert of 2016—hands down!

All in all 2016 has been rollercoaster year, but Holiday Branded Content is cheering us all up and getting us excited for Christmas. The arena where brands can tell stories that people react to. Some of the most popular and loved videos here are examples where the brand gets out of the way and lets the storytelling delight and inspire their customers. And if the gushing comments on the WestJet video are any indication, storytelling, not the hard sell, resonates with consumers on a level that is pretty hard to ignore.

Happy Holidays from all of us at The Mark!


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