Christmas ads 2021: the art of brand storytelling

The only people who work harder than Santa are the year-round marketing elves. Day-in, day-out we toil away trying to hit our targets. As we see out the end of another year, it’s a good time to look at the elements of our work that often get forgotten as we check off our to-do lists: brand storytelling.

As a content marketer, brand storytelling is at the heart of everything I do – but even for me, churning out new work can lead to these messages being forgotten.

It’s my job to turn Dotdigital from a faceless entity and give it a voice that connects with the humans that use and interact with our brand every day. Weaving together facts and emotions to evoke meaningful responses from our audience, I believe there’s no better source of inspiration than Christmas marketing campaigns.

Big brands have come to dominate the Christmas ad space. Every year, I wait excitedly to see what brands are going to come up with (as I’m sure many others do too). There’s always a hit and a miss and a brand that completely knocks it out of the park.

The ones that get it right perfectly encapsulate, not just the holiday spirit, but the feel of the day. They spark nostalgia, make you laugh, make you cry. What’s more, they’re memorable – and that’s why they’re the perfect inspiration for brand storytelling.

What is brand storytelling?

Brand storytelling uses a clear narrative to connect your brand to customers. It creates this connection using the values you share with your customers. A well-crafted brand story will help customers remember you and develop empathy which will ultimately create a long-standing bond between your brand.

Why is brand storytelling important?

Today everything is fast-paced and digitally-driven. Convenience and instant gratification drive modern consumption. Humanity in marketing is becoming increasingly scarce which, in turn, makes it more appealing to audiences.

Human voices and human faces are powerful tools in modern marketing. That’s why social media influencers wield so much power. They drive a deeper connection between brands, their products, and the real people who use and shop with them.

Your brand story works in the same way. It connects with the audience, pulls at their heartstrings, and makes you unforgettable.

What’s more, with a powerful, compelling brand story, you’re not just building a customer base, you’re building a tribe. A group of loyal brand advocates who will take every opportunity to recommend and brag about your brand experiences.

Christmas ads 2021: John Lewis & Partners

Predictable I know, but I had to start with John Lewis & Partners. Years of outstanding storytelling combined with beautiful music demands it so.

This year I excitedly waited for the big reveal. Were we going to get another lovable character like Monty the Penguin, Buster the Boxer, or Excitable Edgar (my favorite by far)?

Unfortunately, not. This year’s ad felt a bit lackluster, to be honest.

Usually, John Lewis & Partners is a strong performer, intrinsically linking their products with the spirit of Christmas, kindness, giving to others, and connecting with people. But this ad doesn’t seem to be ticking all the boxes.

Yes, it’s about friendship, connection, and acceptance but looking at the ad subjectively, as if I have no idea who John Lewis is, I struggle to understand what the brand is, what they do, and why I should shop with them. They seem to have forgotten the main point of brand storytelling: to connect customers to the brand.

*Side note: I also don’t get the tag line for the campaign: For a Christmas as magical as your first. Yes, it’s magical (well, sci-fi really), and the alien girl’s first Christmas, but it as the young boy is the main character, you’d think it’s talking about him and it’s clearly not his first Christmas

Christmas ads 2021: M&S Food

Let’s not lie, we don’t really anticipate M&S clothing ads, it’s all about M&S food. So, this isn’t just any Christmas ad, it’s an M&S food ad. (You get it? Sorry, I had to.)

Firstly, let’s talk about the impressive line-up. M&S wasn’t holding back employing the icon that is Dawn French and Tom Holland to voice their characters. That alone deserves kudos.

On to the brand story. Percy Pig is a national institution. Bringing the character to life for the first time with a fairy guide is a perfect sprinkle of Christmas magic. In fact, I think John Lewis & Partners tag line better supports this campaign than its own.

Percy looks at the M&S Food offerings with child-like wonder, while the fairy adds some grown-up humor that encapsulates its family-orientated story.

It’s by no means perfect but makes me smile.

Christmas ads 2021: isn’t a brand that instantly comes to mind when you think of Christmas ads, but I really enjoy this one.

They really understand the customer’s desire to indulge during the Christmas season and actively encourage it. It’s very tongue-in-cheek which I love. Showcasing its wide range of products there’s no confusion about what you can get when you visit its website.

After a couple of years of sadness and restrictions, this ad really is full of joy. Personally, I don’t shop with Very often, but I’m tempted to see what I can treat myself using a jolly merry excuse this year.

Christmas ads 2021: Aldi

Not only is Aldi now one of the UK’s top supermarkets, but it’s also rightfully earned its place as a highly-anticipated Christmas ad.

With loveable characters like Kevin the Carrot still around, Ebanana Scrooge is taking center stage this year. And, let’s be serious, what’s more Christmassy than the story of A Christmas Carol?

I love a play on words so Aldi had me at ‘A Christmas Carrot’ then they went all out with ‘Charles Chickens’, ‘Ebanana Scrooge’, and (my personal favorite) Marcus Radishford.

Once again, Aldi has smashed it out of the park with this one. They’ve brought to life the most important messages of A Christmas Carol – kindness and goodwill – sprinkled it with magic, highlighting the brand’s products, and communicated its support for families in need over the holiday season.

How to tell your brand story

So, how do we use these as inspiration for our own brand storytelling?

1. Characters

For every brand story, it’s important to remember your customer is the hero, your brand is simply the guide to help them achieve their goals.

M&S Food gets this. We’re Percy, excitedly looking for things that inspire and entice us. The fairy is M&S, the brand showing us the delights it has that can meet our needs.

2. Values

At the same time, it’s important to remember these are sale-driving ads. They focus on the items they want to sell during the holidays. A brand story doesn’t have to do this but it should encapsulate what you stand for. M&S is about treating yourself. Aldi is about helping its communities.

3. Conflict

Understanding the customer – as always – is key. What conflict brings them to your brand? What are they trying to achieve that you can resolve? For Ebanana Scrooge, he’s forgotten the importance of goodwill and helping his community. In Very’s ad, it’s the desire to indulge yourself during the season of giving.

4. Resolution

Let’s face it, no one likes a cliffhanger. Make sure your brand story has a clear resolution. How do you help the customer achieve their goals? This is going to be essential in convincing people to connect with your brand. They want to be able to visualize themselves on the other side.

Special mentions

I really wasn’t lying when I said I love Christmas ads. So far this year we’ve seen some really great work. I couldn’t wrap up this blog without a couple of special mentions.

Disney UK

Well done guys, you really tugged on the heartstrings with this one and re-emphasized your message around the importance of family, no matter how they come.

Sports Direct

Just pure fun. It snows at Christmas about as often as England wins the World Cup, but it’s fun to see such a range of sporting superstars teaming up to bring us a bit of festive cheer.


Another one for the heartstrings. Who doesn’t love a Paddington story?

Celebrations UK

Gold. This is brilliant advertising, right here. I now feel guilty for always leaving the Bounty in the tin. With a nod to Love, Actually and featuring the most unloved Christmas vegetable I was compelled to look up the Bounty Return Scheme. Did you know in January 2022 you’ll be able to return all your unwanted Bounty for Maltesers Teasers?

Brilliant, hilarious, and totally unexpected. Just like the best kind of Secret Santa.

Jenna Paton, Content Marketing Manager
Jenna expertly writes thought-leadership content about cross-channel marketing and customer engagement and manages the creation and execution of Dotdigital's content marketing strategy.

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