How The Best Holiday Ads Of 2016 Worked Their Magic

The creatives behind the ads reveal why they work.

How The Best Holiday Ads Of 2016 Worked Their Magic

It’s the time of year when again when Co.Create highlights some of the best holiday television and online ads. We made our 2016 choices based on a number of factors: Some ads we thought had great humor, or a poignant message, or a clever way of presenting a brand. But instead of telling you why we think the following ads are successful, we thought we’d go right to the source and talk to the creatives behind the ads to find out why they believe their spots have struck a chord this holiday season.


“Coming Home For Christmas”—Heathrow Airport

Ben Mooge, executive creative director, Havas London
“The Heathrow Bears ad was a wonderful experience of every element in the production just coming together. The story walked the right line of sentimental and populist, the craft in the direction and the postproduction made it modern and funny, and the music just hit exactly the right tone of being a bit understated, and latently Christmassy. I think it’s been successful, primarily because it’s true–you walk around Heathrow at any time of the year and people are emotionally fragile with all the arrivals and departures, and this just goes through the roof at Christmas.

“The craft in the CGI makes it hugely repeat-viewable, there’s so many little touches in there, and the song never gets old. Also I think the fact that the leads are older ‘folk’ on an adventure–you don’t often see stories with older people as the heroes, and people can’t help but see their own parents or grandparents. I think Christmas ads actually have quite a clear responsibility, and it’s not about overtly ‘selling’ at a time of the year that is hard for a lot of families, but in adding to brand love–which frankly is the ambition of every seasonal advertiser–they need to contribute to Christmas, and not just ride on the jingly back of it. That’s why certain ads, whether it’s the Coke’s ‘Holidays Are Coming’ trucks or John Lewis’s ‘The Bear and the Hare,’ were so loved. They just help it feel like Christmas.”

“Imam and Priest”—Amazon

Damon Collins, founder, Joint
“Our campaign for Amazon Prime has been running around the world for the past 18 months. It demonstrates Amazon’s ability to help people help those they really care about; the spirit of human kindness, if you like. There’s no time of year the spirit of human kindness is more relevant than Christmas. And there’s been no year in recent memory that the spirit of human kindness has been more needed than this one.


“For this project we didn’t want to do the usual holiday thing, tinsel and fairy lights. In fact we forbade ourselves from doing so. We gave ourselves the challenge to create a film with the usual emotion, authenticity, and humor found in all our Prime ads, but with a broader social message. Hence our little story of two old friends who, after sharing a few memories, realize that they also share something else: dodgy knees, caused by years of top-level worshipping.

“We were careful to collaborate closely with faith groups both in the U.S. and Europe to ensure that at every stage we hit the right notes and avoided any chance of causing offense. First broadcast days after the U.S. elections, its underlying message that there is more that unites us than divides us has clearly resonated with millions of people across the planet.”

“Old Friends”—Macy’s

Hemant Anant Jain, creative director, BBH NY
“For 90 years, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade has been an iconic part of New York history and American culture. Every year, more than 50 million viewers watch it on TV, and over 3.5 million spectators line the streets of Manhattan Thanksgiving morning. So when we were asked to celebrate the 90th march of the parade, we knew we had to come up with story that would relate to the people who have grown up with the parade–the children who look forward to it every year, and adults for whom the parade is a part of their lives and nostalgia.


“We wrote the story with a simple insight. For the millions who see the parade, the balloons aren’t just rubber and helium. They are characters that have a special bond with people. From there on it was about writing a story that would not only nail this insight but did it in a way that would cut across cynicism with wonder and delight.

“We think the film works because it’s a story about each one of us. The bond we’ve shared with the parade over the years. It tags the sense of magic and imagination that we’ve all felt watching the amazing balloons travel through the streets of New York right into our hearts. It’s a simple, honest story told with great filmmaking craft, and that is the reason why people have responded to it so well.”

“Juliette the Doll”—McDonald’s


Darren Meyler and Phillip Keff, creative directors, Leo Burnett London
“McDonald’s may not be a brand people immediately associate with Christmas, but it plays a big, perhaps unsung role. Millions of people from all walks of life pass through the doors during the festive period.

“The idea for ‘Juliette the Doll’ is based on the simple human truth that Christmas should be a time when you get together and spend time with friends and family, and it is ultimately this aspect of the ad, told in a beautiful way, that is resonating so strongly with viewers.

“The ad is a poignant tale of a lonely wooden doll who’s left on the shelf in the toy shop during the festive season. Directly across the street from her toy shop window vantage point is a McDonald’s. This is her window into the human world. From here she observes all the wonderfully diverse walks of life that gather there at Christmas time and longs to be a part of it.


“The aim of the ad is to express that McDonald’s is a place for everyone at Christmas, from an old-fashioned girl from a bygone era to a futuristic fella from another planet.”

“Do You See What I See?”—Meijer

John Condon, founder and chief creative officer, The Distillery Project
“What we set out to do was capture people’s attention and imagination in a way that was true to the spirit of Christmas, and uniquely true to Meijer. ‘Do You See What I See?’ is, at its heart, an invitation to see the world through the eyes of a child. It’s a reminder of the beauty, wonder, and magic made possible by the simple act of believing. Something we were all once capable of doing—in the simplest, purest, most hopeful versions of ourselves—as little children. And something we can all probably use a healthy dose of today.

“Also, it’s a statement that not many (if any) other brands could ever make. As a chain of massive, family-owned grocery supercenters, you really can get everything you need for Christmas at Meijer. They’ve got all the hottest toys, games, and electronics. They’ve got trees to put your presents under, even the decorations to put on your tree. And because Meijer’s heritage is in grocery, they’ve got everything you need for your family’s favorite Christmas dinner. And yes, they actually do give those cookies out in the store! Meijer really does have everything you need for the perfect Christmas, with the possible exception of one thing. Or, as the spot says, ‘Believe. We’ve got everything else you need.’”


“English”—Polish online marketplace Allegro

Bartek Nowak, managing director, Bardzo (ad creatives: Hubert Stadnicki and Ania Kowalczyk-Nowak)
“This film is a sixth TV ad from our series that Bardzo created for Allegro. The series’ title is ‘What Are You Looking For?’ This question can be found in a search box on Allegro’s site. Originally and literally it asks for the products you are searching for, but we decided to give it second, deeper meaning: What are you looking for in your life? Because when you buy things, you do not just buy products. You buy all of the emotions that are related to them. You buy your dreams and moments of joy. This is what we keep showing in all of our films for Allegro.

“Our ad works because it is based on good insight. Many people all around the world can identify with such situations. Our ad also refers to many Poles’ lives, as many people have recently left the country to look for jobs as far away as Great Britain, which means many families are divided by distance this holiday season.”

“Meet the Tinkletons”—ALDI Australia

Cam Blackley, executive creative director, BMF Advertising
“Why does it work? It’s undeniably entertaining and odd at a time when other brands are hitting you with false sentimentality. Secondly, it was superb but purely coincidental timing that the campaign launched just after U.S. election day. It stood out even harder because Aussies (and the world) were completely dumbfounded by our American cousins and no doubt they enjoyed the lighthearted ribbing we dished out. Dare I say, we lightened the mood in uncertain times.


“The inspiration can be traced to the 2014 ALDI Christmas campaign, featuring the story of a chap named Johan returning to his tiny snowbound traditional village somewhere in northern Europe. As any returning backpacker, he wanted others to experience what he’d fallen in love with abroad, in this case the Perfect Aussie Christmas. But he faced extreme opposition. It was a lovely conversion story.

“This year, we wanted Christmas evangelicals that thought Australians had Christmas all wrong to be converted. The execution is down to months of my clever creative department thrashing it out. I knew we were on a winner when I heard from my CD Alex Derwin that they wanted to stuff an entire American family into a knitted Christmas jumper. Subverting Christmas carols was the relatable cherry on top.

“A successful holiday ad needs to tap into the spirit of holiday season, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be funny, or look at life’s imperfections. It’s almost easier to tell you what doesn’t work, and that for me is when a brand cynically makes an ad riddled with fake Christmas sentiment devoid of an insight that is true to their values.”


About the author

Michael Grothaus is a novelist, journalist, and former screenwriter. His debut novel EPIPHANY JONES is out now from Orenda Books. You can read more about him at