Magical connections or Christmas calamities: Who’s really winning the battle of the yuletide ads? 

Read the media coverage during the past few days, and there seems to be a clear winner amongst this year’s crop of Christmas ads. Mog’s Christmas Calamity has been declared the cat that got the cream when it comes to its impact for Sainsbury’s. But that only holds true if you judge the success of an ad by the level of immediate awareness it generates – or the number of cuddly cat toys that it sells.

A very different story emerges when you look more deeply at the impact the Christmas ads are having. Sainsbury’s three-minute-plus tale (written specially for the campaign by Mog author Judith Kerr) has done a great job of reviving interest in the forgetful feline character himself. But TNS analysis shows that it will deliver far less benefit to the supermarket in terms of increased sales or longer-term loyalty. It’s other brands that are really cleaning up this Christmas.

What Mog really forgot

As anyone who’s read a national newspaper recently can tell you, Mog has generated strong levels of brand fluency, meaning that people quickly think of Sainsbury’s whenever they see the ad or the cuddly character that stars in it (toy versions of which reportedly sold out quickly at Sainsbury’s supermarkets). In the TNS study, it generated the second-highest level of immediate recognition and also the second-highest level of engagement. People know it’s an ad for Sainsbury’s – and a lot of them really enjoy it. Crucially though, the ad falls down when it comes to relevance. Of the five Christmas ads in the study, it was the least likely to motivate people to go and buy something, and it also felt less personally relevant to their own lives (maybe we don’t have such cartoonishly disastrous cats – or such considerate neighbours). As a result, Mog has a lower likelihood of being remembered in a way that drives loyalty to Sainsbury’s in the future.

Why relevance matters

Relevance is crucial to the success of Christmas ads. It’s important for motivating people to buy, and ringing up festive sales, and it also helps to decide whether the ads create emotion-rich memories that will motivate people to shop with a brand in the future. We call these ‘affective memories’. They relate to things that we care about, are recalled clearly and intensely and can have a big impact on our future behaviour. Affective impact is the measure of an ad’s ability to create such memories – and it matters a great deal to the long-term value of a campaign. Big advertisers don’t invest in Christmas just to boost their bottom line during December. Most need a longer-term benefit to make the investment add up.

Aspects relating to long-term memory 


So who’s really winning the battle of the Christmas ads?

Two ads scored joint-highest on the crucial question of relevance to people’s lives – and to their Christmases. But these two ads are very different. They are relevant in different ways, and they will gain different benefits from that relevance.

Aldi wins for Christmas sales

In terms of immediate benefits through Christmas sales, the clear winner is Aldi. Featuring a Christmas version of the Sound of Music song ‘My favourite things’, the ad scores highest when it comes to engaging audiences – and highest too, for motivating them to buy. Aldi’s gains aren’t just short-term either. Its rich Christmas imagery strikes a chord – and seems relevant as the type of Christmas that people like to imagine having. As a result, it is the second most successful ad at building long-term, affective memories that will swing shoppers towards heading to Aldi in the future.

On all of these fronts, Aldi has been more successful than Lidl, which scored high for novelty and stand-out with its take on a school for Christmas etiquette – but failed to connect in the same way emotionally. Lidl can expect to drive sales over Christmas, but it’s unlikely to drive as many as its rival – or as many in the future.

John Lewis is still the champ when it comes to long-term impact

TNS Long term affective memory potential

Both Aldi and Sainsbury’s reflect the influence of the brand that has been the undisputed champion of Christmas advertising in recent years. As with last year’s ad set in the First World War trenches, Sainsbury’s campaign is festive content in its own right – a strategy that John Lewis has made its own since