How Brands Inspire the Holiday Spirit in the Year 2020

man in santa claus costume

It’s safe to say that the 2020 holiday season will be different from any other holiday season for retail brands and consumers worldwide. The COVID-19 pandemic will have a profound effect on virtually everything concerning the holidays. Some brands will thrive and inspire the holiday spirit in 2020, and others will find themselves on the naughty list. The same goes for the consumers — some have extra cash from remaining stuck at home, and others will be struggling to survive after losing their jobs. The disparities will be dramatic. There have been over 1.7 million deaths from COVID-19 worldwide. Currently, North America leading in the number of new cases.

‘Tis the season when every major retail brand will try to capture consumers’ hearts by inspiring the holiday spirit in 2020 with the ultimate goal of turning a profit. The holiday season can make up to 20 – 40 percent of annual sales for many retail brands. A lot is riding on this time of uncertainty. In many cases, brands are still trying to recoup the losses from the first Coronavirus lockdown in the spring. According to the WARC research group, the pandemic has eliminated $63 billion in global advertising spend. This is the time for all or nothing.

Holiday Spirit in 2020

This is truly a year when we all need as much good cheer, hope, joy, kindness, generosity and goodwill as ever before. This magical time should be bringing us together with friends and family to share food, stories, gifts and merriment. But with the second-wave of COVID-19 hitting North America and Europe, this doesn’t look possible. Not physically, anyway. Any gatherings will need to be virtual through a one-dynamical digital platform—the burden of lifting our spirits weights heavily on the mega brands holiday commercials.

Brad Hiranaga, the chief brand officer for General Mills, North America, says brands will need “to be respectful and empathetic to what’s going to be a more challenging holiday season.”

The soundtrack plays a leading role in helping trigger happy holiday memories utilizing some of the most prevalent emotional songs and traditional Christmas tunes.

How did these brands tackle the pandemic’s challenge both in production and addressing the safety realities (distancing & masks) and the social mindset, or did they suspend the current reality for the sake of Christmas? Here are the top themes brands used to inspire the holiday spirit in 2020:


2020 was a devastating year for racism inciting Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations. Clearly, many brands understand the importance of portraying diversity as they deviated from the traditional Caucasian family demographic to reflect their consumer base.

The holidays wouldn’t be complete without a beer commercial. For example, Heineken does an excellent job of portraying a montage of families going through the usual things they dislike about being together during the holidays, except now these things have turn into moments of joy. 

H-E-B, a supermarket chain in Texas, creates a collection of vignettes of various families doing good deeds during the holiday season.


The pandemic has had a significant impact on the filming industry, shutting down many production studios to keep actors safe. Using animation is a perfect solution. It’s a rich, engaging medium that can suspend reality and represent abstract ideas. It is also cost-effective and easy to manage in work from home environment. 

A list of Christmas commercials wouldn’t be complete without the John Lewis UK department store. This year’s advert is called Give A Little Love. The story transforms from real actors to animation celebrating how every act of love and kindness positively impacts the world around us. 

McDonald’s Christmas animated advert focuses on a mother trying to reignite the holiday season’s magic with her pre-teen son, who tries to suppress his inner child. 

Genuine & Real

2020 has taught us all to combine work with home life, at least below the belt. The world has become more informal as we share where and how we live. Authenticity has become paramount. In a world of so much uncertainty, we are all hungry for stability and things we can rely on. 

Kohl’s, a USA department store chain, holiday commercial recognizes “this year looks different because the world is different,” so they focused on the simple concept of human connection. From a young girl’s bedroom window, assuming she is in lockdown, she starts a new friendship.

This year Amazon dumped the long-standing self-serving singing Amazon boxes commercials. And replaced it with a tear-jerking story about a ballerina who triumphs through the challenges of 2020. Thanks to the support of her family and community. There are only two Amazon boxes shown throughout the 90 seconds, and they don’t make a sound. 

Worst Year Ever

Some brands felt it was essential to address the elephant in the room. They acknowledged and empathized with the pandemic’s new normal. This required a fine-balance of tonality and sincerity without taking advantage of the situation. Using humour is always appreciated as a positive relief. 

Actor Steve Carell plays Santa in a touching holiday commercial from Xfinity. Because of the horrible year, Santa challenges the elves to develop some truly unique gift ideas. After running out of ideas, they decide to gift “togetherness.” I will leave it at that, so I don’t spoil the punchline. 

Tesco, a British multinational groceries, uses humour in its commercial to declare, “after a year like this, we believe there is no naughty list. So go on Britain, treat yourself to the best Christmas ever.” 

Hope & Retro

With all the fear and sadness the pandemic has created, some brands have gone retro. Pulling from happier times to reassure us that the future will be OK.

New to holiday advertising, Disney produced a mini happy-sad-happy animated movie (3 minutes long) focused on their most iconic character Mickey Mouse. The story covers a decade from a grandmother’s childhood to her granddaughter today. This is sure to activate your tear-ducts.

This year Coca-Cola aired two Christmas ads – Holidays Are Coming and The Letter hitting the heartstrings with a combination of nostalgia, escapism and humour. 

Please No Change 

Since 1989 Hershey’s has run their classic Kisses commercial of eleven red and green Kisses performing a bell rendition of “We wish you a Merry Christmas.” This year, Hershey wanted to take advantage of the new baking craze. So they adapted the original version by adding a father and daughter making peanut butter blossom cookies. The Twitter-sphere quickly reacted negatively as the statement “people are outraged” trended. Hershey’s promptly brought back the original to appease those who couldn’t handle another change in 2020. 

Happy Holidays 

As Eric Severeid, author and CBS news journalist, said, “Christmas is a necessity. There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we’re here for something else besides ourselves.” Most retail brands embrace this concept to capture the real feeling of Christmas. Many went out of their comfort zone to try to reach consumers on an emotional level. Some failed to connect or went too far and others achieved their goal. I only shared a shortlist of holiday commercials go to YouTube to view the complete list.

You will have to be the judge as to whether they inspired the holiday spirit in 2020 during these unprecedented times. 

Happy holidays and a safe and healthy New Year!


Top Brands that Hit Home this Holiday Season

This holiday season, successful brands continued the tradition of wrapping themselves in a feel-good message, hoping consumers will be pleased with their “presence” (sorry, I couldn’t resist). As they should, considering the US retail industry generated over three trillion dollars during the holidays. This number is from 2013 and I am sure it’s even higher today.  This equates to about 20% of total annual sales – and for some brands the number is much higher.


Three Trillion Dollars in Christmas Shopping

That’s a lot of money (even if one-third is on credit cards). But how does a brand ensure it gets its fair share? The holiday season is the perfect time to tap into the human emotions of peace, love, kindness and hope. It’s beautiful, yet frightening. Consumers are vulnerable and have credit! And ironically, during this time of harmony, brands are busy fighting each other for attention and won’t stop until the last dollar drops. That might be the reality of retail, but good brands understand the true meaning—it is better to give than to receive.

The best way to capture the holiday spirit is through a highly emotional TV commercial or online video (a topic of a previous article “Why Great Brands Still Needs a Great Commercial”). In 2015, there were over 100 holiday TV ads airing on US TV, but so far this year, there have only been 47 holiday ads reported by research firm Ace Metrix. Holiday advertising seems to be big in Britain and Germany where brands produce run-away winners.

Ben Mooge, Executive Creative Director at Havas London an advertising agency which created the very successful ‘Heathrow Bears’ ad says brands have a responsibility to contribute to the Christmas spirit and not just overtly sell their products. He says “they need to contribute to Christmas, and not just ride on the jingly back of it.” If a brand is successful “they just help it feel like Christmas.”


Santa Brands

It’s all about giving sincerely and inspiring the feeling of the holiday season. For many families, traditions, like watching the Griswolds light up their house (Christmas Vacation), or witnessing Bill Murray get a second chance to get it right (Scrooged), take us to fonder times and helps to recharge the soul. So while we’re all killing ourselves giving, the reality is that we need to receive appreciation. It’s here where brands have a responsibility to help consumers by framing the holiday season and help us have an enjoyable Christmas (for a price). And when they strike a chord, I can hear those cash registers jingling all the way!

The very best brands who have seamlessly carved a place in our minds during the holiday seasons and continue to reap the rewards are such brands as: Coca-Cola, Macy’s, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Walmart, and WestJet, to name a few. But each year a new brand finds its holiday moment to shine and is rewarded by millions of views and likes from around the world.

Damon Collins, founder of Joint advertising agency in London who created the successful Amazon Prime holiday commercial ‘Imam and Priest’ says “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.”


Better to Give Than to Receive

The brands that are true to their values and avoid false sentimentality can build brand value during the holiday season. It’s more about sharing values and becoming part of the holiday traditions than trying to steal the show. As Cam Blackley, Executive Creative Director at BMF Advertising who developed the discount supermarket brand Aldi AustraliaMeet the Tinkletons’ ad explains that what doesn’t work is when “a brand cynically makes an ad riddled with fake Christmas sentiment devoid of an insight that is true to their values.”


Top Three Brands that Hit Home this Holiday

Without further ado, here’s my top three adverts for the 2016 holiday season:

  1. My favourite for 2016 is from Allegro, an auction site based in Poland. This commercial has all the ingredients for a wonderful holiday video including a dog.



  1. John Lewis, a UK-based department store, continues to hit the ball out of the park with their iconic holiday adverts. It too has a dog and other loveable animals.



  1. The top Canadian brand for me was WestJet. They continued to surprise and delight their customers, and focused this year on the people still recovering from the devastating fire in Fort McMurray, Alberta. A nice slice of Canadian values–giving.


Have a Merry Brand Holiday

If none of these have ignited the spirit of Christmas within your soul then I would suggest that you seriously consider becoming a member of the Ebenezer Scrooge Fan Club. Otherwise, I wish you all a wonderful holiday, sharing gifts and enjoy time with family and friends. Have a Merry Brand Holiday!


Honourable Mentions:

Heathrow https://youtu.be/oq1r_M5a6uI (4,802,852)

Apple https://youtu.be/aFPcsYGriEs (8,199,966)

ALDI https://youtu.be/aCZrWFrRgbQ (2,004,765)

Marks & Spencer https://youtu.be/V5QPXhStb5I (7,836,801)

Duracell https://youtu.be/iA7xYeiWg54 (17,651,693)

Please feel free to share your favourite advert for the 2016 holiday season and explain why.