The Best Holiday Marketing Campaigns of 2018

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(Last Updated On: December 21, 2018)

It’s been a banner season for holiday marketing campaigns. Here, we round up the best holiday advertising in 2018, from spots that capture the spirit of the season, to modern spin-offs of holiday classics, emotional homecomings, and more.

John Lewis & Partners: The Boy and the Piano

If ever an ad captured the spirit of Christmas – the childlike wonder, the love between a close-knit family, the many doors opened by the simple giving of a thoughtful gift – it’s “The Boy and the Piano.” This blockbuster of a marketing campaign, gifted to us by John Lewis & Partners (a high-end department store chain in the UK), tells the story of Elton John in reverse and highlights pivotal moments throughout his career, like his iconic ’70s performance at Dodger Stadium and the recording of “Your Song.”

The ad takes the viewer back to Elton John’s youth (including a touching moment when he finishes playing a song at a school recital and looks back at his mother, who is beaming with pride) all the way to that early Christmas morning when a little boy discovers the gift that will change the course of his life: a piano.

And the tagline? “Some gifts are more than just a gift.”

As Craig Inglis, customer director at John Lewis, told Marketing Week:

“The ad tells the story of why Elton’s piano was more than just a gift and we hope to remind customers of that special moment when they’ve given a gift at Christmas time that they know will be treasured forever.”

Cue all the tears.

Google Assistant: Home Alone Again

Imagine a world where Kevin McAllister’s mom had Google Assistant way back in 1990. That world would have one less classic Christmas movie – “Home Alone,” obviously. If Google Assistant had been around, there is no way the McAllister household would have been thrown into such chaos in the days leading up to their family trip to Paris that they would forget to bring one of their kids.

Anyway, thanks to the Google of today, we get a glimpse into a modern rendition of “Home Alone.” Adult Kevin (good to see you, Macaulay Culkin!) has the house to himself and uses his trusty Google Assistant to add aftershave to his shopping list and outsmart Marv and Harry much more quickly and efficiently than he did as an 8-year-old. It’s fun, it’s lighthearted, and it’s familiar – the viewer gets to relieve classic scenes from a beloved film, with today’s twists.

Google paired some other holiday marketing initiatives as it rolled out this ad. For a limited time, people with Assistant can nurture their inner Kevin by saying “Hey Google” and saying things like “I’m the man of the house” to play back audio from their favorite “Home Alone” scenes. It’s holiday marketing at its cheekiest.

Apple: Share Your Gifts

This gorgeous ad features handmade sets, animation by Buck Productions, the soulful vocals of 16-year-old Billie Eilish, and something of a frustrating ending that may have been engineered so viewers remember the spot.

Apple’s “Share Your Gifts” holiday marketing ad shows a young woman in her apartment with her dog on a snow evening, working away on her MacBook. She puts a printout of whatever she created into a box that she locks up with a comb. We then see glimpses into her creativity throughout the rest of the year, which she hides from others when she suspects they are looking.

Finally, it’s winter again and her box is bursting with the work that she is too scared to share with others. Her wise dog takes advantage of a gust of wind to open the apartment window and let the works from her box scatter throughout the little town. Townspeople pick up the papers and seem to be touched by whatever it is that’s been doodled or written. We never get to see what the art/writing/whatever is, but it’s clearly something the woman should have shared long ago, as it brings a smile to everyone who looks at it. As Ad Age observed, intentionally not sharing the gifts with the viewers perhaps makes us more likely to remember the ad, because we really want to know what she drew. Or wrote.

Apple is implying that you, too, can use their products to enhance your creativity and share your gifts with the world. And Billie Eilish, who uses the gift of her voice as the soundtrack to the ad, did just that by composing “Come Out and Play” using Logic Pro X on her Mac.

Air New Zealand: Nicest Christmas Ever

Air New Zealand really hams it up with this holiday marketing campaign from “the nicest place on Earth.” This ad has everything – drama, intrigue, a rather sobering look at how the rest of the world views the US – but most of all, it tells a solid story.

Santa is tasked with emailing his elves the 2018 Naughty List, but accidentally sends the attachment to Elvis Anderson, a naughty kid in New Zealand. He and all his friends are on the list and want to change that, so they convene a summit for all the naughty kids in the world. Air New Zealand steps into help by flying in the kids from other countries and serving as translators at this meeting of the United Naughty Nations. They resolve to put aside their bad behavior and commit to things like a 30% reduction in hair pulling.

At the end, we see that Santa has been made aware of their endeavors as he flies over the former naughty children of New Zealand in his sleigh. It’s another clever ad in a history of smart holiday marketing from Air New Zealand.

According to Jodi Williams, the airline’s general manager of global brand and content: “From childhood memories of writing to Santa, through to the drama of a festive tech fail, the heartwarming video plays on silly season moments in a very Kiwi way.”

Very Kiwi indeed.

Amazon Holidays 2018: Can You Feel It

Chances are you have seen (or heard) Amazon’s “Can You Feel It” ad no less than 687 times since it began airing in November. It’s quite the ear worm, and you probably won’t forget it anytime soon, so that’s a win for holiday marketing in 2018.

The ad features the Jacksons song “Can You Feel It” (yes, those Jacksons) performed on  screen by singing Amazon boxes. The exuberant track and overall playfulness of the campaign illustrates the satisfaction we get when alerted that our Amazon product has shipped, or has been delivered – always a good sign during a hectic holiday season. Perhaps what we’re meant to feel is the Christmas spirit, but that is difficult for this campaign to deliver on when going against sentimental ads like “The Boy and His Piano.”

It’s joyful, it’s triumphant, and it’s weird. You’re either sick of the ad by now or you can’t stop singling along every time it appears on screen. There’s always going to be one holiday marketing campaign that fits this description this each year, and this time it’s Amazon’s.

Heathrow Airport: The Heathrow Bears Return

Retiree life in the Florida Keys isn’t all it’s cracked up to be for those adorable Heathrow Bears – especially at Christmas time. After finding one too many snakes in the ornament box and a video chat with their children and grandchildren, the bears make the journey back home via Heathrow Airport. Of course, Heathrow has those last-minute gifts they need to surprise the family with, a wonderful Christmas celebration ensues. After all, making it home makes it Christmas, as the tagline succinctly summarizes.

Heathrow Airport capitalized on the popularity of their Heathrow Bear ads and put together a page where fans can meet the “Bair” family (Doris, Edward, Cathy, Kevin, Jackie, Phil, Astral, Noah, and baby Honey), take a quiz to find out which bear you are, and even send a message to friends and family featuring those cuddly bears. It’s a comprehensive holiday marketing campaign anchored by a heartwarming story about the importance of family.

Portal from Facebook: Benny

The “Benny” ad for Facebook’s Portal tells the story of the world’s most patient grandfather graciously putting up with his grandson’s hijinks to keep him from leaving after a visit during the holidays. Benny packs rocks in his grandad’s suitcase, drops his boarding pass in a fish tank, and steals his grandpa’s favorite hat.

Unfortunately, Grandpa has to head home, with or without his hat. But thanks to Portal – a device that allows for smart, hands-free video calling created by Facebook – Benny can still see and talk to Grandpa any time of the year, which delights the boy enough to give up his hiding space for Grandpa’s favorite hat. The tagline: If you can’t be there, feel there.

Toyota: Home for the Holidays

Toyota’s “Home for the Holidays” ad is simple, yet tugs away on heart strings. A young boy awaits the homecoming of his military dad by building saluting snowmen with his friends. As mom pulls into the driveway in her Toyota with dad in tow, they find their son joining his frosty friends in salute.

“Let’s bring everyone closer this holiday,” Toyota asks. Yes, let’s – a powerful holiday marketing message indeed.

Engineering and Education: The Glitter Bomb

The viral glitter bomb video that’s taken the nation by storm isn’t actually an ad, but one could argue it has increased awareness of the wonders of engineering and education. That makes for a perfectly acceptable, unintentional holiday marketing campaign.

The backstory: Former NASA engineer Mark Rober wants to teach a lesson to package thieves who filch holiday parcels off porches. He creates a farting glitter bomb (yes, an actual canister of “fart” spray is involved) inside a nondescript box outfitted with GPS technology, motion sensors, and phones with video cameras to capture the reaction when the thief sets off the “bomb.” Hilarious reaction ensue; see video above.

Rober was inspired by Kevin McAllister’s ingenious booby traps for the dimwitted duo the Wet Bandits in “Home Alone.” In fact, the packaged featured in the video was “sent” by Kevin to Harry and Marv, but we’re guessing these would-be thieves didn’t notice.

Hershey’s Kisses: We Wish You a Merry Christmas

There is a reason that the Hershey’s Kisses “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” ad has been running for 30 years: It’s brilliant holiday marketing. Simple, short and memorable. Though it’s gotten a bit of a modern makeover – you can “Play the Kisses” and choose different instrument sounds throughout the tune – the message stays the same: Hershey’s wishes us a Merry Christmas. No one under the age of 30 has ever known a holiday season without this commercial. It’s a classic that deserves a spot on this list.