Christmas ads and how they fare on YouTube are now an important and highly visible part of the retail marketing landscape. Google’s Retail expert Neil Dulake reveals this year’s crop of top performing ads also unearths some surprising insights and trends.

Written by
Neil Dulake
April 2016

Ever since the first John Lewis advert ‘The Long Wait’ aired in 2011, Christmas adverts have become part of the zeitgeist and have revived water cooler chat in a world of fragmented media. Like the Superbowl in the US, it’s one of the few times that people look forward to seeing the ads.

And although the phenomenon started on TV, YouTube has become the bellwether for success with Christmas ads - as the only place you can discover in real time how popular each is proving to be. This year Sainsbury’s leads the way with Mog’s Christmas Calamity, which has been viewed over 25 million times - just pipping last years winner John Lewis whose 2015 ad Man on the Moon, has so far racked 22 million views. Perhaps this lends weight to the internet maxim that cats will always win!

Cute animals seem to resonate on YouTube at Christmas time, Monty the Penguin ruled for John Lewis in 2014 and this year is still so popular that over a million people have gone back to watch it again.

In fact, this trend isn't just limited to John Lewis, 2015 ads are driving repeated views of last years Christmas ads adding another 4% to their view count.

Not only that but views of Christmas ads continue to grow on YouTube long after they are launched, for instance the Sainsbury’s ad continues to put on around 300k views a day.

Data from Tubular Labs shows that consumers are choosing YouTube as their destination for Christmas ads over Facebook, Denis Crushell, VP of Europe at Tubular Labs said, “Online video creative has become just as important if not more than the TV creative.

Whilst Facebook was effective at delivering a lot of views in a short period of time for the brands, YouTube delivered a greater amount of total views and engagements over the entire campaign period.”

The top ten this year are:

1. Sainsbury’s
2. John Lewis,
3. Burberry
4. M&S
5. Sky Movies
6. Aldi
7. Net a Porter
8. Boots
9. Vodafone
10. Mulberry

And you can watch them here.


Interestingly both this year and last year’s top four feature the same brands, with the only change being that Sainsbury’s has triumphed over John Lewis. In comparison to last year, the top ten have more views, reflective of the general trend which has seen an increase in online video viewership across the board.

Views are up 57% versus the same period last year, with 86% of views coming from the top 3 retailers. UK ads are surprisingly popular on a global level, with almost 40% of views coming from outside the UK.

Adspend on YouTube has also increased, with marketers seeing the benefit of investing in media to get the ad in front of more eyeballs, according to Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne Executive Director, Marketing & International at M&S. He added: “In an ever-more fragmented and mobile-driven media world, YouTube confirmed its power as a brand engagement platform this Christmas."

This year adspend on the top ten ads is up 59%. The majority of Christmas ads have also made use of the shoppable tools available via YouTube, giving retailers an extra advantage.


In fact this year many brands have chosen to rely on YouTube and their own media rather than spending on a TV ad, with both Burberry and Mulberry from the top ten not spending a single penny on TV advertising.

2015 has seen a surge in content marketing and that has been reflected in this years Christmas campaigns, with brands looking to produce more video content rather than one big bang. This year Tesco created four ‘hero’ films, whose aggregated views would comfortably place them in the top ten. Across the top ten, advertisers have almost doubled their christmas video production. Another brand that took this approach was Curry’s, which enlisted Jeff Goldblum for a series of films ‘Spare the act’ exploring Christmas etiquette.

The award for weirdest ad has to go to Robert Dyas, whose ad opens with: ‘Hi, my name’s Marcus, I work at Robert Dyas and I’m Gay’. It goes on to introduce more members of staff who inform the viewer of their sexuality and, while it’s a well-executed spoof of this ad from Red House in the US, it’s an odd choice considering very few UK viewers will have seen the original.

Another more successful spoof is Aldi’s recreation of John Lewis’ Man on the Moon, which actually came in at number six in our top ten - a considerable feat considering the quick turnaround required in creating the ad. Spoof-style videos have always been popular on YouTube but their potential for audience engagement is now being recognised by brands.

Away from the UK, my favourites have been the albeit rather dark ad for German supermarket Edeka, which sees a Dad fake his own death to ensure that his family attend Christmas dinner. Other highlights include Apple’s ad which sees Andra Day and Stevie Wonder perform his 1967 holiday classic “Someday At Christmas", while Philips Breathless Choir features 18 people with respiratory problems forming a musical ensemble.

One of our strong beliefs for 2016 is that brands who aren’t on mobile won’t succeed, brands will need to make every effort to keep up with the mobile consumer who are increasingly turning to their mobile screens as the primary device for entertainment, a fact borne out by our Christmas ads stats, which show mobile viewership is up 15% year-on-year - no doubt an opportunity we will see advertisers take next year.