Christmas adverts: how to maximise their impact by pre-testing

For over a decade, colleagues have gathered around water coolers and families at dinner tables to discuss the Christmas TV adverts. In a few years they’ve become a national talking point, and your brand will want to make sure your effort is being discussed favourably in that conversation.

A brief history of the Christmas TV advert

Cast your mind back to 2007. Gordon Brown stepped into the role of Prime Minister, Charlie bit his older brother’s finger and became one of the best known memes on the internet, and John Lewis launched their first Christmas campaign. ‘Shadows’ was a long stretch from the emotionally evocative scenes we’ve come to know in recent years, but the 2007 advert started a phenomenon which has grown year on year ever since.

For over a decade, colleagues have gathered around water coolers and families at dinner tables to discuss the Christmas TV adverts; the characters, the songs, the emotional scars. In a few years they’ve become a national talking point, and your brand will want to make sure your effort is being discussed favourably in that conversation.

With some brands opting for bespoke characters and themes each year, the concept underlying their contribution has to be powerful enough to stand alone and captivate the imagination of the the nation in just one 2 minute slot. John Lewis, for one, starts the process with over 300 concepts that need to be whittled down to the winner that will secure the loyalty of consumers during the busy and financially lucrative festive period.

If your team is at the concept development stage of producing your next Christmas advert, start by reading our complete guide to concept testing and development. Alternatively, get started here with our concept testing template.

If you’ve settled on a concept, though, or perhaps a few concepts, and you’re keen to maximise the impact your Christmas advert will have on your key audience, then read on to discover the value and ease of pre-testing videos with Attest.

What do consumers want from Christmas adverts?

Our shows that 42.4% of consumers love the Christmas TV adverts. On top of that, 32.5% like the adverts, and only 3.6% have no love lost for the adverts. That leaves a big, expectant audience, whose early-onset festive spirit hangs on the success of your creative. As such, it’s vital to know what consumers in general – and your key demographics – do and don’t like about Christmas adverts.

In attempts to diversify and reach new audiences, the style of Christmas adverts has evolved over the years. While sentimental tear-jerkers still gather attention, more and more adverts attempt to spoof (Aldi’s 2018 spoofing of the Coca-Cola truck), raise awareness (Iceland’s 2018 banned Palm Oil advert) or build rapport with a lovable protagonist (Aldi’s ‘Kevin’). So what do consumers like about Christmas adverts? The way to find out is to ask.

Most consumers (55.8%) want to be made to feel good by Christmas adverts. Meanwhile, 35.3% of consumers like an advert that makes them aware of products they can actually go out and buy.

70.9% of consumers feel, to some extent, that Christmas adverts should take greater care to consider those spending Christmas alone or for whom Christmas is not a pleasurable experience.

These insights are the very tip of the iceberg. To explain other data points your brand might want to uncover about your key consumer groups, we embedded the John Lewis and Marks & Spencer Christmas adverts into an Attest survey.

What do consumers think of this year’s adverts?

This year, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer (who were the two most hotly-anticipated adverts in our recent ) have taken opposing strategies. While both have opted for a celebrity protagonist, John Lewis’ advert is sentiment-heavy with not a single one of their own products on display, compared to M&S’s advert which puts numerous products within each scene.

Most consumers (37.1%) feel that these two key adverts, and 2018’s other videos, are no better or worse than those produced in previous years. In this climate of stagnation and high expectations, what do consumers feel about each of the adverts, and how could it have been better? Below are examples of key questions your brand could ask consumers in advert pre-testing surveys, to understand its strengths and weaknesses and subsequently work to maximise impact.

Multiple choice questions:

We asked consumers about the emotions they felt in response to each of the two adverts.

While the prevailing response to John Lewis’ advert was one of nostalgia (38%), the M&S advert evoked the festive spirit (50.2%).


Enabling the option for respondents to select ‘Other’, and enter their own free-text responses, ensures you gather the full spectrum of emotional reactions to the advert, aside from the 8 answer options you’ve offered.

Gauging the emotional reaction of respondents can be key to unlocking the areas of the advert that need improvement before it is set live. An overwhelming number of ‘Bored’ responses, for instance, might encourage your brand to consider shortening the video for more compact impact. With Attest, it is also easy to select the responses that have caught your attention, and see how those respondents answered other questions, such as their recommendations for improving the advert.

You can also see if any specific reactions are clustered around a specific age group, income bracket, region or other demographic information that can be mapped against your target segments.  

Single choice questions:

When you’re interested in gathering a single response from each consumer, single choice questions can help focus the mind of respondents and clearly show a breakdown by their top choice. Here we asked respondents for the impact the advert has had on their likelihood to shop with each of the two brands in the festive period, ranked on a simple Likert Scale.

Most consumers noted that neither advert had a significant positive or negative impact on their likelihood to shop with either John Lewis or M&S. The outlook seems slightly more positive for M&S, who’s advert induced some level of intent to buy in 39.4% of consumers, compared to John Lewis who had a positive impact on a slightly smaller 37.4%.


With the majority of consumers not feeling inspired to shop after viewing the Christmas adverts, a focus on understanding the emotional reactions and memorability of adverts might be a more telling metric, to allow you to secure more loyalty this Christmas period.

Free text questions:

Room for free text should be included in your pre-testing survey, for respondents to give answers voiced in their own words and without your predefined answers swaying their opinions.

Allowing consumers to voice their own opinions can uncover unexpected feelings that your team had previously missed. This way you’re sure to avoid biasing the answers, while also gathering the data necessary to optimise the advert for the real-life preferences of your consumers.

When it comes to Christmas adverts, free text answers reveal the sentiment of consumers around the all-important song choice, characters and celebrity appearances. 3.9% of respondents noted the song as an element of the John Lewis advert that they liked, 8.3% noted that Elton’s casting was their favourite part of the advert. Meanwhile, only 0.5% noted that they didn’t like the song, and 4% thought that Elton was mis-cast.

4.4% liked the casting of Holly Willoughby in the M&S advert, 1.2% were less convinced by her role. 1.5% liked the prevalence of the products in the advert, while 1% thought the products could be given an even more prominent position. For John Lewis, 1% of consumers also felt that products were missing from the clip.

Christmas winner 2018

Given the anticipation surrounding the release of the John Lewis Christmas advert (John Lewis was the advert most consumers () were looking forward to prior to it’s launch, whereas only 7.9% of consumers were most looking forward to the M&S advert), it seems to have failed to keep such a dominance over the market after launching.

When we asked consumers whether they prefer the John Lewis or M&S advert overall, John Lewis won with just a small majority (56.6% to M&S’s 43.4%). Similarly, marketers have referred to the John Lewis 2018 advert as Marmite, indicating that the brand didn’t win over a large minority of public opinion this year as it has done previously.

Despite the lead being taken by John Lewis, it is worth noting that the Marks & Spencers advert, which pushes products more heavily than that of John Lewis, also secured a greater positive impact on intent to buy.

The next steps

With a reported £7 million spent on the John Lewis advert this year, and budgets for most brands launching Christmas campaigns in the millions, pre-testing adverts seems more important here than anywhere else. The anticipation, the size of the public conversation and the impact on revenue (John Lewis claims they make back £20 for every £1 of their festive media spend) all contributes to the importance of getting your Christmas advert right.

Attest’s survey platform offers everything your brand needs to get as close as possible to consumers. By pre-testing your adverts, whether they be festive, or at any other time of the year, from initial concept through to final tweaks, you can give your campaign the highest chance of making an impact during the festive period.

Learn, direct from consumers, what your advert needs in order to succeed, where its strengths are and how they feel about the other brands launching campaigns around the same time.

To speak to a member of our team about creative testing with Attest, get in touch today.


Content Team 

Our in-house marketing team is always scouring the market for the next big thing. This piece has been lovingly crafted by one of our team members. Attest's platform makes gathering consumer data as simple and actionable as possible.

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