There’s nothing quite like the release of all the UK’s megabrand Christmas adverts to tell you that the festive season has finally arrived. Eagerly anticipated, Christmas ads this year have been a hot topic with some landing in hot water. At Behave, we wanted to take a closer look at the consumer reaction to four notable Christmas ads, all of which took a different approach in bringing in the festive season. More specifically, we wanted to assess whether the adverts people said they liked matched biosensor data.  

The methodology:  

We set up a quick pilot study that involved traditional research methods (using a survey) paired with more advanced biometric methodologies. We recruited participants and fitted them with a wrist-based galvanic skin response (GSR) device to measure emotional arousal, whilst also collecting eye tracking data and facial expressions through cameras to measure attention and expressed emotion. 

Participants were shown 4 Christmas ads and were asked a few survey questions after each video. Those selected for testing were chosen based on their popularity, choice of narrative and general approach. This left us with John Lewis’ ad which followed a new foster-dad learning how to skateboard, Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot returning for his 7th year onscreen, Lidl introducing a character of their own with their Lidl Bear and finally, Asda pulling out all the stops by editing in scenes of everyone’s favourite elf, Buddy.  

The survey results 

The following likeability scores are averaged across all participants in the survey: 

  1. John Lewis’s 8.5/10 – the charity focused Christmas ad came out as the crowd favourite.  
  2. Asda 7.4/10 
  3. Aldi 6.7/10 
  4. Lidl 5.5/10 – the least preferred ad based on the survey results. 

However, we then compared these survey results with biometric data that measures implicit behaviour to see if it painted a different picture to what participants openly and consciously told us. 

1. Eye Tracking study  

Although eye tracking won’t be able to confirm our survey results, it is still a useful tool because it allows us to understand where people are looking, what is attracting attention, what elements are getting ignored or noticed, and how different elements compare.  

Our eye tracking study found that ‘faces’ within the Christmas ads grabbed the attention of participants, more than other elements in the scene. This supports the human bias to have our attention captured by faces, including animals and face-like imagery (e.g. the Lidl Bear and Kevin the Carrot).  

2. Heatmaps identified where brands should display their logo in ads 

Despite using different narratives and effects, all Christmas ads ended roughly the same way – with a brand logo appearing in the final scene.   

Heatmaps of these final scenes show which elements captured attention the best versus the worst. We further defined areas of interest (AOI) to reveal how many participants looked at this element, for how long, and the number of times people looked away and back at this area.   

We found that participants were more likely to look at the brand’s logo if it was displayed in the centre of the screen. John Lewis and Lidl both displayed a centrally placed logo, and both saw 66.7% of the participants view the logo, for 457ms and 631ms respectively. Aldi on the other hand displayed their logo at the bottom right and saw only 41.7% of respondents look at it for 297.1ms. Asda showed their logo at the top and 58.3% of viewers fixated on it for 324.9ms.   

On the whole, these findings suggest that it is beneficial for a brand to display their logo in the centre for it to hold and maintain attention.  

Christmas ads

3. Galvanic Skin Response 

Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) detects tiny changes in the level of sweat gland activity and is an indication of psychological or physiological arousal. We can determine which of the four Christmas videos were more engaging by looking at a standardized measure of the number of GSR peaks per minute (ppm) that participants had for each advert.  

Overall, John Lewis elicited the highest number of peaks with 4.2ppm, followed by Asda with 3.9ppm, then Lidl with 3.3ppm and coming in last was Aldi with 3.1ppm. Compare this with what we know of GSR benchmarks in which individuals naturally tend to have between 1 to 3 peaks per minute – telling us that John Lewis and Asda did a better job of connecting with their audience whilst Aldi and Lidl fell short.  

4. Facial Expression Analysis 

Facial Expression Analysis uses complex algorithms to layer, translate and categorise minor facial movements into predicting the presence of expressed emotions. Individuals are often expressionless when performing tasks, making it essential to use this measure in conjunction with other biometric sensors (e.g. GSR).  

We started by defining a broad metric of engagement by detecting any changes in facial expression across the stimulus length. Similar to our GSR results, we found that John Lewis was the most engaging ad, with participants spending 21% of their viewing time in an engaged state, followed by 17% for Asda, 9% for Aldi and 8% for Lidl – again, confirming that John Lewis and Asda produced the most engaging Christmas adverts. 

To really understand how audiences felt we also compared our study to what people were saying online 

Our intention was to explore and compare the said versus the unsaid, and what we found was a congruent story amongst survey, GSR and FEA analysis – the John Lewis Christmas advert consistently came out on top, closely followed by Asda.  

To really unpack why specific Christmas adverts outperform others, we went a step further by uncovering what viewers were saying on social media about this year’s festive advertisements. We analysed a month’s worth of social data which confirmed our pilot study’s findings by showing that John Lewis was the most popular, accounting for 69% of the mentions online across all four adverts. Asda received 22% of the mentions, followed by Aldi with 5% and Lidl with 4%. Overall, we found that consumers were especially drawn to emotionally-led narratives versus those that offer an escape from reality.  

For example, John Lewis really struck a chord with consumers with many referring to it as ‘heart tugging’, saying that the story ‘resonates hard’, and ultimately praising the overarching message by saying that they “fully support John Lewis Christmas advert raising awareness for children in care”.  

Despite not pushing a social cause, consumers loved the festive feel of Asda’s advert, with many calling it “exceptional’ and “genius”. Although others posted their concern about the cost of the advertisement given the current rising cost of living…“Just seen the @asda Christmas advert. How bloody much has that cost to produce… Asda customers, when your shopping bill keeps rising, remember this. You paid for that advert!”.  

Conversations around Aldi and Lidl contributed little to the wider discussion, and when people did speak about the adverts, they did so with mixed reviews. Some said that Aldi’s Christmas advert “gets better every year” whilst others criticised Kevin’s fall in the Snowman as “rude”. Some finding the Lidl bear “adorable” whilst others thought the ad itself was a “poor effort”. Some people even went as far as to share their negative perceptions of the store following the release of their Christmas ad, such as “Lidl Christmas advert is funny. You will never end up with a full table. Their shelves are empty”. 

Closing thoughts

It is no surprise that John Lewis came out on top in terms of engagement across both conscious and subconscious measurements due to its ability to take the viewer on an emotional journey. Unlike the three other ads which are much more entertainment and humour focused, John Lewis’ clip encompasses sadness, happiness, empathy, warmth and surprise. From the social conversations, we can also see why John Lewis was favoured compared to the other adverts, as they had a clear purposeful message in a time of particular social turmoil and challenge which will resonate with viewers. 

Christmas is an opportune time for brands to connect with existing and new customers.  With brands pulling out all the stops to exceed expectations, it is important to understand whether they are impactful and why that is the case. At Behave, we can help you do just that. By employing a range of research methods, we gain a better understanding of consumer perception and their preferences.  

For more information on how we can help, contact our expert team today. 

Lauren, Emma & Jess

Author:Lauren, Emma & Jess

Three members of our Behave team, Lauren Stephenson, Emma Tyrrell and Jess Peet discuss their recent study which used our in-house tools to take a closer look at the consumer reaction to four notable Christmas ads, and assess whether the ads people said they liked matched our biosensor data.