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Holiday ads are traditionally brand builders. They are often big budget productions that allow for creative license and can be some of the juiciest jobs for creative team. 

But, like almost everything in 2020, this year was different.  If you’re a creative and the client sat you down in June with the 2020 holiday ad brief, it would have been daunting. 

In a year when getting tone absolutely right was extremely difficult in the moment – doing it 6 months in advance would have felt nearly impossible.  Who’d have known what the situation (and corresponding appropriate tone) might be that far in the future? 

You could have presumed a few things: 

  • People would be getting bored of staying home and of being cautious. (Emphatically true) 

You were also dealing with major uncertainty in other areas. (Stay with me, this blog does turn uplifting soon…I promise).  Federal troops were being used against their own people and there was a toxic and divisive election in one of the worlds’ super powers. There is continuing uncertainty as the people disproportionately affected by the pandemic are communities that are already marginalized, the elderly and people of colour are more at risk of mortality and serious complications from the illness, and the economy’s decline has been felt disproportionately among marginalized groups including low-income & racialized women.  

Now – Quick – build me an ad that will FEEL right, won’t offend anyone, can be produced in a manner that follows COVID safety protocols, and will build brand affinity. It probably also needs to increase sales – it’s been a rough year on our bottom line. Oh, and – our budgets are significantly lower 

Also - do this while you’re feeling a bit demotivated, working remotely, and unsure if selling is the right thing to be doing at all. 

The results are a bit all over the place, as you might expect, but there are some trends in 2020What worked best and worst is really in the eye of the beholder – and has caused polarized debates (which is true to form this year, I suppose).  A few trends include: 


1. Focusing on kindnessloneliness, and the desire for connection A safe bet in June was that large gatherings and travel would be unlikely come the holidays. And people would be alone or lonely. A few brands told that story beautifully.  

Woodie’s (UK Hardware Store):


2. Permission to let loose. Tesco’s “NNaughty List… seems to have won the year, with fairly universal approval. It provides permission to enjoy yourself (in appropriate ways) despite everything.  

SodaStream: Snoop Dogg enjoyed a ‘pared down’ holiday with his family (despite having to cancel some of his bigger plans) in his partnership with SodaStream.
(Thanks to Ryan Gulliver for sharing)


3. Twists on nostalgia can be premium. Burberry and Gucci straight up ignored the pandemic in their gorgeous ads. By putting an uplifting and modern twist on nostalgia, they gave us a respite from the times.  





4. Dancing the line between supporting people in need and self-promotion. The Body Shop, for example, did some great work bringing funds and awareness to women experiencing homelessness in the UK.  

The Body Shop:


This pretty (German language) ad from discount grocer Penny has had 20 million views at the writing of this blog post. It combines a bit of everything from above. 



Fewer brands went all-in this year. That’s not a knock. How could they, really? Finding a balance this year will have been some of the trickiest work many creative teams have ever tackled – and my hat goes off to those who’ve found a way to do it in a way that connects with people.  

Next week, we’ll share a blog post of some of our partner’s favourite ads.  Stay tuned!