Top Holiday Retail TV Ads Narratives, Nostalgia Trump Price Appeals

Top Holiday Retail TV Ads Narratives, Nostalgia Trump Price Appeals

With curtailed consumer spending widely forecast this holiday season, retailers might be expected to concentrate their TV ads on hard-hitting sale messaging aimed at price-conscious viewers.

But according to an analysis of the most effective holiday retail TV ads, released Tuesday by Nielsen IAG, retailers did not appear to increase the proportion of promotional ads in the mix this year. 

About half of all TV ads so far this holiday season (Nov. 17 – Dec. 14) have been brand-focused, while the other half have been devoted to sales/price-focused messages — as was the case during the 2007 holiday season.

What’s Hot

Instead of promoting sales events and low prices, the most effective TV ads from retailers this holiday season used strong narratives, nostalgia, and family-focused storylines to communicate a brand’s benefits to viewers. 

“Practical” messages for shoppers were also a successful theme.  Take this year’s most liked holiday retail ad — a Wal-Mart spot that shows lights atop all of the cash register lanes flashing on and off, in sync with a well-known holiday song.  The key message is clear: more open register lanes at Wal-Mart make shopping there more convenient.

What’s Not 

What didn’t work this year?  According to Nielsen, seven of the 10 least liked holiday TV ads were 15-seconds spots — an indication that shorter-length ads garnered less appeal, in this case. 

What’s more, the elements that helped enhance appeal levels in the best-liked ads were largely lacking in the less popular spots.  According to Nielsen, among the commercials at the bottom of the pack, promotional messaging generally accounted for a greater share of the creative, leaving proportionally less room for “entertainment value.”

10 Most-Liked Holiday Retail Ads (Nov. 17 – Dec. 14, 2008)

Rank Brand Ad Description (length in seconds) Likeability Index
1 Wal-Mart Employees turn on register lights to the tune of a Christmas song; we’re opening more lanes (:30) 171
2 Macy’s TV and film clips from the past to the present; the magic of Macy’s (:30) 155
3 Macy’s Celebrities read “Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus” (:30) 154
4 Best Buy Employee talks about showing webcams to man whose grandkids are now in Africa (:30) 150
5 RadioShack Best gifts ever; woman talks about twin daughters; iPod Nano and speaker dock; sales associate helped her (:30) 136
6 Target Children’s holiday school play; includes “elves are elated; splurging is dated” (:30) 133
7 Best Buy Employee talks about helping woman buy new phone for husband; has her cell phone ring whil under the Christmas tree (:30) 133
8 Kay Jewelers Man uses sign language with woman; gives her diamond earings for Christmas (:30) 132
9 Target Girl in fairy costume sits on swing during school play (:15) 132
10 Victoria’s Secret Models wander through mansion in brass and ruffled skirts; gift boxes shown being passed around (:15) 130
Source: The Nielsen Company (November 17, 2008 – December 14, 2008.)
Note: Data is based on primetime broadcast airings only. Nielsen IAG’s panel includes viewers ages 13 and older.

Likeability refers to the percentage of television viewers who report liking an ad “a lot” after viewing it, among those who are able to recall an ad’s brand.

An ad’s “likeability score” is the percentage of television viewers who report liking an ad “a lot” (among those who can recall an ad’s brand) after being exposed to it during the normal course of viewing primetime TV on the broadcast networks.

Likeability scores are indexed against the mean score for all ads during the time period to calculate a “likeability index.”  A likeability index of 100 indicates average recall. A likeability index of 171, for example, means that an ad was 71% better liked than the average new ad during the four-week time period.

Read the full report.