Category News & Work

The History of Christmas Ads


Love them or hate them, Christmas commercials fill our screens every year and are only getting more popular. Taking a look back at some of the first Christmas ads, they’ve certainly come a long way since the days of black & white televisions and the 18-year run of BBC being the only channel to grace our TV sets.

With developments in broadcasting platforms and online media, we can now choose from hundreds of ways to watch our favourite content, whether it’s streamed live, purchased privately or watched on demand.  Popular online services like Netflix have over 69 million subscribers, watching over 10 billion hours of streamed TV per month.

Before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s jump back to the 1950s and take a look at one of the first ever festive ads.

One of the first in a long list of classic Coca-Cola Christmas ads, this 1950s commercial focused solely on the benefits of its core product – a bottle of Coke. The 2-minute video is filmed inside only one room and includes only five people. It seems as though this ad was produced before Coca-Cola figured out a winning and memorable Christmas marketing strategy, with the subsequent Polar Bear and Christmas Truck commercials gaining a lot more popularity.

Taking a step forward to the 1960s era, TV adverts have once again made a huge leap with developments in video production and the increased use of animation. This 1961 Hoover ad would probably face a moral backlash if it was aired today; however seemed to be successful within that decade. The 30-second low-budget video features a middle-aged woman opening a present on Christmas Day with the gift tag reading ‘To Mother’. Upon opening the box and realising she is now the proud owner of a new cleaning device, she promptly gets to work on her duties.

After featuring the World’s largest drinks giant, it’s only right to show an ad from the World’s largest food chain, McDonald’s. This commercial aired in 1976 and tells the story of a boy waking up in the late hours of Christmas Eve, to leave Santa a McDonald’s gift certificate along with the usual cookies and milk. I’m not sure Santa would have time to stop off for a Big Mac on his travels around the World given the amount of houses he has to visit per second (you can see the exact figure on our Christmas infographic here), but I’m sure he appreciated the gesture anyway.

Next up is the famous era of the 80s, which saw the invention of the CD-ROM, the cell-phone and jelly shoes. Honey Nut Cheerios released a ad in the later years of the decade, showing the Scrooge getting into an argument with a friendly bee. Scrooge, who is notoriously caught up in hating Christmas, is tempted into trying a spoonful of the cereal when his outlook is turned upside down.

The animated bee mascot lives on to this day, recently seen on their packaging alongside various sponsored celebrities.

The 1990s saw the introduction of the DVD although the first DVD players didn’t come out until 1999. In the same decade, popular TV shows such as ‘Friends’ were first launched which at its peak, was watched by 52 million people.

Supermarket giant Sainsbury’s launched this Christmas ad in the early 90s, starring a comical performance by John Cleese.

John prepares a festive feast on Christmas Day and ensures all his Sainsbury’s products are cooked to perfection but he’s forgotten one small thing – his guests. Although this may seem an incredibly cheesy comedy now, Sainsbury’s advertising has come a long way and their most recent ‘Mog the cat’ ad means we’ve forgiven them for their previous marketing efforts.

Jumping forward to current times, Christmas ads have become a major landmark in the year. You’ve probably heard the phrase “It’s not Christmas until I’ve seen the Coca-Cola advert” among the millions of people who look forward to festive ads every winter. Advertisers have instilled so much hype into the release of their long-awaited ads that consumers are increasingly getting excited about their first viewing.

As much as most Christmas ads are still based around festive joy and the coming together of people in friendship, it’s clear to see that campaigns are becoming increasingly emotional and compelling. Tugging at the heart strings, this year’s biggest release from the likes of John Lewis definitely fits these criteria, made only more passionate by their collaboration with Age UK.