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Selling Christmas – Best and Worst of Holiday TV Commercials

“Christmas is a time when kids tell Santa what they want
 and adults pay for it.
Deficits are when adults tell the government what they want
 and their kids pay for it.”~Richard Lamm
B and Babalu

 Nothin’ says Christmas (oops, I mean Winter Holiday) like a mad dash to the mall.  At least that’s what the “WH” ads will tell you.  And for the most part true emotion, religion and family are so removed from the holiday  (better not call it Christmas) that ads try to exploit whatever they can to create some sort of visceral reaction from viewers.   It is not, however, always their intended reaction. Here is my list of the best and worst of holiday ads over the decades.  I’m sure I missed a few.  PS:  I do not own nor did I help create any of the ads contained herein.

                            What did I forget, readers, what holiday ads do you
                                                         love to hate and hate to love???

  Theme:  12 Days of Christmas

This song at its best is long and irritating.  So why then is it part of so many, many ads.  It is arguably the most overused holiday song, so I can only guess its copyright expired so long ago it doesn’t cost anything to use it.  

Ebay Give Me Stuff I Want

I always thought it was hard to explain how long and annoying 12 Days of Christmas is.  It’s a song that no one ever gets right, so they have to stop and start it again as they try to figure out how many maids are milking compared to lords a leaping.  Kill that dopey true love who’s buying all this crap and tell him flat out you just want a bigger flat screen and surround sound.  But this ad let’s me know the song can be long and irritating enough to use to get secrets out of terrorists. Emotional reaction:  MAKE IT STOP. Watch it at your own mental peril. 

Iphone 12 Apps of Iphone

How can the most overused song be novel?  In this 2010 ad they actually demonstrated 12 new apps for the phone.  And the last one is pretty great.  Emotional reaction:  Well, that’s pretty cool, maybe I need one of those! 

Theme:  family and home

Wal-Mart Wish For Snow for Military

Probably gonna get a lot of crap for this, but I hate that our admiration of and gratitude for people serving in the military are exploited in ridiculous commercials trying to tug at our patriotic and humanitarian heart-strings.  This particularly inane ad brings a heap of snow down on servicemen only geared for desert weather.  And they try to tie it in with family and Santa; it’s just an abomination.  Emotional reaction:  Hideous

Coke 1 Snow Globe Shake it Up:

Concept is neat, sentiment is good, music is good. Emotional reaction:  I could watch that again. 

Folgers Peter Returns:

I like this commercial.  And I read it was based on a true story.  But what I especially like is a teen kid who prefers a person to a gift.  Nice message.  Now I also read comments by those people out there that prefer to think this has some sort of incestuous message.  Not buying it, or the coffee for that matter but it’s a decent  commercial.  Emotional reaction:  Awww.

McDonalds Runaway w/ Ronald:

Maybe I am just an old softy when it comes to Christmas and vintage ads, but I like this one, too.  A kid starts to value what’s good about her home (something Dorothy took a lot longer to learn, kids are just smarter these days.)  Emotional reaction:  that’s sweet

Theme:  Christmas Magic

M&M He is Real:

Gotta love it when supposedly fictional characters meet.  I imagine that even before this ad aired, the Museum of Cryptozoology in Portland, Maine was adding plush figures of St Nick and M&Ms to their collection of yeti, bumbles,  NJ Devils and mermaids, but that’s a story for another day.  Emotional reaction:  Cute, but maybe getting too cute for me to feel comfortable devouring a big bag of M&Ms. 

Coke 2 Convoy of Lights:

Hate the music, hate the concept, and hate the execution.  A caravan of trucks means Christmas.  I don’t think so.  And as far as lighting up the country with “holiday” lights, I say who cares.  Emotional reaction:  Your bad, Coke.  Peace is a much better Christmas and holiday concept than holiday lights. 

Theme:  Peace

Coke 3 Penguin Beach Party

And thus began a decade of polar bears addicted to sugar and caffeine.  Since the airing of this ad, reports indicate that polar bears are on a fast track for extinction.  Coincidence…I think not.  Emotional reaction:  Wait a couple of years, penguin, and you’ll be a polar puppy’s Scoobie snack, but nice try Coke.

Coke 4 I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing

This is a classic with a classic message of peace that I appreciate.  That said, giving the world a Coke is way down on my list of priorities, maybe food, shelter, clothing and, you know, stopping bombing and torture should take priority. Emotional reaction:  Sigh, Wish it were that simple, Coke.

Theme:  Sex

“The one thing women don’t want to find in their stockings on Christmas morning is their husband.”~Joan Rivers

Victoria Secret Boobs Cleavage Butt Shots  and Wings. But wait, that could be any of their ads so let’s call this one BCBS&W#437  

The audacity to be so self-serving is moderately humorous, and having worked in retail across the aisle from a Victoria Secret as a college kid, I saw it all the time, especially for Valentine’s Day.  When my dad was more mobile, I used to take him to do his Christmas shopping and then he’d buy lunch. One year, he got tired so I plunked him down on a bench in front of VS and he didn’t mind a bit when I was gone for half an hour to finish up all his shopping.  Said I could take more time if I needed.  The store had greeters dressed in moderately skimpy VS attire.  He had a bench with a view.  Emotional reaction:  Huh? Then Ha! Then nostalgia, but not for their undies, BTW.

Theme:  Humor

Target 1 Red Suited Crazy Lady Gingerbread
Target 2 Red Suited Crazy Lady Training
Target 3 Red Suited Crazy Lady w/ Plastic Santa

I hate these commercials; doesn’t everyone?  Then why bring them back, why make more versions.  I honestly cannot fathom that this is targeted to ”appeal” to anyone.  The woman, her flaring nostrils, her dripping icing bag are all it takes for me to decide that Target doesn’t know how to aim its advertising dollars.  But Target is a big company, surely someone is evaluating ROI and this is working , so, they keep torturing me with this series.  Frighteningly this means somewhere here in America there is a large consortium of well-heeled inhabitants who see this ad and truly believe in this red-suited woman, to them she is as real as well, you know….   So I must concede that I am the minority. The rest of the country  thinks “wow, she is so excited, these must be the best deals in the world, I better get down there and spend all my money at Target.”  There is no other way to justify these ads.   Emotional reaction:  MAKE IT STOP, but still better than eBay.

Macys Justin Bieber

I laughed at this.  But only because the screams were funny.  Emotional reaction:  I could watch that again despite the fact  I don’t particularly care about the kid.

Theme:  Why is the UK So Much Funnier About Christmas

Argos 1 Aliens

Argos 2 We Three Kings

I watched these and hoped they were US, but, no, they are UK.  Funny, interesting concepts.  Promotes capitalism and the company that paid for the spot.  Emotional reaction:  Makes marketing and entertainment sense. 

Theme:  Republican Values

Best Buy Game On Santa

This is the ad that started this blog for me this year.  What the heck?  You’re trying to “beat” Santa; wouldn’t a nice “thank you” be more appropriate.  Then I realized, it was a hard-as$ed, right-wing conspiracy manipulating the media to remind people to get off the dole, and buy your own gifts; quit relying on the kindness of fat strangers.  Emotional reaction:  I honestly don’t know what I think yet, but it’s good it got me thinking, I guess.  I do think the actor portraying the hostile, super competitive mom does a great job with this alien concept. One relative, who found the ad for me, mentioned she was mad at the woman for forgetting the dog.  Wow so many levels of ire.  Good luck to Pastor Rolan, who may be using this in a holiday message. 


FINAL NOTE:  For the most part, these ads did not make me want the products they were touting, but they did inspire me to think about what I would really want for a Christmas miracle.  And I actually figured it out.  I would really like every person to know they are loved.  No matter how lonely or alone they feel, that they would know without a whisper of  doubt that they are loved, flaws and all.  It won’t necessarily be by me. (I’m not that evolved yet; I still want to torture those who are cruel to animals and people). I believe that if everyone had that sense, the rest of all holiday miracle requests would fall into place. 

© 2011 Alison Colby Campbell.

4 thoughts on “Selling Christmas – Best and Worst of Holiday TV Commercials”

  1. Hey there! I had never seen the “Shake it up” ad for Coke. Thanks for sharing. I LOVED it! I usually like the Coke ads, Hallmark, Folger’s coffee… You know the style. 🙂 And, I’ll admit it, I LOVE the crazy Target lady! I did not see those ads last year, so I just met her a couple weeks ago, and really get a kick out of the ads. (BTW, doesn’t she look like my old friend Jaynie L.????) I think the Target lady is like the Progressive girl – they both provoke extreme reactions. I love them both.


  2. Betty oh no, because of you now I must think there are some sane peole who like the Crazy target chick….bubble burst, held held low. But really the ad with the plastic Santa didn’t creep you out a little but or that dripping icing?Thanks for reading


  3. So, I’ve been paying more attention to the commercials. I’ve got a like and a disklike to share. LOVE the Homegoods/Marshall’s/TJX performers dancing through the mall with their bags. HATE the woman who doesn’t like her new car and keeps staring at the Buick. Really? Isn’t that dreadfully selfish and rude? Maybe it makes me feel guilty about some thoughtful presents I’ve received that I wasn’t really crazy about. But it is just so spoiled!
    (aka Jacqui and John’s “Mom”)


  4. Good points on the Buick ad, but I think those dancers for Homegoods/TJ Maxx and Marshalls look a bit too maniacally happy, what’s in their egg nog. I love a good bargain like the best of em, but I’m never that chipper.


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