Coca-Cola and Christmas go hand in hand. Through decades of classical conditioning, Coca-Cola has successfully achieved imprinting our minds with their Christmas-themed adverts. In 1931, it became the first company to launch a marketing campaign for Christmas with Santa.
With some strategic brand building and a depiction of Santa Claus dressed in Coca-Cola’s distinctive brand colours, it didn’t take long for cultures worldwide to accept Coca-Cola’s interpretation of Father Christmas.
Over the years, Coca-Cola has built a brand voice based on ‘selling happiness’. When you purchase a can of Coke, you buy into a universal idea and a promise of a joyful experience. This is why Coca-Cola Christmas ads work. They connect with their audience at an emotional level by leveraging a season of cheer and joy.
Coca-Cola has tightly held onto this brand message but does it make sense in 2022? We conducted a study to know how effective Coca-Cola Christmas Ads are. After all, the proof is in the pudding and not hearsay. So let’s dive in!
Deck the Halls with Emotional Marketing
Every Coca-Cola marketing campaign uses a strategic selection of words and images to invoke feelings of happiness among customers. Be it Coke’s “Hug Me” and “Share a Feeling” campaigns or the portrayal of Santa Claus as a rosy-cheeked, round-bellied man, every marketing message taps into decades of warm and fuzzy feelings. Coca-Cola has successfully made customers feel that Coke is less of a brand and more of an old friend.
After all, Coke’s USP is not producing a fizzy beverage but providing a ‘joyful’ experience.
Analysis of Coca-Cola Christmas Ads
With changes in market dynamics and consumer behavior, it is essential to revamp marketing initiatives. Coca-Cola has tightly held onto its brand message of spreading joy and happiness since its first ad in 1931. But is it time for them to rethink their strategy? Let’s find out!
We at Entropik Tech chose 5 popular Coca-Cola Christmas Ads to dig deep into the minds of 80 Coca-Cola customers aged between 15 to 57 years belonging to the US, UK, Canada.
This study was conducted using a survey combined with Facial Coding and Eye Tracking for getting reliable and accurate results. The insights were also compared to Benchmark scores for evaluating ad performance against competitor ads in the beverage industry.
# The Hill Top Ad, 1977
The 70s saw the emergence of Coca-Cola’s most iconic ‘Hill Top Ad’. The Christmas version was aired in 1977, where teenagers sang “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” in this reunion ad.
Analysis: The Hill Top Christmas Ad received a lukewarm response from customers from all age groups.
Attention: The Ad was visually appealing. The idea of people coming together for Christmas invoked high noticeability and attention.
Engagement: The Ad is low on comprehension. The younger group of respondents could not relate to the screenplay leading to a dip in engagement towards the end. However, at the beginning of the ad, where people were holding candles, depicted a sense of togetherness, leading to high engagement levels across all age groups.
Emotions: The older generation displayed higher positive emotions than the younger generation. But the congregation of people becoming a Christmas tree reduces the negative emotions in the younger age groups.
- Christmas Tree Formation and People Holding Candles – Garnered the highest attention and engagement scores because they portrayed a Christmas Spirit.
- Coke Bottle and Coca-Cola Logo– Garnered the lowest scores because of low visibility.
#The Christmas Truck Ad, 1995
One of the first Coca-Cola Christmas Truck ads televised in 1995, shows Santa raising his Coca-Cola bottle in a holiday toast. Also known as ‘Christmas Caravans’, these Christmas Trucks were illuminated with special effects by the world-famous Industrial Light and Magic.
Analysis: The Coca-Cola Christmas Truck Ad received an overall positive response from customers from all age groups.
Attention: The Ad has a high visual appeal. This is because Christmas Caravans have attractive lights with the brand name clearly visible.
Engagement: Comprehension was higher in the age group 42-57 years compared to the younger generations.
Emotions: The Ad evoked positive emotions significantly higher than the Benchmark score due to the scene where the girl is shopping for Santa packs. The negative emotions are also higher than the benchmark due to the presence of multiple characters with no story to tell.
- Santa Packs Billboard and the girl in the store with her mother– Garnered the highest attention and engagement scores because- 1) Santa packs were felt to be relevant to festive and party occasions and 2) the girl is holding a box which has the brand name clearly visible in bright color, making it align with the festive mood.
- The brand logo on the billboard and Coca-Cola train – Garnered the lowest scores because of low noticeability. The window to notice and focus on brand elements is too small.
# The Snow Globe Ad , 2010
This ad is part of the Coca-Cola “ Shake Up Christmas” campaign which was an extension of Coca-Cola’s “Open Happiness” campaign. The ad shows Santa gently tilting the Snow Globe to bring people together to celebrate Christmas as Train’s Shake Up Christmas song plays in the background.
Analysis: This Ad was found to be confusing, and it lacked visual appeal. Due to the presence of multiple characters, the audience could not relate to the storyline.
Attention: Even though the ad scores slightly higher than the benchmark, it fails to create an impact for the age groups between 15- 41 years.
Engagement: The story only appeals to the age group of 42-57 years. But for the younger generations, the ad lacks seamless comprehension.
Emotions: The ad is less appealing to the younger generations, making it considerably less likeable. The correlation between the globe and the person in the moving trolley was found to be confusing and not relatable. This led to higher negative emotions compared to the benchmark.
- The shopkeeper and the family dinner – Garnered the highest attention and engagement scores because it is easy to understand the storyline and fits the occasion.
- The reporter and Chef segment – Garnered the lowest scores because the respondents did not see a fit in the storyline. However, for the 26-41years age group, this segment was perceived as interesting.
# The Christmas Rules Ad , 2018
This ad showcases the comeback of Coca-Cola’s iconic Polar Bears. Coca-Cola, in this animated story, promotes values like family and harmony on Christmas Eve.
Analysis: The Christmas Rules Ad received a positive response owing to the animation involved and the characterization of the Polar bears in a familial context.
Attention: The ad depicts penguins and polar bears celebrating Christmas, talking to their family through the tab, and hence is visually appealing across cohorts.
Engagement: This Ad was easy to understand for all age groups. The animation helped them absorb the message and story better. The scenes depicting the celebratory mood and festivities are also relevant.
Emotions: The Ad received higher positive emotions than the benchmark. The ad replicates the experience of celebrating holidays with friends and family. All age groups felt it was a light-hearted ad. But, the younger age groups had lower positive emotions than the older generations.
- The Great Bear and the Penguin Family– Garnered the highest attention and engagement scores because the scenes show them interacting with the product.
- The Coca-Cola Truck and the Polar Bear standing in the audience – Garnered the lowest scores because there are many things happening at the same time and the polar bears distract the viewer from the Coca-Cola logo on the truck.
# The Letter Ad, 2020
This Ad was ranked as one of the top adverts of the Christmas season in 2020 by Kantar. It showcases a father’s mission and struggles to deliver his daughter’s Christmas list to Santa.
Analysis: The way this ad tries to communicate a father’s struggle was found to be visually appealing to the respondents. However, the older generation resonated more with the story than the younger generations.
Attention: All age groups except the 15-25 years age group found the ad to be relatable. The reason could be the various moments shown where a father is trying to reach his daughter.
Engagement: The overall ad is low on comprehension; the various frames and struggles of a father who goes through different terrains to reach the letter to Santa are confusing. Also, the ad is lengthy causing the engagement levels to dip.
Emotions: The ad fails to garner very high positive emotions. Except the 42-57 years age group, the others cannot relate to the efforts put in by the father. While negative emotion is low for 15-25 years age group, it is highest for the 26-41years age group.
Element Analysis –
- The Father having Coke and the Coca-Cola Truck– Garnered the highest attention and engagement scores because it was easy to comprehend and shows interaction with the product.
- The brand name on the truck door and the side – Garnered the lowest scores because the screen time is low and there is limited character interaction with the product. The lack of noticeability caused brand retention to suffer.
From this analysis, we see a certain pattern emerging among the different segments of customers. Years of research and following Coca-Cola’s Christmas campaigns have shown us that focusing on emotion is key to driving long-term demand. In an attempt to hold onto this core market strategy, has Coca-Cola neglected a certain segment of its audience? Christmas is here, and so is holiday advertising. Should brands focus on more relevant content or continue to weave emotional stories? Let’s learn what works and why.
The Proof is in the Pudding- Logic or Emotions?
The consumer mindset is continuously evolving. This can be seen in how the respondents felt while watching various Coca-Cola Christmas Ads through the years. Even though Coca-Cola is about spreading happiness, is it time for it to spread relevance? Coca-Cola has slowly been editing itself out of its own Christmas campaigns to make its ads more about storytelling. But is it the right choice?
In this section, we will segment the audience into three groups and try to understand their emotions and expectations.
Group 1: Respondents aged between 15 to 25 years
This age group does not relate much to ads based solely on familial and traditional context.
For this age group, a logical sequence of events and a relatable storyline matter more than the emotions the story tries to invoke.
- They prefer high video quality with fewer characters.
- They seek product interaction in advertisements.
- There was a spike in positive emotions whenever a segment displaying togetherness was shown.
- Even though they are upgrading other aspects of their life, they have a sense of cultural rootedness and respect for traditions.
Group 2: Respondents aged between 26 to 41 years
- This age group looks for applicability and ease of comprehension.
- They prefer the storyline to stick to the theme throughout with minimum diversions.
- They seek a clear brand presence in advertisements.
- They get distracted when there are multiple elements or characters and prefer to focus on a single character.
- This age group looks for innovative ways to depict the Christmas spirit and does not engage much with Santa, for example, the Christmas Tree formation in the Hilltop Ad.
- They prefer the elements in the ad to fit the occasion; for example- The Santa Packs are suitable for Christmas parties.
Group 3: Respondents aged between 42 to 57 years
- This age group looks for an emotional connection over logic and relevance.
- They displayed highly positive emotions on seeing Santa, showing that nostalgia significantly influences their feelings.
- Clear visuals with bright, vibrant colors are preferred.
- They get confused or distracted by too many characters.
- They seek ease of comprehension and prefer one main story over multiple stories.
- Segments portraying family and togetherness spiked their levels of attention and engagement.
With this brief analysis, we see that the up-and-coming generation looks for a relatable story with a logical sequence of events. With Coca-Cola admitting that 30% of its ads are not as effective as it wants, it’s time they take a step back and re-evaluate their core strategy.
Adam Palenicek, the Senior Director of Human Insights at Coca-Cola, feels that they are “missing a trick” in ad optimisation. Even though they test around 170 ads yearly, they still hold firmly onto emotional marketing. With the 3rd year of the “Holidays are Coming” Ad, it’s time Coca-Cola moves past just forming “human connections” and instead tells a compelling, relatable story.
Not to sound like a Scrooge, but by focusing on nostalgia and using emotions as a safety net, Coca-Cola is in a challenging field of competitors. The brand needs to find a voice that resonates with the younger generations. The key is to understand the audience and continuously work towards creating something unique like it did in 1931.
This is not just a lesson for Coca-Cola but all brands that rely on emotional marketing solely. Christmas is not just about the festive mood or spreading holiday cheer. Holiday advertising has ample space to reinvent the wheel and go for better ways to promote the brand and the product.
Brands like Coca-Cola have created waves in the marketing space. By seizing the Christmas Spirit and branding Santa in its iconic colors, Coca-Cola has shown us who the Boss is. But it’s 2022, not 1931. The Coca-Cola brand is the same but not its consumers.
The success of marketing campaigns relies on how well the consumers respond to them. Darwin’s survival of the fittest holds true here as well. The immense competition for the same consumer base requires marketing campaigns to evolve for brands to beat their competition.
Christmas is integral to Coca-Cola’s identity, but it’s time to re-evaluate old marketing strategies. Emotions play an essential role in our purchase decisions, but logic, ease of comprehension and relevance are the driving factors in today’s time.