John Lewis is most loved Christmas ad – but Lidl most likely to make shoppers buy, finds Millward Brown


The UK’s most enjoyed and best-loved Christmas TV advertising of 2014 is John Lewis’s Monty the Penguin, according to research carried out by Millward Brown. Lidl’s Surprises ad proved to be the most persuasive, with respondents saying it made them more likely to buy the brand. Viewers felt that the ad – which featured a blind taste test of Lidl products, and the conversations recorded around the table – was the ad that was most relevant to them, and one of the most believable.

Millward Brown tested 20 TV advertisements launched for Christmas 2014, using its AdNow in-market performance measurement tool to evaluate their brand-building effectiveness. Respondents scored each ad from one to five against a range of statements and questions. Monty the Penguin achieved the highest mean score (3.98) for ‘How much would you enjoy watching this ad each time you see it?’, with five being “a lot”; the Millward Brown ‘norm’ is 3.01.

Viewers scored Monty the Penguin 3.4 on ‘It made me love the brand’ (the norm is 2.86). The second most loved ad was M&S’s Follow the Fairies (3.28) and the Sainsbury’s Christmas is for Sharing ad (3.26).

Lidl received a score of 3.27 for ‘It made me more likely to buy the brand’; the Millward Brown norm is 2.98.

The most trend-setting, recognisable and engaging ads

Sony achieved the highest score for being ‘a brand that sets the trends’ (3.46) with its cinematic Ice Bubbles ad for the 4K Ultra High Definition TV, which will help it to drive perceptions of being a category leader.

Toys R Us produced the most recognisable ad, using Geoffrey the Giraffe and the original ‘there’s a magical place’ soundtrack first introduced 25 years ago. Revisiting an instantly recognisable creative style has paid off with a strong branding score: when asked the question ‘Which one of these phrases applies to the ad?’, ranging from ‘It could have been for almost anything’ to ‘You couldn’t fail to remember who it was for’, viewers scored Toys R Us an average of 4.58.

The ads that engaged consumers most successfully were Monty the Penguin and Christmas is for Sharing – but they did so in very different ways. John Lewis’s more traditional ad created the highest passive engagement, with viewers saying they saw it as pleasant, soothing and gentle (59% of viewers felt this, compared with the Millward Brown norm of 38%). Sainsbury’s came out on top in active engagement, with viewers saying the words that applied most to it were interesting, distinctive and involving (60% of respondents felt this, compared to a norm of 39%). Despite the sensitive and potentially risky conflict-based theme, its ad was not found unpleasant or disturbing.

Amanda Phillips, head of marketing at Millward Brown, said: “The ads which win at Christmas are those that stand out and cut through the festive noise. While the ‘hype’ surrounding an ad might help salience, making the brand front of mind with consumers, this will only translate to sales if the brand is also meaningful to consumers – and this meaning comes through in the ad.

“Lidl’s ad was straightforward compared with others, but it purposefully and successfully challenged perceptions of Lidl as a ‘one-trick discounter’ and positioned it as a purveyor of quality goods at low prices. It’s the ads that manage to be both salient and meaningful that will come out on top when we see the Christmas sales results. Also critical is how well an ad’s message travels and is integrated seamlessly across consumer touchpoints – online, mobile or in-store.”

Analysis of the ads tested highlights three keys to success for creating Christmas advertising that drives sales and builds brands:

  • Give the brand the starring role– the ad should communicate key messages which link back to the brand’s longer-term objectives. Aside from Toys R Us and Coca-Cola (which scored 3.87 on recognisability), branding of the Christmas ads tested is not strong compared to Millward Brown norms. Most ads also scored significantly below average against ‘it conveys new information about the brand’; the only exceptions being Robert Dyas (3.64) and Smyths Toys (3.69)
  • Be authentic– whether connecting with consumers on an emotional level (John Lewis and Sainsbury’s) or conducting a very transparent taste test (Lidl), the advertising has greater believability and relevance when creative is closely aligned in a genuine way with the brand’s personality and values
  • There are many ways to engage consumers – none of the ads tested has enjoyment scores significantly lower than the Millward Brown norm, despite their contrasting approaches. Both Sainsbury’s and John Lewis score highly, having developed very different storylines. Their ads also had the greatest positive impact on emotional affinity (love) towards the brand – as did M&S’s ad which was much more product-led