What our hearts & minds told us this holiday season

Once upon a time, the Super Bowl might have been your first thought about where to watch the best advertising content of the year. But in recent years, you may have noticed an increasing presence of tear-jerking ads in your social media feeds around the holidays.

Much of the best holiday content comes out of the UK, like Sainsbury’s Mog’s Christmas Calamity and John Lewis’ Man On The Moon, which collectively achieved more than 63 million YouTube views last year. This past year, there was lots of great content coming in from all around the world, like Allegro’s English For Beginners, which has already garnered nearly 13 million views on YouTube and was covered by major media outlets like NPR.

At Brainsights, we love this type of advertising - you might even say we exist to measure it’s ability to capture our hearts and minds. Peeling apart the top holiday ads of the year is becoming a bit of an annual tradition for us (you can read about how last year’s ads performed on our blog). So, in keeping with that tradition, here’s our take (or rather, our community’s take) on 2016’s top spots.

Before we dive into the results, let’s take a brief moment to discuss the metrics we’ll use to measure success. They are Attention (i.e. - is the audience paying attention to what they’re watching, or tuning out), Connection (i.e. - is the content triggering a deeper emotional experience for viewers) and Encoding (i.e. - are they encoding what they are watching to memory). These 3 distinct, yet intertwined measures will aid us in teasing apart the top spots - and this year, there were two.

This season’s top spot, which averaged 15% greater levels of Attention, Connection and Encoding than the next closest spot, was Alzheimer’s Research UK’s beautiful spot Santa Forgot, narrated by Stephen Fry. Over the past few years, neuroscience developments have helped lead to an increased interest in mental wellness. Naturally, we were delighted to see this interest play out in how viewer’s reacted to a spot focusing one of the most perplexing issues facing neuroscientist today.

From the moment the audience meets Freya and her father begins to tell her the story of Santa Claus, viewers dial in and stay engaged as they learn the story of how “Santa forgot” to keep bringing presents to the world’s children. While definitely successful at driving emotional resonance with the audience (averaging nearly 25% better than traditional TV ads), this spot was also great at getting the audience to commit key information to memory. This included key messaging like “research could find a way to fix it” and information on how they can donate to Alzheimer’s research. Although this spot failed to gain YouTube virality at a global level, what matters more is that it was fantastic at getting audiences to connect with it’s key message.

Santa Forgot wasn’t the only great holiday spot to come out this year. We’d love to tell you about them all, but perhaps more interesting than that is a trend we noticed in what was resonating with viewers…..and that was content that featured themes of inclusivity. 2016 was an interesting year to say the least, and events like Brexit and the election of Donald Trump have left many of us wondering if these events represent a shift in what people value. More specifically, does it mean that society no longer values a sense of pride in diversity and coming-togetherness? The data we analyzed suggests otherwise and to see that, you need only look at the spot that came in second place this season: Amazon’s incredibly touching A Priest And An Imam Meet For A Cup Of Tea.

Despite finishing behind Santa Forgot, this spot still garnered audience emotional resonance levels more than 15% greater than other traditional TV ads. And for a spot who’s core message is about being kind to your neighbours, even if they look different or have different beliefs than you, seeing this result couldn’t make us happier or more optimistic about what truly resonates with Torontonians. So as we begin a new year, we’d like to leave you with a message that was strongest moment of Connection in Apple’s Frankie’s Holiday. This year, and in all the years to come, “Open your heart to everyone.”