10 Nostalgic Holiday Ads That Still Slap

Growing up, my parents taped a plethora of holiday specials from TV, be it A Garfield Christmas or A Wish for Wings that Work: An Opus Christmas Story. Before TiVo and streaming made this practice redundant, taping specials was the only way to revisit some holiday classics, especially if they weren’t very popular: we’re looking at you Star Wars Holiday Special.

But that wasn’t my favorite part of revisiting my collection of VHS tapes. What they preserved that I found to be far more interesting–and entertaining–were the commercial breaks, filled with holiday ads ranging from retail experiences to the hottest new toys and trends. These ads are like mini snapshots of life at a hyper-specific moment in time. As some of the holiday specials we taped went as far back as the mid-1980s, I was able to get a sense of how advertising the holidays has changed over the decades–and how it has stayed the same, all these years later.

With the holiday season in full swing, we’ve put together a list of some of our favorite holiday sales videos and ad campaigns through the years. Use this list as a touchstone to understand how holiday ads have evolved so you can stay ahead of the game in your current and future campaigns!

Learn More: Social Media Video Ad Specs & Placements Guide

10. “Buster the Boxer” John Lewis Ad

Tapping into the tradition of British holiday sentiment and children’s tales, this one has cute animals bouncing on a trampoline and  awestruck kids. It has a sense of wonder, a killer soundtrack, and is very funny. What better way to sell the tagline, “Gifts that everyone will love”? John Lewis is a British shop that consistently raises the bar with its ads. Creating a sense of wonder and anticipation is a winning strategy, and if you can’t think of anything better, use cute animals!

9. iPhone “Frankie’s Holiday” Ad

This funny, charming and visually stunning ad tells the seriocomic tale of Frankenstein’s monster just trying to get into the holiday spirit. It’s sentimental and moving — it even has a singalong! And Frankie’s neck lights flashing red and green is a lovely visual touch. It tells a complete story. The biggest takeaway is this: it has a clear message: “open your heart to everyone.” Which you can totally do with an iPhone. If you start with a simple and heartfelt message, you can build something emotional and compelling around it. Put your message first.

8. Honey Nut Cheerios “Scrooge” Ad

“Did you say honey and nuts?” If you don’t quite remember Dickens including breakfast cereal in “A Christmas Carol”, you’re not alone. But this 1987 ad is just plain fun and evokes many memories of yule-time productions of “A Christmas Carol.” When you’re crafting your campaign, make use of what audiences already know about the holidays and their traditions. Then, in next to no time, you can craft an ad that’s funny, warmhearted, and really makes you want Cheerios. Maybe Dickens would have included more breakfast cereal if he’d thought of it.

7. Nick Offerman’s Lagavulin “Yule Log” Ad

But you know what? Sometimes alt-comedy irony does the trick, too. At the opposite end of the “economical with time” spectrum from the Hershey’s Holiday Bells ad is this one, which manages to be funny, weird, different, and kind of comforting. Do you have ten hours to watch Nick Offerman sit in front of a log fire with a glass of scotch? Well, that’s okay, you don’t need to watch all of it. Eight hours or so should do. 

Even if you can’t afford a celebrity of Nick Offerman’s stature, you can take this lesson’s ads to heart. Can you use classic iconography in a new way? Playing with tone allows you to have the best of both worlds — all the warmth of a log fire, and the subversiveness and sense of playfulness that keep that iconography fresh. It also had the chance to become truly interactive, allowing people to make it part of their home celebrations in lieu of the classic Yule Log. Anyone else feel like a wee dram right now?

6. Hallmark Hanukkah “Jake” Ad

This ad is unabashedly emotional, with an old man telling a story about a long lost friend he made on a long and difficult boat journey to America. A long time ago, he lit a candle for Hanukkah with his friend Jake’s family. “I was never so far away from home, but at that moment, it felt like home.” He always wondered what happened to Jake. But wait — there’s a card he should open!

 I’m not crying, you’re crying. This ad represents the best of direct emotionality in advertising. Sincerity works, especially around the holidays. 

5. Mariah Carey Walker’s Crisps Ad

Mariah Carey, an elf, some odd gifts, and one last bag of Walker’s Crisps show that sometimes to cut through all the noise, you gotta be funny. 

4. Campbell’s Soup “Snowman” Ad

This one is slightly sad! But it shows the value of warmth, as well as the value of being weird to be remembered. A snowman knocks on a door, comes inside, enjoys a bowl of delicious Campbell’s soup… and melts. Happy holidays! But it sure is memorable — and the soup looks really good. 

3. Coca-Cola “Polar Bear” Ad

This 1993 gem, in which a clutch of the classic Coca-Cola polar bears all gather to watch the Northern Lights and relax with a Coke, is set in a snowy, wintry wonderland. It’s both charming and innovative, using CGI technology that was new at the time for old-fashioned heartwarming effect. When it comes to holiday advertising, emotional appeal is everything! There are many descendants of this ad, all as lovable as the first one.

2. Corona “Feliz Navidad” Ad

One brand that learned its lesson from Hershey’s is Corona, who is behind this lovely animated video ad. While someone whistles “Oh Christmas Tree” over a supremely relaxing cut-out animation of a beach cabin near water and palm trees, one of the trees is illuminated with holiday lights, and “Feliz Navidad” comes on-screen. It’s nearly as simple as the Hershey’s ad, but Corona knows their brand — relaxed, Mexican, beachy. Using this brand DNA, they were able to put their own chill stamp on a timeless Christmas message.

1) Hershey’s Kisses “Holiday Bells” Ad

This classic ad has been running for three decades and it’s easy to see why. It’s fun, musical, delightful, colorful, and short. After an assortment of cutely colored Kisses play Jingle Bells, we hear an audible whew of relief, which makes it all the more charming. The spot is only fifteen seconds long, and it manages to put you in a festive mood, proving that, sometimes, less is more. Wouldn’t you prefer to just watch this ad than a whole episode of holiday programming? Us too. Excuse us for a bit.


There are many more video marketing examples of classic holiday advertising, and we’re sure you have your own favorites (quite possibly involving M&Ms meeting Santa.

At QuickFrame, we think about holiday video marketing — and all-year advertising — a lot (like, a lot). Get in touch to see if we can help you craft a B2B video marketing campaign that takes its place among other classic holiday traditions. Happy holidays from all of us at QuickFrame!

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