The Christmas holiday season is the most popular retail season of the year. Companies hire ad agencies to compete against all of the sales of the season in order to attract attention to their products and services. No wonder the ads that come out this time of year are some of the most moving and most entertaining of the entire year-- perhaps, secondary only to Super Bowl ads! From a teaching standpoint, the Christmas season is the perfect time of year for a unit on analyzing advertisements.
Check out these SIX CHRISTMAS COMMERCIALS TO ANALYZE THIS HOLIDAY SEASON, and be sure to download the FREE CHRISTMAS COMMERCIAL ANALYSIS GUIDE to accompany this lesson! Analyzing commercials this time of year is a great way to target Common Core Standards while simultaneously keeping our students engaged all the way until holiday break!
Analysis Notes: eBay
EBay's "Don't Shop Like Everybody Else" ad campaign uses purposeful ambiguity and mystery to make the viewer wonder what's inside each present that's being given to "us." However, all of these packages look the same, and it doesn't really matter what's inside each one because the "givers" reveal through their words that each present was an afterthought and probably not something that "we" would want anyway. The ad establishes a contrast between these traditionally boring and unwanted gifts with those available on eBay. The colors also change from simple, natural, boring hues complemented by the bored and unhappy looks on the faces of the givers to bright, bold, happy colors with the products available on eBay. This ad utilizes a social appeal to pressure "us" to want to buy better gifts like everyone else so that we aren't left out. This is echoed by the contrasting appeal of the ad as it shifts from the boring gifts of the past to the awesome and exciting gifts available from eBay this season.
Analysis Notes: Macy's
Macy's "The Wrong Size" ad evokes the wisdom of mom this season and how moms always know what we need and want. Of course for the sake of this ad, what we "need" is available at Macy's. This ad also uses mystery to make the viewer wonder what mom is really up to by asking about the girl at Macy's and by giving her son clothes that are all the wrong size. The mystery is solved in a charming moment when the mom tells her son that he will just have to go back and exchange the clothes for the correct sizes. This ad contains a personal appeal to families and acknowledges the wisdom of mom to give us the right gifts. It also contains an appeal to romance-- both in the literal sense between the son and the girl at Macy's-- but also in the emotions it idealizes about the wisdom of motherhood.
Analysis Notes: Toyota
I can barely type these words because this ad makes me cry! Talk about Christmas ad perfection! Clearly, this ad from Toyota appeals to emotion, pathos, and nostalgia through the symbol of the tree as the epicenter of this couple's life story. The ad takes us on an emotional journey-- from the loss of the tree and the sadness of the "parents" to the thoughtfulness of the "children" to create a table and picture frame out of the wood from the tree to the discovery of the elderly couple that their tree had been "saved." It's interesting that this ad is for Toyota because the actual vehicle isn't the center of the "story" here but plays a crucial part in making the story possible, implying that these vehicles are the backdrop to life, analogous to the role of the tree in the couple's story. This ad appeals to romance by idealizing the love of family and the lengths we go to to show our family members that we care. This romantic appeal is emphasized by the music that sets a reflective and nostalgic tone throughout the piece. It also appeals to realism because the actors in this story look like ordinary people that could be members of our own families. Overall, this is a very emotionally powerful ad, and I still need a tissue!
Analysis Notes: M&Ms
This "Bring everyone together" ad by M&Ms uses irony to communicate a humorous story about how M&M's made Christmas even better than SANTA! The first moments of the ad depict an ironic moment when both Santa and the yellow M&M come into contact with each other for the first time, causing Santa to faint from the discovery that the M&Ms really do exist! The irony continues when the yellow M&M gives the wrong presents to people, which actually ends up bringing people together as they have to come out of their homes to swap gifts with the correct recipients. This ad appeals to humor through the irony of the "story." This ad also taps into the brand appeal of M&Ms as a candy to be shared and as a candy that brings people together, especially over the holidays. I always put M&Ms in my daughter's stocking at Christmas, and we enjoy eating them together. I really enjoy this ad and the role that M&Ms play in giving us moments of joy and togetherness. I never say no to a peanut M&M.
Analysis Notes: LEGO
This LEGO ad depicts how two unexpected characters can come together to save Christmas: Santa and Sensei Wu from Ninjago. The beginning of this ad shows us a microcosmic North Pole built out of LEGOs with LEGO elves making LEGO presents for a LEGO Santa. Unfortunately, we see a small, socked foot from a child accidentally kick Santa under the couch. For the parents watching this ad, we have a whole new level of humorous understanding for this moment because what parent hasn't accidentally stepped on LEGOs left in the middle of the living room floor??!! The humorous appeal of this ad continues as Santa encounters Sensei Wu who takes care of him, lets him rest in a little girl's sock, and then helps him build a machine to get back to the North Pole for Christmas. From a child's perspective, this ad appeals to the LEGO and NINJAGO brands and the possible worlds a child can construct with them. Overall, this ad is a funny way to advertise LEGOs this holiday season.
Analysis Notes: McDonald's
This McDonald's ad ran in the UK this season and is full of Christmas charm, humor, and sweetness to boot! The sentimental music of the ad depicts the relationship between the father and daughter (how adorable IS SHE!) as being sweetly close, showing that he will do anything to make his daughter happy. But this ad doesn't just appeal to sentimentality; it also appeals to humor-- especially when the son tells the father that there's more than one reindeer. In this moment, the father shoots his son a look to communicate his annoyance at having to go back to McDonald's for more carrots. When they arrive back at the McDonald's, the father attempts to order a hamburger for "Father Christmas" (who we all know is really the father), but the little girl "saves" her dad from eating that hamburger because "Father Christmas" only eats "mince meat pies." This moment could also poke fun at the fact that these hamburgers are not very healthy through a bit of a transparent appeal that the father didn't really need to eat another McDonald's hamburger since he'd already eaten one earlier. This is a charming ad for the holiday season that makes "us" reflect back on our relationships with our dads and how our dads always try to protect our innocence. So endearing!
Check out the FREE CHRISTMAS COMMERCIAL ANALYSIS GUIDE from Bespoke ELA to accompany an ad analysis lesson before holiday break! Use the ads above with your students, or have them find their own ad to share with the class. This is a lesson to help keep our students engaged all the way to holiday break!
About the Author
Meredith is the founder and creator of TeachWriting.org and Bespoke ELA. She has taught high school English for 10+ years in Dallas, Chicago, and New York City and holds a M.A. in Literature from Northwestern University. She has always had a connection to the written word-- through songwriting, screenplay writing, and essay writing-- and she enjoys the process of teaching students how to express their ideas. Meredith enjoys life with her husband, daughter, and sweet pups.