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7 viral ads from Christmas past, present and future

We are in a golden age of the Christmas video ad, and it's happening almost entirely online. Here are some of our favorites.

It used to be that advertising agencies had just 30 or 60 seconds to convey the entirety of their Christmas message. Today those constraints are gone.

Companies can now fulfill their creative visions with videos lasting two, three, even four minutes through online platforms like Youtube or Facebook. The result is a new Christmas tradition: the expectation, or hope, that we internet users will be gifted every year with what basically amounts to free short films that makes us laugh or cry.

1. This year's winner appears to be "English for Beginners." The story involves an elderly Polish man who begins teaching himself the English language for reasons that remain unclear until the final scene.  It's been viewed nearly eight million times since its release in late November and comes from a company most English speakers had never heard of previously, the Polish auction site Allegro.

2. The Allegro clip is, in its own way, a sort of reverse tale of a Christmas ad that went viral last year. The "Heimkommen" or "Homecoming" commercial from German supermarket chain Edeka also begins with a grandfather who lives on his own. Year after year, his children and grandchildren fail to visit him, finding a new excuse each time. Then they receive word that he has passed away. The ad has been viewed more than 50 million times in the original German, with unauthorized subtitled versions receiving tens of millions of views. 

3. The perennial high-budget advertising showdown between two UK companies continues. Christmas spots by the John Lewis department store and Sainsbury supermarket chain regularly reach tens of millions online. Both companies have scored big in the last two years through stories centered around cute animals. This year John Lewis tells the story of Buster the Boxer, a young girl and a much-desired Christmas trampoline. It has been viewed more than 20 million times.

4. Sainsbury loyalists, however, might note that their company's own Christmas ad from last year may have been a source of inspiration for John Lewis' current success. The story of "Mog's Christmas calamity" involves a fluffy CGI cat named Mog whose domestic clumsiness leads to the destruction of his family's home. And while that part of the story makes up the majority of the three-minute spot, it's the final minute of neighborly love that has left nearly 35 million people with the warm fuzzy feelings.

 

5. Usually at the fore of modern advertising, America does not regularly top the list of Christmas viral spots. One company that's hit the right note before is Apple - just not this year. Its "Frankie's Holiday" spot, which features Frankenstein the monster, has been viewed seven million times.

Not bad, but it isn't the cultural touchstone that became of its "Misunderstood" ad. Many were left discussing - sometimes heatedly - what, exactly, the ad was saying. Did it show a teenaged boy addicted to his phone, or a loner managing to express himself in a way he couldn't otherwise? Though Apple deleted the original from Youtube, it had been viewed more than five million times before Christmas 2013 and was also featured on television.

6. Then there's the real-life category, or the Christmas ads that are based on real-life footage of holiday do-gooding. UPS, for example, surprised a young boy who adored the company's big brown trucks and allowed him to deliver packages during the Christmas season. There's also IKEA's Spanish-language "Otra Carta," where children write letters to their parents telling them what they really want for Christmas, or Edeka's "Checkout Harmony" ad featuring hidden cameras and musical checkout stands. But the most viral of all was produced by WestJet, a Canadian airline whose 2013 Christmas spot has been viewed nearly 50 million times. It involves a sort of secret Santa ploy and a lot of airport logistics - and is more than five minutes in length.


7. If 2016 has answered anything, it's this question: Will a Christmas ad go viral if the director behind it is a household name? Apparently not. Wes Anderson's exclusive H&M "Come Together" ad is a highly stylized set piece involving a train, a snowstorm and cooped up passengers who get a Christmas surprise. But it doesn't quite tug at the heart strings and it didn't quite go viral in the way that other videos have. It has nearly as many views as the Polish ad mentioned earlier, yet the fact that Allegro accomplished as much with neither brand recognition nor a well-known director attests to the fact that, when it comes to Christmas ads, story matters most.

 

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