8. 12. 20238. 12. 2023
Christmas advertising has changed over the years. To some extent, it could be argued that the dominance of Santa Claus and other traditional Christmas characters has ended. They have been replaced by somewhat unusual heroes who, on the contrary, we do not a priori associate with the festive season. However, they do not only bring a festive atmosphere but also complex stories in which tradition as well as important messages that are fully in line with the trends of today play a role. It is not necessarily a stolen Christmas - on the contrary, it is an annual gift of distinctive creativity.


One of such “unusual heroes” is the most frequently mentioned mascot of this year’s Christmas season, which is in the spirit of the comeback of the character known as Kevin the Carrot. The character has been closely associated with the British-Irish retail chain Aldi since 2016, and given that Kevin is essentially an animated carrot, this is a very telling example of how the Christmas advertising market is shifting from the familiar and traditional to the more experimental.

In their latest adventure, Kevin and his many vegetable companions head to a familiar chocolate factory. Just like in the popular film, they get into various situations and meet many of the strange employees of the fairytale plant. The motif itself is also familiar. But casting cute vegetables is something that would not have happened 20 years ago.

Video: Aldi – Kevin and the Chocolate Factory (2023)

This is Kevin’s eighth Christmas. Originally, it was supposed to be just an advertising stunt for Christmas 2016. Kevin’s first audiovisual adventure was also much more modest than the ones that followed. That was when he got into trouble when he decided to look out for Santa on the roof of his house. He performed some impressive acrobatic stunts as part of a short commercial, but the biggest one was Kevin catapulting himself into the ranks of the most popular marketing mascots of his time.

Since his debut, he has fallen in love, become a Christmas truck driver, faced the rival Leafy Blinders vegetable gang, who wanted to steal his and his friends’ rightfully earned status as the most popular Christmas vegetable, had a unique Top Gun-style experience, composed his own Christmas carol to prove to a holiday-sceptical Ebanana Scrooge that celebrations and traditions have their charm, and attended the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Video: Aldi – Kevin the Carrot commercials (2016-2022)

Despite his unconventional appearance, Kevin is still a bearer of traditional Christmas values. He may be an unusual protagonist, but the advertisements in which he appears are not out of line in their message. Their focus is still on the idea of emotional realism and their message is overwhelmingly rooted in the values we have long associated with Christmas - kindness, closeness and belonging. But what’s different is the way it is delivered, which is part of a longer-term trend.

In the Czech Republic, Christmas on television is also associated with an unusual, but already legendary protagonist. It is none other than the Kofola boar, which has been appearing regularly on our TV screens in all kinds of variations for 20 years. While abroad before every Christmas we wait to see what creative ideas Aldi, John Lewis and others will come up with, Czechs wait year after year for the same commercial, which has only undergone minor improvements and cosmetic changes. However, it is an enduring classic that still works well, and any marketer would crave its massive popularity. This is evidenced, for example, by the modified and updated 2019 version, the presence of the boar in the overall pre-Christmas marketing of the brand and its inclusion in various sponsorships and other Kofola partnerships.

Video: Kofola – Christmas spot (2020)


From nostalgia to modernity. According to marketing experts, this is the defining trend in contemporary Christmas marketing. Christmas spots of an earlier date based their identity more on product presentation - not so much on telling a complex story within a few minutes of airtime, but on highlighting products that can help you create the right festive atmosphere at home. The latter has more or less remained the same to date while the narrative structures have changed dramatically. And it is a generally accepted fact that this breakthrough took place in 2007. The dominant protagonist until then? Undoubtedly Santa Claus. Since then, it has been anyone you can think of, even the aforementioned animated carrot.

Older Christmas ads undoubtedly excel at getting you in the holiday spirit, and that is why they remain relevant today. Similar spots are appearing regularly every year, and it is a logical path for advertisers. After all, the sense of nostalgia works 120% at Christmas, and marketers play it safe when betting on something that is universally known and loved. In most cases, however, these are not ads that will be discussed live in the media and social networks. The UK and the US in particular have a rich tradition of a kind of “pre-Christmas advertising battle” in which popular brands compete to present something both massively popular and intimate and capable of warming the heart. A wide variety of characters has become a necessity rather than an option, because such a memorable ad needs a strong and memorable protagonist. And it is clear that Santa Claus alone is not able to meet all the demands of a changing world.

What has changed in particular?

  • 1. PORTRAYAL OF PROTAGONISTS. Older ads were bound to some degree by tradition and the generally accepted idea of what Christmas is. The nuclear human family gathered around the dinner table or the tree at Christmas time was at its epicentre. New ads, on the other hand, respond to the turbulent changes in society, and so marketers try to be as inclusive as possible in creating their characters, which they achieve either through animated allegory (such as Kevin The Carrot) or through feature spots showing single parents or same-sex couples. The 2019 spot by IKEA is a prime example.

  • 2. RESPONSE TO CURRENT SOCIAL TRENDS. Modern Christmas ads are not only timeless but also reactive. There is not much left of the earlier concern about addressing anything other than Christmas in a Christmas spot, so protagonists often address serious issues like climate change or mental health care either directly or indirectly. The main intention remains to maintain emotional realism, which is based on the premise that people tend to be far more forgiving, more approachable and more willing to accept an opposing view with less criticism at the end of the year. Moreover, Christmas characters are well suited to conveying such serious messages because they usually do so using metonymy or allegory, often in a rather humorous way that also includes a lesson. Simply put, some theses are better received from a teddy bear than from a representative of an organisation. That is a simple fact.

  • 3. MORE SOPHISTICATED EXPOSITION, PLOTS AND PUNCHLINES. In terms of narrative structure, the older Christmas ads were not too bold and were easily confused for the reasons described above. Often you could summarise their plot in one sentence. On the contrary, the heroes of today’s ads are put into complex situations that could often do well in a richer setting. In fact, we are following a segment of the hero’s life, while popular Christmas motifs can act as mere backdrops to illustrate the atmosphere. This is nothing new even in the audiovisual world as some iconic Christmas films work on a similar principle. Take the Home Alone series as an example – it is a comedy that could take place at any time of year. However, the apt Christmas setting is one of the main reasons why the series is so popular.

  • 4. CUTTING EDGE AUDIOVISUAL TECHNOLOGY. While the creators of the past made do with relatively intimate and mainly realistic scenes, none of the modern animated characters could see the light of day without the intervention of CGI technology. This technological revolution allows marketers to present complex stories that also have great potential to go viral. Not that there is anything wrong with the previous approach, but this opportunity to escape into a world of fantasy is especially welcomed with enthusiasm around Christmas. Fantastic mise-en-scenes full of picturesque details also add an element of playfulness to the spots - in short, there is still something to discover even after the 100th viewing.

Professor Jeanette Littlemore from the University of Birmingham has looked at how modern Christmas advertising affects consumers. She concludes that specific protagonists are one of the main keys to success. Audiences like to discover the new and the original, and it is these heroes that offer them that. At the same time, they are set in familiar surroundings, which is also important for audiences in the run-up to Christmas. These adverts make extensive use of metonymy, humour or irony to draw viewers into the story, making them more or less active players, whereas older adverts only treated them as consumers.

The unusual hero thus indirectly speaks from outside the television screen but does not a priori force viewers to take some kind of consumer action, just invites them to react emotionally or to contemplate. These advertisements, like films and TV series, are not limited to one interpretation, viewers can interpret them as they wish. This, of course, lends itself to a certain projection - the viewer is much more easily able to empathise with the emotionally colourful character and is able to understand what he or she is experiencing. This is not so easy with traditionally established characters like Santa Claus, who is perceived as a kind of flawless superman able to distribute presents all over the world in one day. Modern advertising protagonists do not suffer from this stigma. They are new, mostly unknown, and actually quite ordinary and emotionally believable in their extraordinariness.

And that is the answer to the question of why they can be so massively popular.


The transformation in the nature of Christmas ads is linked to one key name - John Lewis. It is not any particular individual but a British high-end retail chain that in 2007 launched a groundbreaking Christmas ad that was influential enough to shape the entire market. It already made it clear that the focus of the new era would not be the product but the message itself and the way it was delivered. And also who was delivering it. It was John Lewis who introduced the world to many memorable and, above all, unusual Christmas mascots over the years. The following five are the most memorable.

Monty the Penguin.

The story of Monty the Penguin from 2014 is not only a testament to the power of friendship but also to the loneliness that millions of people around the world face every Christmas. Monty has a comfortable background, he is living with a family who loves and cares for him, he even has a devoted best friend... But he is still the only penguin there, so he is basically embedded in a reality where it is normal for him to feel like the only one of his kind in the whole world. And it is this suffering that a little boy attempts to reverse by deciding to find him a penguin girlfriend. At the end of the spot, the viewer discovers that this is in fact a story of a cuddly toy brought to life only in the boy’s imagination, but this does not detract from the seriousness of the idea.

Video: John Lewis – Monty the Penguin (2014)

Snapper the Venus Flytrap.

It is the latest protagonist from John Lewis’s portfolio who is at a great disadvantage compared to Monty with its slightly more aggressive appearance and nature. It originally came into the advertising family as a cute little plant, but with time it has grown to gargantuan proportions. This doesn’t exactly make it the best company for Christmas celebrations at first, and it is somewhat cruelly banished to the back yard. Again, we encounter a good-natured boy who takes pity on his friend. The wrong is righted in the end, and Snapper repays the whole family in a very specific and distinctive way. Overall, the ad plays with the idea of adopting new traditions, because even Christmas can be dynamic and not just copy-pasted from last years.

Video: John Lewis – Snapper: The Perfect Tree (2023)

Skye the Alien.

Another example of an unlikely friendship, this time even with interplanetary reach. A young boy, Nathan, quickly adopts a shipwrecked alien, Skye, and, in a TV spot, introduces her to what Christmas is and why it matters. For the viewer, this means an amusing and touching journey through the most common traditions, which are also seen through the eyes of the protagonist who is encountering them for the first time. Moreover, after the coronavirus Christmas in 2020, it was an imaginary recovery through a different theme than the loneliness of the lockdown days. It was as if John Lewis was saying that after the enforced shutdown, it is good to look at what we have long taken for granted.

Video: John Lewis – Unexpected Guest (2021)

Moz the Monster.

It is almost like an episode cut from a popular Pixar cartoon. A monster that lives in the children’s room under the bed befriends the rightful inhabitant of the same room. In this ad, John Lewis turns widespread childhood phobia upside down, giving it a new dimension, which in turn highlights the importance of imaginary friends who can often be more reliable and funnier than real ones. Moz is initially rather grumpy and scary (and, from a practical point of view, rather unhappy), but very soon he accepts the offer of child friendship, and a strong bond is formed. Christmas is a bit sidelined in this ad, but the typical Christmas message is retained as in the previous cases.

Video: John Lewis – Moz The Monster (2017)

The Snowman.

Logically, this is the most typical of the protagonists mentioned above for the Christmas season. But his story is the opposite of ordinary. First of all, it must be remembered that every snowman is in this world for a very limited time, which is also true for every human being. And this particular snowman uses his time to travel across mountains, valleys, cities, rivers and pastures to find his lonely companion... Just so he could give her the gloves that no snowman can do without. And although it is a bit blatant, those gloves are not what propelled him on this “trip around the world”. It is the love of his fellow man, a value that deserves all the time and attention of the world, not just at Christmas.

Video: John Lewis – The Journey (2012)

The characters from these commercials are universally loved, and even if they are intended only for one Christmas, they are still remembered today. But perhaps ironically, they are not the most watched in terms of views, at least on the social video platform YouTube. That top spot is held by a far more familiar individual.


Yes, a cat is the most watched advertising Christmas mascot ever! Specifically, Mog the cat, for whom the Christmas ad was definitely not the first one. The forgetful cat who is a magnet for disaster has its origins in the book series of the same name by successful children’s fiction writer Judith Kerr. The first book in the series was published in 1970 while the sixteenth book, that was the last one for a long time, was published in 2002. At the end of the book, Mog died. In 2015, it triumphantly found its way onto TV screens in the run-up to Christmas thanks to the famous department store Sainsbury’s.

In a new Christmas story called Mog’s Christmas Calamity - again written by Judith Kerr - Mog (this time fully CGI for the first time) faces the traditional dose of trouble. It starts with the unfortunate burning down of the house where her owners live. Unfortunately, this happens just before Christmas, so Mog is in real trouble. Luckily, after many mishaps that are better to watch than to be told, she manages to get firemen to the burning house. They bring the fire under control, and Christmas is saved. The protagonist is even hailed as the saviour of the family and earns herself a unique egg for Christmas. A cameo of the nosy neighbour in the commercial was performed by the author of the book.

Thanks to advertising, the series could be relaunched, and Mog thus survived her own death, confirming that the cat really does have nine lives.

Video: Sainsbury’s – Mog’s Christmas Calamity (2015)

The author turned 92 years old in 2015 and at that time, she confided that she was very happy to return to her favourite character. Judith Kerr died four years later in May 2019 at the age of 95. But her legacy survives thanks to Mog - her Christmas Calamity currently has over 42 million views on YouTube and the number is increasing every year. A creditable achievement for a cat from south London, isn’t it?

Mog’s success is the right conclusion of the theme of modern protagonists of Christmas ads. They have repeatedly shown us that it does not have to be either Santa Claus or Christ Child who brings the true festive atmosphere into our homes. A very unexpected hero who is becoming the basic ingredient of modern Christmas advertising can do it as well. Everything else including the complex story, the high-tech design, and the overall move away from product presentation to a more complex structure full of social commentary and narrative twists depends on how well the ad is able to use the characters at its centre. The above examples show where this has been done to great effect.

Perhaps it is worth adding that if there is an ideal time for miracles to happen, it is at Christmas. So, have a very merry Christmas!
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