The holiday season is hurtling towards us at lightening speed and many advertisers are either releasing the first of their Christmas video ads, or are in the final stages of production before they launch. But what makes a great Christmas ad in the first place? Well, according to a new report by VAN, it takes originality, humour, nostalgia and a generous sprinkling of Christmassy magic. While there’s no secret formula for sure fire Yuletide marketing success but there are some themes that will always work and we take a look at some of the festive trends for 2013 for both branded ads and for user generated content.

Case Study: Coca Cola The Holidays Are Coming

Most Christmas ads come dripping in nostalgia and Coca Cola’s are no exception (they practically reinvented Santa Claus to suit their own branding, probably) but they can’t be faulted for drumming up a whirlpool of sentiment, their Christmas trucks lighting up the countryside as they make their way across America. The formula is simple, but stunningly affective which is why Coke have been rolling them out year after year since 1995.

Case Study: ExcentricPT The Digital Story Of The Nativity

‘The Digital Story of the Nativity’ is a stunning example of an ad that manages to bring together ancient and modern with such originality that it attracted views and social shares in the millions. Using the tagline ‘Times change, the feeling remains the same’, the video maps the birth of Jesus through social media, including the Google Maps, Foursquare, Twitter, YouTube and Wikipedia. It was a fantastically creative idea that fully deserved to go viral the way it did.

Case Study: John Lewis And The Christmas Snowman

UK based high end retailer John Lewis have consistently produced amazingly engaging Christmas ads and this one was considered the best ad of 2012. The £6 Million commercial, the story of a love struck snowman who goes in search of the perfect Christmas gift for his sweetheart resonated with many. The use of the soundtrack, lots of beautiful snowy, festive imagery and an actual narrative made this a sure fire winner for John Lewis. The fact that it used very little product placement and didn’t shove its sales pitch in anyone’s face made it the perfect candidate for social sharing.

User Generated Content: What Brands Can Learn

When it comes to user generated content, the festive season is a rich, bottomless goldmine and brands can learn an awful lot about what works in terms of engagement and views. YouTube is the internet’s mirror and if it’s popular on that site, then that’s going to translate to the wider market. Viral Ad Network used their own TubeRank analytics to break down the key conversation triggers of some of the most popular UGC clips of the past few years.

Animals and Christmas do well, cats and Christmas do even better – surprise! Cute puppies and kittens wrapped in tinsel to a backdrop of jingle bells might just be the most clichéd thing ever, but done right, with a touch of knowing humour, it will bring the internet to its knees.

The power of family, friends and the community is also a winning formula when it comes to UGC and if you add in some festive music then it can be an incredibly powerful conversation trigger. This Christmas flash mob has attracted over 42 million hits on YouTube.

You can see the full report in the following presentation: