It’s the holidays again and that means it’s the season for holiday ads. Every year, brands ply their wares to the purchasing public hoping to get the most attention in a crowded holiday field.

Things are a little different in 2019, namely that holiday ad spend is down overall. Yes, the New York Times reports that retailers are spending 21 percent less on holiday ads than they did last year. More retailers are focusing on year-round digital ad spend and greater ad targeting— which means a bigger emphasis on evergreen ad spots. 

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still plenty of brands going all-out in the tradition of the big holiday campaign. Among the brands that are, we’re seeing a trend of touching tear-jerker stories that focus more on the experiences a product can create rather than the pleasure of acquisition.

Here are the best holiday ads of 2019.

#1: Argos

Ad people everywhere are talking about British retailer Argos’ campaign that serves a full story with a beginning, middle, and end. Starting with a dad’s dream of getting matching drum sets with his daughter, he envisions his child drum soloing with him to a cheering crowd in a huge arena.

Argos’ ads to their wow factor with an impressive child drummer, all while sharing a moment of connection and togetherness with her dad. The argument it makes is for how Argos’ products can bring a dream to life and gives consumers a chance to connect with their loved ones by using their products.

#2: Frito’s with Anna Kendrick

Of course, musical holiday ads are a seasonal tradition at this point, but the popular brand Frito-Lay’s ad spot does one better by getting triple threat Anna Kendrick on board as their spokeswoman. Their candy-colored rendition of “My Favorite Things” showcases Kendrick’s song and dance talents, as well as just how weird those original lyrics are. All the while, it adds just enough references to Fritos products to an earworm of a song that sticks in your head for days. It’s not only visually beautiful, but it’ll also get audiences singing about Doritos.

#3: Ikea UK

Speaking of musical ads, Ikea’s holiday campaign is not only attention-grabbing, it flips the typical cozy holiday ad on its head with an original British grime song. 

The ad shows all of a family’s ceramics busting into song to tell a family their decor needs an update before holiday entertaining. Not only is it catchy, but the combination of talking toys with (of all things) grime beats knocks viewers right out of the humdrum. 

It’s surprising and attention-getting and thus, a welcome update to the holiday marketing strategy realm.

#4: Oreos 

Oreos’ campaign focuses on the human connection (or maybe that’s elf-human connection) when one of Santa’s elves shows he hasn’t learned how “cookies and milk” work yet. What works here is its simplicity, underlining a relatable experience in an unusual scenario. As one of the few spots not going for your heartstrings, it also stands out as being sweet and playful without any emotional manipulation.

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#5: Visa

In yet another excellent musical spot, Visa urges customers to shop at small businesses this holiday season and “show your high street some love.” What works about this ad is Visa is acknowledging the growing sentiment to support smaller businesses and actively spreading that idea through their own marketing. Their sentiment links to consumers’ advocacy for larger businesses (think Amazon, Wal-mart, Costco), taking business away from the little man. As we know, a business that can show their customers they are fighting with them, usually comes out on top.

#6: GAP

In a demonstration of how advertising is shifting, GAP made headlines this year by announcing their holiday ad placements will be digital-only. Nonetheless, they’ve still created a heartwarming campaign that tells a full story by focusing on a classic GAP product. 

Their campaign follows a single mom and her son through the mundane moments of his upbringing, all with the son’s trusty GAP sweatshirt by his side. In other words, the moments that add up to a life. Now that much national sentiment is privileging experiences over material items, GAP’s spot is smart in bringing emotion to those items, arguing that a GAP hoodie isn’t just a piece of clothing, it’s a witness to our lives and in that, holds emotion and memory.

#7: Apple

Apple went with a slice-of-life family vacation, starting with the kids arguing in the car. What works for their marketing campaign here is how it shows the iPad fully integrated into this family’s life and allows them to connect, despite the reputation screens may have for keeping individuals apart. 

Within the space of one ad spot, we see the iPad’s many uses, from entertaining the kids on a long flight to helping those same kids compose a heartfelt gift after the family loses someone special. Apple, once again, shows us what a strong brand they are and how they’ve incorporated themselves into the lives of every demographic.

#8: Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren’s campaign focuses on connection as well. Their ad, “Homecoming,” showcases the diversity of the U.S. and has an underlining theme that holidays may look different for people across the nation. The ad plays out to show that ultimately, the holidays are really the same for all of us. The holidays are about connecting with those you love and — in some sense or another — coming home. 

#9: Starbucks

Starbucks holiday ad of their toasted white chocolate mocha hot beverage

Of course, there’s something to be said about simplicity as well, and that’s what makes this Starbucks campaign work so well. Their digital banner ads scream the idea of Christmas without ever using the word (in fact, they don’t use the word holiday). 

Instead, they opt for an eye-catching green and red theme with a delectable product shot of one of their most popular seasonal offerings. Starbucks knows their customer, and this ad shows us that their customers will pull out their wallets after seeing a photo of their favorite seasonal beverage. Simple and effect.

#10: Mercedes

The Mercedes campaign this year opts for sly humor with a child catching Santa delivering goodies and using the power (or threat) of social media to get what he actually wants for Christmas. It’s a cheeky and fun ad that integrates a new reality (kids savvy on social media) into advertising.

By taking something traditional and pairing it to what a kid’s attitude looks like today, they’re able to target parents with children on social media…who may not always listen when you tell them it’s time to get off. Mercedes knows that the connection to the buyer (the parent) is their most important job in this campaign and they made it happen.

#11: FedEx

FedEx chooses to showcase Christmas morning and a small girl’s fantasy of flying. What’s fun here is that FedEx brings viewers back to childhood games of playing pretend with the simple toy of a cardboard box, while stating that what they really deliver to our doors is imagination.

Their campaign puts a smart focus on what parents can do with all of the boxes they’re receiving right now (and throughout the year), giving them ideas of how to entertain their kids. All for free. FedEx’s campaign is a great reminder that kids don’t always need the fanciest and newest technology in toys—sometimes they just want to build an airplane out of a cardboard box.

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