The holiday season is always dominated by hefty pours of nostalgia and hardy doses of capitalism, with the two coming together to commingle in our collective memories. Retro holiday jingles featured in advertisements from our youth and cozy ad spots we saw every December as children live rent-free in our consciousness. They all come to the fore every Christmas time, much like old relatives we haven’t seen all year.
In the spirit of the season, we invite you to give yourself over to these feelings of sentimentality, and unwrap our roundup of the best holiday commercials ever—even if they all come from the grubby hands of giant corporations. Despite being advertisements for products like André Champagne and Yellow Pages, these commercials still have the power to elicit senses of warmth and joy that are central to holiday cheer, transporting us back to our younger selves gathered around a television set with our families, as snow floats down outside our living room windows.
“We Wish You A Merry Christmas” Hershey Kiss Commercial – 1989
The simplicity of this Hershey’s commercial is what makes it an all-time great that still runs to this day, three decades after it first aired. The beloved “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” song choice coupled with the humanity expressed by the relieved Kiss after nailing its final note, propels this holiday commercial into timeless classic territory.
Heineken Holiday Five-Pack Commercial – 2003
Here’s another that leans into simplicity, using a common holiday scenario of wrapping an oddly-shaped gift. Once again, a classic Christmas song, “Jingle Bells,” is relied upon to set the tone as the soundtrack, while a generic-looking man who could be almost anyone’s deadbeat uncle fumbles around with tape and wrapping paper to wrap a five-pack of Heineken. There’s no need for dialogue or storytelling gimmicks here to get the point across, as the man is so overcome by his need for a Heineken after wrapping the gift, that he removes one from the package and then proudly covers the hole left behind with a dinky bow. It’s funny, charming, and concise.
M&M’s “They Do Exist!” Commercial – 1996
M&Ms brilliantly positions their anthropomorphized M&M mascots alongside one of the most famous imaginary figures of all time in this holiday favorite. It’s short, sweet, and establishes the red and yellow M&M as critical characters in our cultural lexicon. This commercial was such a hit, that M&Ms followed up with a sequel over 20 years later in 2017, that reveals the aftermath of Santa fainting in the original.
Norelco “Noëlco” Razors Commercial – 1976
The image of an animated Santa Clause sledding through snowy hills on a Norelco razor is indelibly imprinted in the minds of anyone who watched TV in the ’70s. The punny holiday rebrand from Norelco to “Noëlco” in the final title card of the ad is the whipped cream on the cup of hot chocolate.
Corona “Oh, Christmas Tree” Commercial – 1990
Did we mention that simplicity resonates with audiences? Corona has long presented tropical locales in their marketing, but that can be at odds with typical wintery images of the holidays. Corona played up that dichotomy in this iconic ’90s commercial, portraying an idyllic Caribbean night-time scene accompanied by the disembodied whistling of “Oh, Christmas Tree” that foretells Christmas lights illuminating on one of the silhouetted palm trees. It’s tender, it’s mild, and it’s a damn fine commercial.
“Take André Home for the Holidays” Commercial – 1973
André is objectively one of the ickiest champagnes on the market, but this ad from 1973 did its best to prove otherwise. Sure, it’s pretty goofy when viewed with our 2022 goggles on, but the chimes of cheers-ing champagne glasses clinking in time with “Carol of the Bells” in the background is seared into our cultural holiday soundtrack indefinitely.
Campbell’s Soup Snow Man Commercial – 1993
While a simple scenario is all a brand needs for an effective holiday commercial, many opt instead for high-concept stories that almost feel like short films instead of ads. This Campbell’s soup commercial is squarely in that camp, depicting a snow man at a dining room table eating a bowl of Campbell’s, and then melting down to reveal a human child. It’s as silly as it is bizarre, but it’s certainly unforgettable, which is the mark of any successful ad.
“Season’s Greetings from Budweiser” Clydesdale Commercial – 1987
Budweiser has done a superlative job in brand recognition by establishing Clydesdales as a key signifier of their product. This holiday commercial from the late ’80s played no small role in this achievement, presenting a romantic compilation of Clydesdales tromping through the snow— headed to Grandma’s house, no doubt!
Yellow Pages Mistletoe Commercial – 1992
This old school Yellow Pages ad spot feels like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. Much like the Heineken Holiday Five-Pack commercial, this commercial concept doesn’t require any dialogue, with the actions of the little boy and girl speaking for themselves. The cheeky narrator piping in at the end is all it takes to put a bow on the ad, with a winking, “Good old Yellow Pages.”
Coca Cola Polar Bears Christmas Party Commercial – 2005
We would be remiss to not include a single Coca Cola polar bear commercial on this list, considering their legacy and stature within holiday advertisement lore. While Coke had used polar bears in their print marketing since 1922, they aired their first polar bear TV commercial in 1993. Titled “Northern Lights,” it featured what was state-of-the-art animation at the time, with computer renderings of polar bears watching the aurora borealis as they guzzle bottles of Coke.
Since this first polar bear ad, Coke has gone all in on making these animated animals the core of their holiday campaigns. This “Christmas Party” polar bear commercial from 2005 is a particularly successful segment in the series, featuring the Beach Boys’ poppy “Little Saint Nick,” and the heartwarming interaction of a baby polar bear and baby penguin sharing a festive coke with one another.