Gen Z Unwrapped: Which Festive Campaigns Will Be Top of The Tree This Year?

Mince pies, glittery clothes, cold nights and mulled wine. It’s been over 40 years since Andy Williams called the holiday season “the most wonderful time of the year” – and you know what? He’s still spitting facts (…albeit from the grave).

We’re firmly nestled into the ‘ber’ months, and it’s almost time for the bounty of Christmas ads to start hitting screens and smartphones. But which ones will be on top of the tree, and which will be discarded like the turkey carcass?

Stay with me, because I’ve got some interesting predictions (and the data to back it up, too)…

So, as we know, this hasn’t been the easiest of years…

Inflation hit an all-time high. Climate change ravaged countries around the world. #SubmarineGate had us on tenterhooks. Summer in the UK, once relied on to provide an injection of sunshine and joy, was cold and miserable. Morale has been low, to say the least.

Much of the same rang true in 2022, especially given the impact of the cost-of-living crisis.

Marketeers adjusted their festive campaigns, noting that luxury and flamboyancy was unlikely to resonate with a skint British public.

Will the same festive messaging from 2022 follow us into 2023?

Well, if brands want to win over today’s consumers (and not be met by a collective “boo!”), it’ll have to.

A massive 83% of Gen Z in the UK shared that the cost-of-living crisis will impact their spending habits this Christmas, with 72% in the US revealing the same. 

Consumers are stripping back the pennies, and brands need to adjust. Forget consumerism, it’s time to find joy in the smaller things. 

We asked 1,000 Gen Zers the kinds of ads they wanted to see in 2023…

According to our survey:

  • Nostalgic and emotional (93%)
  • Humorous (53%)
  • Social (37%)

Bad time of year to be a Kleenex tissue.

The ghost of advertisements’ past: what can we learn?

It appears there are three dominating themes this Christmas for Gen Z: humour, emotion and social. 

Given we don’t have any actual Christmas ads yet, let’s take a look at some of the brands that did this (and did it well), in past holiday seasons.

John Lewis, The Beginner

Category: Emotional

Sorry. It’s predictable, I know – but the JL advert can’t be ignored. Telling a heartwarming story about the foster care system, this tear-jerker made us want to hug our loved ones a little tighter.

John Lewis got the Gen Z seal of approval, with young consumers praising the advert online, and some even filming live reactions.

This campaign came up time and time again in our qualitative data when we asked Gen Zers which adverts stood out the most from last year. One individual wrote “John Lewis – I look forward to seeing it every year”.

Same here, buddy.


*Re-considers gifts for entire family* 👨‍👧‍👦👩‍👧‍👦 #johnlewis #christmas #blindreact #relatable #fyp #viral

♬ original sound – Sam Cornforth

Student Beans’ Head of Advertising, Ash Waters, shares:

In the world of performance-led marketing where metrics like CPA, LTV and ROI reign supreme it can be easy for marketers to lose sight of the very thing that delivers those results; storytelling and connecting with your potential customers. Now, as ever, content is king.

Tesco’s No Naughty List

Category: Humour

Seasonal advertising in 2020 was risky.

All the markers we know and love about Christmas were relinquished*.

Presents? You’ll have to pop them in the post. The legendary office Christmas party? An online affair. Hanging out with your girlfriend (who you haven’t quite yet committed to living with)? No chance, mate.

However, one supermarket hit all the right notes (and this didn’t come solely down to the Britney backing track). 

Backed by the honeyed tones of Oops I Did It Again, Tesco bought a much-needed bit of silliness to a very sombre year.

The ad saw individuals fessing up their pandemic sins. One girl confessed to giving her sister a terrible haircut. Another admitted to hoarding loo roll.

And, in a truly shocking turn of events, a very tanned Santa confessed that he “might’ve gone on holiday”. 

Clearly the nation was in a forgiving spirit – because they loved it. Plus, in the words of Love Actually, if you can’t say it at Christmas, when can you?

(*unless you literally hate having to hang out with your extended family).

Jack Wills: Tis The Season

Glitter. Balloons. Red cups. Charli XCX thumping away in the background, and influencers galore

Jack Wills’ 2022 Christmas ad will go down in the books – not only because it literally looks like the best party *ever*, but also because it was instrumental in changing their entire brand image.

Older members of Gen Z might associate Jack Wills with navy gilets, polo shirts and preppy pencil cases. As Izzy Copestake wrote last year, “wearing one of their pastel-coloured rugby shirts became heavily correlated with having a double barrelled surname”.

However, the last few years has seen a rebrand that echoes a far cry from its ‘Fabulously British’ days.

After investing heavily into influencer marketing, Jack Wills has become…sort of cool?

With ambassadors including Jack Joseph, Olivia Neill and GKBarry, the brand has set its sights on the individuals making waves with young consumers – and it’s working.

Their 2022 campaign generated a huge amount of buzz online, with influencer engagement through the roof. You can check out the ad below…

So, why is knowing all of this important for brands?

Well, because Christmas adverts aren’t just Christmas adverts.

They echo the mood of the nation: and done right, can capture spend, loyalty and awareness. The final quarter of the month is the most important financial time for brands, so striking the right tone is key for success. 

When it comes to Gen Z, understanding their sentiment around the festive season is imperative for brands looking to determine their messaging. At Student Beans, this is what we live and breathe on a daily basis.

Our Gen Z research agency, Voxburner, conducts research into the attitudes, behaviours and trends of young consumers. Our student marketing solutions can also help brands to engage a global youth audience. If you’re looking to learn more, you can get in touch with us here.

In the meantime, keep an eye out for our festive report A Quick Wins Guide to Marketing to Gen Z During the Holidays!

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