The 12 must-see TV ads for the holidays

We may have hit peak television holiday tradition with this year’s advertising surge, which promises to be the biggest for a number of programs for whom last year’s numbers would be eye-popping even if they were still so new.

In the battle of “same as last year” to the last possible minute, the most familiar brands will be celebrated. But there are also new trends — and ads playing with existing trends — to note:

Happy getting-to-know-you

MasterCard’s “Cheers to Being Human” campaign, just released Tuesday, features a lineup of human-like characters touting products in promoting a trade association whose members will be known as Mastercard Humanist Businesses. Players range from a girl who works at a coffee shop to a sleek-dressed work woman, to a charismatic bartender and bartender to a stewardess who delivers a very Christian message about hellfire.

Just take a minute to think how funny it is that some of these characters are in slightly better or worse situations than the brands they’re promoting. It’s a clever way to address fears about terrorism, misinformation, and dangerous pets or humans who come around when making holiday offers — why worry?

Ayly, the worker-bee server at the coffee shop — in all the scenes she continues to greet the customers with a tightly focused head nod, though it might be a stretch to imagine everyone finding her very human personality really all that engaging. But since it was released on Tuesday, the Aysly and other ads have gotten a ton of attention, a sign that the campaign is indeed resonating with people.

Not everyone wants the same thing

Levi’s spot returns for its ninth year offering an interesting view of giving. In the 2015 iteration, a homeless man is depicted as accepting a pair of $150 jeans with a simple “Thank you.” In the 2016 version, a man who says he lost a job for being good at his job seems to light up when offered a pair of denim.

Levi’s shift to cultural relevance is part of an effort to appeal to the millennial generation and millennials, and their newly won ability to value experiences over material goods.

It is also part of a philosophy not to chase economic fears but to build relationships with customers and build a relationship with the people who buy their products, Mark Altschul, an assistant professor of marketing at San Diego State University, said.

“There’s something to be said for associating certain types of jobs with experiences rather than just focusing on a higher-paying job or less-paying job,” Altschul said. “Those are going to be important factors in terms of your financial success, but it really comes down to your relationships with the people that you’re spending time with.”


Apple is the undisputed leader in the holiday ads game, even if they were surprise contributors in 2015. The all-black ad for the iPhone 7, released in October, starred Amy Poehler at an elegant Apple store (which she later lamented on her “Late Night” late-night talk show) and concluded with the line “Our simple idea. Our brand. Our success. Nothing fancy. Our promise.”

The equally simple-titled “HomePod” features Justin Timberlake, Natalie Portman and a conversation about joy. And if that’s not enough for you, Disney made an ad entirely by the director of “The Lion King” for the winter holidays. It still asks the question “What does a year of a family look like?”

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