The festive season of 2023 has seen an unprecedented trend in holiday advertising. According to a detailed analysis by 75Media, this year has recorded the highest use of celebrities in Christmas campaigns by major retailers. Its ten-year review of 18 leading retailers shows a notable shift in advertising strategies, with a remarkable increase in celebrity appearances compared to previous years.

The Rise of Celebrity-Driven Christmas Campaigns

This trend marks a significant departure from traditional holiday advertising narratives. While in 2020, only 11% of top retailers incorporated celebrities into their Christmas adverts, 2023 witnessed a dramatic leap to 50%. This shift raises intriguing questions about consumer preferences and the evolving landscape of holiday advertising.

Key Players in the Celebrity Trend

M&S stands at the forefront of celebrity-driven advertising, consistently featuring Dawn French for the past three years. In 2020, it raised the bar by including a host of A-list celebrities like Olivia Colman, Dame Julie Walters, and Tom Hardy, who lent their voices to narrate short stories. This trend in M&S began in 2019 with advertisements starring Paddy McGuinness and Emma Willis, marking the start of the brand’s affinity for celebrity endorsements.

JD has similarly embraced the celebrity trend over the past five years, showcasing a mix of musicians and sports stars in its campaigns. This year, it has featured talents such as Ella Toone, Kano, and Central Cee.

Sainsbury’s has also entered the arena of celebrity-led adverts, with Alison Hammond appearing last year and Rick Astley making a cameo this year.

Asda made a splash with its first-ever celebrity-led campaign in 2022 featuring the iconic Will Ferrell as Elf. This move generated considerable buzz and landed Asda’s advert on numerous top Christmas advertisement lists for that year.

The Retail Celebrity Favourites

Hannah Waddingham has earned the title of “Celeb of the Year,” with her dual appearance in both M&S and Bailey’s adverts, a rare feat in the industry. Dawn French, the voice of M&S’s Christmas Fairy, has been dubbed the “Queen of Christmas Ads,” as she’s featured in every M&S Christmas advert since 2021. Alison Hammond is quickly becoming a retail favourite as she debuted her Christmas appearance with Sainsbury’s last year in an iconic role as countess and again this year featuring in Debenhams Christmas campaign.

Public Perception and Effectiveness

This trend towards celebrity endorsements begs the question: Are these star-studded campaigns truly resonating with the audience? Is the essence of Christmas storytelling being overshadowed by the glitz of celebrity appearances?

Celebrity Power: A Glimpse into Past Campaigns 

We examined the search trends for Asda and Sainsbury’s focusing on their incorporation of celebrities in some, but not all, of their Christmas campaigns. Our goal was to assess whether advertisements featuring celebrities garnered more interest.

While we don’t have access to the search volume data for November and December 2023 yet, we can draw insights from the 2022 figures. Notably, 2022 marked Asda’s first venture into celebrity endorsements, featuring the renowned Will Ferrell. This move resulted in a staggering 2024% increase in searches for Asda’s Christmas Ad, jumping from 3,620 to 76,900 searches, demonstrating the significant impact of an A-list celebrity. Asda also reported the highest sales growth amongst rival supermarkets over the Christmas period in 2022 with a 6.4% increase.

This year Sainsbury’s collaborated with Rick Astley, and Alison Hammond in 2022, its first foray into celebrity-driven campaigns. Hammond’s involvement led to one of the highest search volumes for a Sainsbury’s Christmas ad, a surge rivalled only by their 2020 campaign, which garnered 25,000 Ofcom complaints and generated significant buzz, but not for the intended reasons. Sainsbury’s came second to Asda in 2022 with a 6.2% increase in sales over the festive period. The year before saw Tesco as the supermarket leader of Christmas sales, could Will Ferrell have that much influence to push Asda to the top of the supermarket leaderboard?

The trend of increasing celebrity involvement in this year’s campaigns is noteworthy. With more celebrities featured in ads than ever before, it’s clear that retailers are acknowledging the growing influence of celebrities and influencers. The success of these 2023 campaigns will be interesting to analyse, especially considering this shift towards leveraging celebrity power in advertising.

Katy Conway, 75Media’s Marketing and Communications Director commented on these findings “2023’s spike in celebrity-driven Christmas adverts is a fascinating development in the retail world. Our analysis shows a clear shift towards using star power to capture audience attention. Retailers are recognising the value of celebrity appeal in their campaigns, which is reshaping the traditional Christmas advert narrative. It’s a strategy that’s proving to be effective, judging by the increased audience engagement and search trends”

Conclusion: Striking a Balance

The increasing use of celebrities in Christmas adverts indicates a strategic shift in the retail industry. However, the data suggests that the most memorable and impactful adverts strike a balance between engaging storytelling and the allure of star power. As retailers navigate this new era of holiday advertising, the challenge will be to blend celebrity appeal with the essence of the festive season, ensuring that the true spirit of Christmas isn’t lost in the glamour.

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