As long as there is Christmas, there will be Christmas commercials. To celebrate the tradition of holiday advertising — a tradition so steeped in seasonal sappiness that even hardened truckers have been brought to tears by 30-second adverts for cookie dough — we’ve decided to take a leisurely walk down memory lane and revisit a dozen classic, wildly popular holiday commercials of yesteryear, some of which are still airing today. The key to the long-lasting success of many of these commercials, aside from annoying/catchy jingles, is their maudlin nature, so please, have a box of tissue — or a bucket to wretch into — nearby before you begin.
While “grown-child-surprises-everyone-by-sneaking-home-unannounced-for-the-holidays” is a frequent theme of holiday commercials no matter the type of product being hawked, Folgers pretty much nailed it with the 1985’s mawkish, minute-long masterpiece “Peter Comes Home.” No matter if the commercial tugs at your heartstrings or tests your gag reflexes, there’s no denying that this is a heartwarming, grade-A hunk of holiday schmaltz with true staying power. The full-length version ran each holiday season for an incredible 13 years straight. And no revisiting of this holiday classic would be complete without also checking out Funny or Die’s take on what happens when Peter surprises everyone on Christmas morning by brewing a big ol’ pot of Folgers.
This feel-good holiday relic also hails from that entirely more wholesome, innocent era known as the 1980s. An era when not-quite-retired spokes-clown Ronald McDonald still regularly appeared in TV spots for the fast-food behemoth and when parents seemed to be perfectly fine with letting their young children hang out, supervised, at frozen-over ponds frequented by a grown man wearing a floppy red wig, a baggy yellow jumpsuit and Kabuki-style face paint (fun fact: clown-turned-weatherman Willard Scott portrayed the utterly terrifying first incarnation of Ronald). That being said, while a TV spot like this probably wouldn’t fly today, it remains one of the defining Christmas commercials of the not-so-distant past.
Santa is an Oreos man. Go figure.
Short (15 seconds!), sweet and crazy effective, the Hershey’s Kisses “Christmas Bells” commercial has been resurrected each holiday season, unaltered, since 1989 and remains the longest running product advertisement for the Pennsylvania-based confectioner. Not much really happens in the somewhat low-key, stop-motion animation-based commercial – 12 Hershey’s Kisses, arranged in the shape of a holiday tannenbaum, play “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” as if they were handbells – but that’s part of the Ogilvy & Mather-created spot’s simple genius: Not weighted down by excessive razzle dazzle or cloying sentimentality, the product itself is able to shine with an ample dose of holiday cheer — and whimsical humor — thrown in good measure.
No disrespect to those hardworking polar bears, but when we think of Christmas and Coca-Cola, we think of hard-to-shake advertising jingles masquerading as pop songs. Case in point: Coke’s long-running “Holidays Are Coming” adverts from the early 1990s (you know, the one with the magical delivery trucks) and a holiday-themed reboot of the iconic 1971 “Hilltop” commercial featuring the easy-listening hippie anthem “I’d Like to Teach the World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony).” In addition to appearing in the ads themselves, both songs, “Wonderful Dream (Holidays are Coming)” and “I’d Like to Teach the World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony), were released as singles by the late, popular-in-Germany pop diva Melanie Thornton of La Bouche fame and by The Hillside Singers (and later by British folk group The New Seekers), respectively.
If you thought television commercials for jewelry stores reached maximum saccharine levels in the weeks leading up the Valentine’s Day, think again: Jewelers somehow manage to crank the schmaltz up even more during the holiday season (or perhaps we’re all just feeling a bit more stressed out and vulnerable/nostalgic than usual during Christmastime?) Whatever the case, this holiday gem (Sleeping infants! Hushed whispers! $800 gemstone rings!) from the cheesy sentiment peddlers over at Kay seems to have really hit a nerve with American consumers. Please re-watch and let us know your initial reaction. Did you get all misty-eyed, or find yourself suddenly nauseous? Did you start feeling, in the words of one YouTube commenter, particularly “stabby?”
We’re sorry but we just couldn’t help it.
Although we’re rather fond of the lyrical genius on display in the early 1980s holiday commercials released by M&Ms (“They’re neat to eat, fun to share, a part of Christmas everywhere, they go hand-in-hand with fun for everyone!”), 1996’s “Faint” has endured through the years and emerged as a widely beloved holiday classic (as far as we know, it has yet to be retired). The commercial’s premise is rather simple: A couple of candy-coated anthropomorphic fellas have an unexpected late night run-in with everyone’s favorite geriatric home invader. It's cute, effective and still manages to elicit giggles.
Honey Nut Cheerios
“Did you say honey and nuts?”
While scrumptious and festive edibles (candy, cookies, soda, tummy-rubbing Doughboys, etc.) tend to dominate the Christmas advertising scene, Norelco — the personal care arm of European electronics giant Philips — has managed to make hawking electric razors a long-running holiday tradition since the 1960s (the ads were discontinued in 1986 but brought back due to consumer complaints several years later according to the New York Times). Featuring a stop-motion Santa zipping through a wintery landscape in a sleigh fashioned out of a triple-head men’s razor, the commercials have also highlighted the finest in state-of-the-art gadgetry over the years: hair dryers, coffee makers, mustache trimmers, cordless hand vacs, travel irons, and the ultimate in high-tech holiday gifts circa 1984: a home blood pressure meter.
Finally, no roundup of classic Christmas commercials would be complete without (allegedly) watered-down lager and a bevy of beautiful draft horses from St. Louis. Take it away Budweiser Clydesdales ...