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‘Tis the Season to Rewind: A Closer Look at Recycled Holiday Advertising

In a time where the holiday ad space is cluttered with brands competing for shoppers’ attention with new campaigns, is the use of recycled ads an effective strategy?

Using our in-market ad performance measurement solution Phoenix Brand Effect, we analyzed several campaigns from various brands that utilize recycled advertising to see what factors contribute to their success or failure. Here’s what we found:


When it comes to the holidays, at least in recent years, few campaigns are as recognizable as those featuring Coca-Cola’s Polar Bears. Dating back to the 1990s, the Coca-Cola polar bears have not only become a popular brand icon, but the integration of the polar bears in holiday ads has caused them to become a sign that the holidays have arrived.

  • The recent Polar Bears ad, running since 2013, significantly exceeded the Carbonated Soft Drinks norm of 24% for Brand Memorability (percent of real-world viewers who can recall the ad and associated brand the day after exposure) with a score of 37%.
  • While the storyline was undoubtedly a factor in the ad’s success, it was primarily driven by strong branding as a result of the consistent and strong association of the iconic polar bears with Coca Cola.

This is a prime example of how established brand icons like the polar bears can ensure strong performance year-after-year, as viewers don’t have to learn the brand as they would in a completely new campaign.

By contrast, Taste the Feeling, another one of Coca-Cola’s recycled holiday ads that has been running since 2014, featured minimal brand cues or brand icons (like the polar bears) throughout the creative and has virtually no connection to the holiday season.

  • There are no indications that this is a holiday ad, except for a modern version of ‘Deck the Halls’ playing in the background, which likely caused the ad to perform well below the norm for Ad and Brand Memorability.

The key to the high performance of Polar Bears was the integration of strong brand cues (the polar bear brand icon) and the overall holiday theme, both of which were missing from the Taste the Feeling ads.


You can’t watch TV during November and December without seeing a Pillsbury baking ad (just the thought of a warm crescent roll baking in the oven is enough to get your mouth watering).

  • Their Holiday Cookies ad, which ran from 2012-2014, significantly exceeded the Bakery Goods norm on Brand Memorability with a score of 41% (compared to the 33% norm).
  • The ad, which features a family having fun baking holiday cookies together, aligns with a lot of our breakthrough best practices: a strong emotional connection, relatable characters, and a simple storyline. These elements were well integrated into the ad’s storyline, making it both memorable and nostalgic.

By contrast, their Pie that Pops ad that appeared in the same campaign as Holiday Cookies (but only ran from 2013-2014), performed very differently.

  • The ad is essentially an instructional video on how to make a pie (which did not stick out in-market based on our data) and failed to integrate the holiday theme into the storyline, which we believe ultimately caused the ad to under-perform.

Hershey’s and M&M’s

Another fan favorite that has been airing since 1996 is the classic M&M’s They Do Exist holiday ad.

  • Featuring the Red and Yellow M&M characters encountering Santa Claus and each being surprised by the other’s existence, this clever ad utilizes both our breakthrough and branding best practices while integrating a strong holiday theme into the storyline.
  • This ad surpassed the Candy & Mints norm across brand delivery metrics with a score of 43%, significantly higher than the 31% norm.
  • The talking M&M characters, a popular brand icon, led to strong brand communication, while the engaging and humorous storyline led to an emotional connection with viewers.

With the addition of the holiday themes throughout and the sense of nostalgia it evokes, this ad started strong and continued throughout its long flight.

Like the M&M’s, the Hershey’s Carol of the Bells ad, which features a group of Hershey Kisses ringing like bells to ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas,’ significantly exceeded the Candy & Mints norm across brand delivery metrics.

  • The smart integration of the product into the ad as the main subject led to high brand communication and a staggering Brand Memorability score of 49%.
  • With the utilization of a popular holiday song and clear product imagery, this perfectly simple ad struck a memorable chord with viewers and remains at the top of the list year after year since its debut in 2012.

Final Thoughts

Recycled holidays ads have become a staple of the holiday season, and many for good reason. But not all recycled holiday ads are created equal, and if your brand is considering using a recycled campaign instead of creating a new one this holiday season, you need to bear some things in mind:

  1. Don’t be afraid to go all-in with strong nostalgic holiday themes. Tepid holiday tie-ins aren’t enough, so you need to make your creative an unofficial cue that the Holidays are here
  2. Leverage classic brand icons/triggers if possible and make them integral parts of the story (polar bears, M&M characters, the Hershey Kisses)
  3. Prioritize brand over product – the weak Coca-Cola and Pillsbury ads both seem to focus more on how one uses the product vs making your brand a holiday sponsor
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