At Well Done HQ, which in 2020 serves as a series of makeshift home offices in kitchens and bedrooms across Indy and its various suburbs, we’re hardly impervious to the allure of a splashy, oversized holiday campaign. Revisit our 2018 attempt to resuscitate the long-forgotten Pog as just one example. While 2020 may have canceled its share of, well, everything, even the worst global pandemic can’t put a stop to the annual onslaught of holiday ads that began in early November and will roll on through Christmas at least.

But this year is different. Iconic brands like Coca-Cola can’t just trot out their trusty polar bears, sprinkle in some computer-generated snow and hope to ignite the imagination of the masses as in years past. To do so fails to acknowledge the elephant in the room—the very real upheaval this pandemic has wrought upon all of us. As Huffington Post rightfully pointed out the big C-word this holiday season isn’t Christmas. It’s still coronavirus.

So how are brands navigating this collective catastrophe, while competing for their share of our last expendable dollar this holiday season? The best of them are attempting to convey empathy, authenticity, and compassion. They understand we’re hurting. They know we’ve been through hell. It’s our very humanity and desire for visceral, human connection they’re playing to this year. See a few examples of brands we think are doing this successfully below.

Amazon – “The Show Must Go On”

If there’s one company that was built for this era of social distancing, it’s Amazon. Their profits tripled in the third quarter, as consumers took advantage of their convenient, contactless delivery service for everything from toilet paper to patio heaters. This surge in orders came as Amazon faced increased scrutiny over its poor treatment of employees as they struggled to keep the virus out of their fulfillment centers.

For their holiday ad, Amazon follows a story of determination and perseverance in a ballet dancer who’s forced to trade her practice space for a rainy, highway underpass. The ad works because it speaks to the adversity we’ve all been forced to overcome this year. Nevertheless, she persisted. It’s a big step up from the tone-deaf “Thank You Amazon Heroes” ad the company ran in March.


Xfinity – “The Greatest Gift”

For their holiday spot, Xfinity convinced Steve Carell to reprise his role of Regional Manager of the North Pole. Here, Santa challenges his elves via conference call to come up with a big idea to act as a salve for the many wounds incurred in 2020. The elves don’t disappoint, as they attempt to package the holiday spirit in the form of all the little moments that define the season: snowball fights, the smell of grandma’s cooking, and those annoying cheek pinches from your aunt. There’s something inherently comforting about Carell himself, playing the universal worried dad as his workforce scrambles to make good on his attempt to save Christmas. We’re not sure what any of this has to do with an overpriced television subscription.


Gucci – “Gift 2020”

We’re suckers for impeccable musical direction. And this Gucci holiday spot is nostalgia marketing at its finest. Who would’ve thought the emotional toll of 2020 would lead to us ending the year craving a corny office Christmas party? Yet here we are. The use of Yazoo’s lone megahit “Only You” will have even the least capable dancer dusting off their shoes to start a solo dance party. This feels like one of those moments when an ad has the potential to open an up an entire audience to someone overlooked in their prime, in the same way Volkswagen’s “Milky Way” ad introduced a younger generation to Nick Drake in the 1990s. It’s just a perfect pick.


Tesco – “No Naughty List”

The U.K.’s largest grocer turns an old holiday trope, the naughty list, on its head for its holiday ad this year. As with so many other things, Tesco proposes canceling the naughty list as characters confess to hoarding toilet paper, insufficient hand washing, and worse. Surely we can all get behind scrapping the naughty list this year.


Coca-Cola – “Give Something Only You Can Give”

Remember those Coca-Cola polar bears we mentioned earlier? They’re noticeably absent from this year’s ad, which features a father doing everything he can to deliver his daughter’s Christmas list to Santa in time for the big day. What he doesn’t realize is she simply wants her father home for the holidays. It’s a great reminder that the material things don’t matter much in a moment when we all just want to be together, even if it’s coming from the most successful soda company in history.


What holiday ads have captured your attention this year? Who is speaking to this moment in a way that rings true and doesn’t feel like a hollow cash grab? Let us know in the comments and on social. We’d love to hear from you.