Coca Cola’s decision to put the jolly St. Nick in their iconic shade of red created a cultural phenomenon – and 81 years after Haddon Sundblom’s Coke-guzzling Santa, John Lewis brought everyone to tears with the story of two snowman lovers. Since, a menagerie of creations – humans, animals, animated objects – have been used to promote a whole host of brands.

Festive marketing has seen an increase in the trend of fictitious characters. They are used to stir our emotions and bring resonance to a story. In the UK, 47% of people surveyed have been moved to tears by festive advertising. From heart-warming to hilarious, they are powerful marketing tools – they become the face of the brand during this period across media and in store, creating a connection with their audience.

Although Christmas can present brands and creatives with the pressures of innovating year on year, the rewards of creating a great character can be worth millions. With the aim of being the most talked about Christmas ad, characters can also lead to other successes – from merchandising opportunities, to the chance of becoming a cultural icon (cue Coca Cola Santa.)

Agencies across the world are upping the ante as this trend evolves. In the UK – where the Christmas ad spend has hit record highs – the love of super emotive SADvertising is strong, whereas in Australia the focus shifts to family and laughter. The US seems to be taking notes from both, with a distinct shift towards tearjerker ads this year.

And with 33% of Brits more excited for blockbuster Christmas adverts than films this December, could we see a trend in promoting the commercials themselves? This year, John Lewis had huge success with their online teaser for their character-driven ad trending on Twitter, making national news.

At Zero Degrees West, we’re no strangers to brand characters – since 1929 Nipper has been a loyal companion to hmv, and this year he’s the star of our festive hmv digital campaign. With the brand’s lovable dog being one of the many four-legged and furry characters gracing our screens this holiday season, here’s are our top picks of the festive ads, and the characters that are shaping the Christmas landscape in 2017.

Marks & Spencer, featuring Paddington Bear
UK | Grey London

This ad is sweeter than a marmalade sandwich. The endearing story of the bear that saved Christmas positions M&S as a trustworthy festive savior. Marks and Spencer have also got their paws on stacks of merch and marmalade in stores. The bear gets his promotional back scratched too – as the campaign ties in with the theatrical release of Paddington 2.

Paddington can also be spotted alongside BB8 in our festive campaign for ODEON… That bear gets around.

Heathrow, featuring the Bears
UK | Leo Burnett London

The bears are back for this charming spot for Heathrow. With their human clothes and emotions, these teddies tug on the heartstrings. The message of togetherness is strong, putting Heathrow forward as the ultimate means of reuniting this holiday season. A limited edition scarf – for humans – will also be given to passengers who make a purchase through Heathrow’s personal shopping service.

Myer, featuring the Elf
Australia | Clemenger BBDO Melbourne

Although the characters in Myer’s Christmas spot are decorations, they tap into the relatable human truth of families squabbling at Christmas. But Myer is here to remind us that there’s nothing like Christmas together, positioning themselves as the perfect provider for happy holidays with your loved ones. Cuddly characters are available in Myer stores, along with storybooks that can be brought to life with their own AR app – ‘Elf Vision.’

Cost Plus World Market, featuring Llamas
US | barrettSF

These silent yet sentient llamas take centre stage in this heart-warming ad for Cost Plus World Market. Nonsensical, yet charming, the spot doesn’t convey a particularly strong message, yet the emotions it pulls up give the audience a sense of warmth, which directly reflects on the brand. Llama-mania continues in store, with merchandise available, chances to win trips to Peru, and gift card giveaways on National Llama Day (yes, it’s a thing).

David Jones, featuring the Expat Gingerbread Man
Australia | TBWA Sydney

Despite the family in David Jones’ ad being made of delicious biscuit, audiences around Australia will relate – loved ones could be anywhere, but it’s not really Christmas until everyone is together again, and David Jones has just the gift for the family members you’ve been missing. The spot launches David Jones’ festive window displays, and ties in to their charity initiative – with the profits from gingerbread man sales going to their charity partner.