The Strop Weekly Roundup

Weekly Roundup: 3 Holiday Commercials Telling Powerful Stories

This week, in an early edition of the Strop: Holiday ads that demonstrate the power of good storytelling.

The Strop is a place to whet your appetite for damn good stories. Check back every Friday for our latest recommendations. This week, the recommendations come from Wrangler contributor Cassandra Wagner.

1. The Surprise, Apple (2019)

Apple’s The Surprise (2019) really is an unexpected gem in advertising. The three-minute commercial highlights a family as they travel for the holidays. The first minute of the ad is ridden with classic family imagery, problems, and quick solves via an iPad. Kids fighting in the back seat? Hand them the iPad to watch a movie. Kids hungry on flight? Distract them with a game. Finally, the family arrives to the destination: grandpa’s house. In the midst of the arrival chaos, the audience is gifted with an emotional pause when one of the daughters asks the mom if her grandpa is still sad, and her mom replies yes. Suddenly, this commercial is transformed from holiday cheese to story with depth. It doesn’t take long to realize this is the first holiday season for grandpa without his wife, and the family is there to comfort him. While the girls are “staying busy” to avoid upsetting him, they stumble upon old videos of their grandparents’ wedding, inspiring them to tackle the issue at hand. Together, with the ever-so-helpful iPad, they craft an emotional present — a video scrapbook of their grandparents and family. It’s a simple premise, but grief during the holidays and offering support to loved ones is a complicated situation many people deal with each year. Watching the grandpa’s crying face as he views the video can easily turn to cliché, but with the help of the actor and the story itself, this moment reads as raw and honest. The beauty of this ad is that it tells a relatable story while being just unique enough in its handling to stand out as a strong (and let’s be honest, also tear-jerking) story. 

2. Home for the Holidays, Toyota (2018)

The marketing department at Toyota is known for creating a range of interesting ads. Whether they’re balancing the fine line of appropriate humor with their Super Bowl One Team ad, inspiring viewers to overcome the odds, or causing tears over a family farm’s tree, Toyota ads push the boundaries of advertisement by focusing on the story first, with subtle visual cues of their latest model. The 2018 Home for the Holidays ad stands out because it visually transforms a holiday homecoming for military members. 

The ad opens with a small boy telling his mom that it’s snowing outside. They cuddle for a moment, and we fast-forward to the boy watching his mom drive off (in her new vehicle, of course) while the mom’s voice-over it’s too far for him to go with her. Evidently, where she is going is important to him, and it will be some time before she will return. Trying to make the most of his time, the boy goes outside and begins to build a snowman. Within several frames, he has half the neighborhood children having fun making snowmen with him. Cue Mom and Grandma on the phone, asking “Did you get him?” Now, the situation has changed from an ordinary winter day to a homecoming. The pacing of the scene increases: the boy grabs a military cap, and we see the dad’s smiling face — and BAM, we see the saluting snowmen. Not one, but at least a dozen snowmen line the street up to the house. The ad ends with the father getting out of the car and saluting his son first before hugging. While a military homecoming story isn’t original in of itself — or building a snowman, for that matter — the creative use of both devices work together to tell a compelling and heartwarming story. 

3. Heimkommen (Homecoming), Edeka (2015)

This 2015 ad from the German company Edeka become a social media phenomenon for good reason — it tells a bizarre, but good story of a seemingly widowed elderly man struggling to get his family to spend the holidays with him, so he fakes his death. 

The ad opens with the man listening to a voicemail from his daughter, canceling their holiday visit. Through montage, viewers watch him eat Christmas dinner alone, year after year. Cut to a series of clips showcasing his children’s busy lives as each receives a card announcing his death. There are tears, there are hugs, and suddenly everyone is gathered at the dad’s home dressed for a funeral. The adult children enter the home — and surprise, a Christmas dinner has been set on the table. Confused, the adult children look around, and suddenly the dad steps out. His daughter sighs, and the dad says, “How else could I have brought you all together?” A smile erupts on the daughter’s face, and one of the grandchildren runs to hug him. The camera cuts to a montage of the family celebrating at the dining table. The words “time to come home” flash across the screen as the ad ends.

When the spot was first released, some hailed it as genius because it broke away from the emotional extremes of other commercials, finding balance with the faked death. Others found the ad to be tasteless and twisted. Regardless, the ad forces viewers to make considerations about the holiday season while taking them on a journey — the very essence of quality storytelling. 

4. Honorable mentions

It wouldn’t be a holiday recap without a few honorable mentions. While these ads didn’t defy storytelling in the most unique way, they are worth mentioning because they are untraditional and memorable. 

  • The One Gift Santa Couldn’t Deliver: This heart-wrenching ad comes from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It follows “Santa” as he goes through a war zone. In the background, the song “Happy Holiday” is foreboding as viewers take in the destruction that Santa witnesses. Eventually, he comes upon a crying girl separated from her family on the floor. He grabs her hand, and suddenly the shot zooms out, showing her empty hand in the air. We see a black screen with the message: “The only gift some children want this Christmas is their family.” Cut to the girl reuniting with her family. The video ends with a message of how many families ICRC help each year. The images are powerful, the empathy hurts, and the ad aims to remind viewers that the horrors of the world don’t stop for the holidays. 
  • Santa Girl: This Macy’s ad follows a young girl’s dream to becoming Santa. Despite being teased by her classmates, she still pursues her goal.  With the help of her parents, she delivers presents to the town. This feel-good ad reminds viewers of the “reason for the season,” and its unique play on a girl wanting be Santa is both memorable and inspirational. It serves as a reminder that anyone can and should spread joy throughout the holiday, just like good old Santa Claus. 
  • Edgar the Dragon: From across the pond, this John Lewis ad follows a dragon and little girl trying to celebrate Christmas. With each festive event the dragon tries to participate in (building a snowman, ice skating, and a tree-lighting ceremony), he spectacularly manages to burn it all down. Even with the destruction he has caused, the dragon is still welcomed at Christmas dinner. While by no means a masterpiece, this ad does hit home. Who can’t relate to the idea of messing up the holidays in some way, and why not hyperbolize that concept with a dragon?  It’s an unusual ad, but you can’t forget it — and that’s what makes it notable.


Cassandra Wagner is a Public Relations professional based in Southern California. A story enthusiast, pop-culture connoisseur, she loves that her passion for writing can be more than just her everyday job. Her other hobbies include hunting down collectibles and dancing out at Zumba.