Best And Worst Holiday Food Ads Of 2023

At the stroke of midnight on November 1st, it's open season for brands and their holiday ads. Halloween is the only buffer holding them back from unleashing a flurry of festive commercials that aim to capture our hearts and, of course, our credit cards. Every year, grocery stores make a case for why their food is the most meaningful part of their customers' holidays, while fast food chains try to convince us that home-cooked meals are not, in fact, what brings us together. At the same time, every food and beverage brand, from Ritz to Coca-Cola, is vying for our emotional real estate by piling on the sentimental holiday cheer with a heavy dose of product placement.

This year, several brands have taken an unusual approach to their marketing, pushing back on stereotypical ideas of what the holidays should look like and offering surprising alternatives. As always, some of these glossy adverts tug at our heartstrings, while others fall as hard as a bag of coal on Christmas morning. With the holiday season well underway as far as marketing is concerned, it's a good time to take a look at the good, the bad, and the "what-even-was-that?" holiday food ads that have come our way.

12. Kerrygold - The Runaway

When marketing executives for Irish dairy manufacturer Kerrygold sat down to mastermind their holiday ad, they didn't come up with a butter-slathered Christmas brunch or scenes of families happily baking. They came up with the odyssey of a seemingly sentient dinner table who goes on the run to find its meaning in life after languishing under a pile of clutter. Confused? So are we.

The table crops up on a rainy street, a deserted sidewalk outside an abandoned store, a field near farm workers, and in a forest in the driving rain. All the while, the knobs on its drawers stare into the camera in what would probably be a beseeching, heart-rending gaze if they were actual eyes rather than carpentry hardware. How does the table move from place to place, you ask? Great question. We never find out. When it finally "sees" another table at the center of a family meal, it's serendipitously ferried back to its original dining room where its owners have a change of heart and pile it high with food instead of books and laundry. Set to a moody and downright emotionally manipulative rendition of Cheap Trick's "I Want You To Want Me," this ad is haunting rather than festive, though the cinematography deserves nothing but praise for the brooding atmosphere it creates.

11. Ritz - The Ritzcracker

You have to hand it to Ritz: it came up with a killer pun for its 2023 holiday advert. Unfortunately, it seems like the marketing team alighted on the "Ritzcracker" title and then had to find a way to turn it into an ad rather than vice versa. It features a little girl who wakes up from sleeping on the sofa to discover a human-sized nutcracker jousting with a hissing Mouse King. The man-sized rodent knocks a fleet of nutcrackers off a table to the fury of the big nutcracker, but before they can lock swords again, the little girl shouts, "Time out," and they freeze. When she grabs a box of Ritz and tops the buttery crackers with cheese and hazelnut spread, the nutcracker and Mouse King toast each other and enjoy the snack as the girl sits between them, beaming at a job well done.

Aside from the Ritzcracker pun and the trap version of the "Nutcracker Suite," there is little in this ad to get excited about. There is something a little eerie about the girl being apparently alone at home with warring magical creatures, and with only 30 seconds to work with, we're left with more questions than answers.

10. Ocean Spray - Power Your Party

The internet was divided on Ocean Spray's surreal 2022 holiday ad that depicted a sluggish holiday meal turning into a seated rave when wobbly columns of cranberry sauce are served, but the brand has doubled down this year on its "Power Your Holidays" theme. For 2023, the tagline is "Power Your Party," and it follows a similar formula.

A multigenerational group of people stand in a silent dance hall decorated with streamers, ostensibly having a party. One of them yawns. Another stares morosely in front of her. But when an elderly woman arrives and tips a bottle of cranberry juice into the bowl of punch, the swirl it creates has the same effect on the partygoers as the jigging cranberry sauce had in the 2022 ad. They start to sway on the spot, their bodies swinging more wildly until they look like they're victims of demonic possession. This impression is compounded by the faint smile that passes across the face of the woman who brought the cranberry juice as she surveys the room. Is she meant to be a villain? A hero? The devil incarnate come to take their souls? The possibilities are disturbing. You have to hand it to Ocean Spray for doubling down on last year's polarizing ad, but aside from bravery, it doesn't garner many points. This is more of a Halloween ad than a Thanksgiving or Christmas ad, and for that, it's a few weeks too late.

9. Aldi - Kevin and the Christmas Factory

Ascribing to the maxim, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Aldi has brought back its hit character Kevin the Carrot for the eighth year in a row. After parodying "Home Alone" in 2022, the supermarket draws on "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" this year, depicting the winners of a contest who get the chance to tour William Conker's Magical Christmas Factory. (For those who aren't up to date on British flora, a conker is a seed from a horse chestnut tree that is covered in a spiky green casing. They're poisonous, so it's best not to eat them even though one appears alongside food-based characters in this ad).

As in the Roald Dahl story, four of the five children misbehave, slurping up the gravy river and snatching mince pies. Only Kevin understands the true meaning of Christmas, and he is duly rewarded with the "cheese to the factory" (a key made out of cheese, naturally). The tagline, "Christmas is sweeter when you share," is par for the course in holiday supermarket adverts, but takes a strangely dark turn when the camera pans out to reveal that all the little food creatures are celebrating their goodwill on what appears to be a table set for a feast. Are they about to be eaten by humans? Or are they simply going to tuck into the food that doesn't have faces on it? Either way, it leaves a distracting number of concerns.

8. Lidl - A Magical Christmas

Last year's Lidl holiday ad was a bit of a head-scratcher, following the journey of a teddy bear from the loving arms of a little girl to a trending celebrity to the arms of the little girl again by way of a parachute. This year, the German supermarket company stuck with the lost toys theme but took a much more sincere approach. It features a raccoon who becomes determined to spread holiday cheer to the family whose yard he lives in after stealing a Santa hat from their shed. When the family dog breaks a monkey ornament that belongs to the little boy who lives in the house, the boy's mother buys him a stuffed monkey from the store. On her way home, however, it falls out of her bike basket into the snowy street. The raccoon witnesses the incident and grabs the monkey before it can get snatched up by a passerby. He then navigates the perilous journey home, dodging traffic, scaling stop lights, and floating down a river on a log for some reason. He finally makes it home in time to stow the monkey under the tree, much to the boy's delight.

It's a heartwarming ad with convincingly photorealistic animation for the animals, and while it might not make you shed a tear, its unabashed sweetness and sentimentality is an unquestionable improvement from Lidl's attempt at archness in last year's ad.

7. McDonald's - Fancy a McDonald's This Christmas?

This year's holiday ad from McDonald's UK is all about shrugging off seasonal obligations and embracing what really puts you in the festive spirit. A series of vignettes set to Van Halen's "Jump" follows various people slogging through tedious holiday commitments, only to be saved by the suggestion of a trip to McDonald's. A woman at a holiday party ditches a painfully awkward karaoke duet. An entire audience of parents sitting through their children's Christmas recital leaves the auditorium mid-performance. Santa drops a gift he's presenting to a child and dashes out the door. There's even a "Love Actually" recreation in which a man holds up cards reading "Fancy A ... MacDonald's?" for a man who's stumbling out of his house holding a box of tangled Christmas lights. All these newly liberated merrymakers gather in a throng under the Golden Arches, finally giving themselves a dose of holiday cheer.

The ad is cheesy, but there's not much you can hold against it. Unlike last year's McDonald's UK ad, which featured a little boy who learns that the meaning of Christmas isn't about buying things but about family and a Happy Meal, there is nothing particularly incongruous about this commercial. It's good-natured, glossy, and might even inspire you to skip the office Christmas party this year.

6. Kroger - Cuisine Exchange

Every year, a sizable proportion of holiday ads seek to do one thing: make you cry. Some of them are only looking for a tear or two, while others seem determined to make you bawl your eyes out. Kroger's seasonal commercial is the latter. The animated spot features the brand's beloved Kroji characters, with no dialogue and a soundtrack of Ed Sheeran's weepy "Photograph." It follows a couple who sees a flier for an exchange program in the park one day and starts to take in international students. When the first one becomes homesick, the couple makes her a meal featuring her home cuisine, and they take a photograph. As the years go by, more students cycle through, more meals are cooked, and more photographs are taken. When the now aging couple finds themselves alone on Christmas, they discover all the exchange students waiting for them on the doorstep with grocery bags full of food for a festive feast made by all.

The tagline of the spot, "Food connects us all," is a holiday cliché if ever there was one, but we dare you not to well up while watching this. It's a simple message delivered with the utmost sincerity, and you will either buy into it or condemn it as an emotionally manipulative marketing ploy. For us, it's the former.

5. Dunkin' - Holiday Unboxing

Following the unveiling of its holiday menu, Dunkin's released its seasonal ad, a sugary delight of only 30 seconds that features a series of eager faces peering into boxes of donuts. It's nothing fancy, but it proves just how effective simplicity can be. Filmed largely from the perspective of the donuts themselves, we see smiling healthcare workers in scrubs and visors, giddy schoolchildren, and tired restaurant cooks, all gasping in delight as they open their respective boxes and reach inside for their favorite treat. Even Santa makes an appearance, though his elves are less than thrilled to see that he's hogging the donuts again.

With a sweet new jingle entitled "Everybody Loves a Donut," this ad is upbeat, festive, and charming. It might not bring tears to your eye, but it will almost certainly make you crave a donut and a cup of coffee with a side of Christmas decor, which is probably the best metric for a holiday ad.

4. ASDA - Make this Christmas Incredibublé

If there's one person who has come to embody the holidays (aside from Santa) it's Michael Bublé, whose dulcet tones have accompanied seemingly every seasonal gathering over the past 10 years. As a result, his starring role in ASDA's 2023 holiday advert feels like a major score for the brand, as if Mr. Claus had sent his right-hand elf to put the stamp of approval on the British supermarket chain.

The Canadian crooner plays himself, with the addition of a new job title: ASDA Chief Quality Officer. The fictional Mr. Bublé seems both nervous and invigorated by the role as he enthusiastically wanders the store, approving products and complimenting the workers. His criticisms are minor and quickly rectified. "So last year," he deems the maple glazed bacon-wrapped sausage, before exclaiming in delight over the truffle and Parmesan version. Throughout it all, we get to see all the very best of ASDA's holiday offerings and a charming performance from Bublé. The 90-second ad pokes fun at his celebrity, but arrives at the only logical destination: the Chief Quality Officer steps out of the store, strides over to a group of carolers, and harmonizes the final lyric of "Walking in a Winter Wonderland." Despite the often treacherous territory of non-actor celebrities trying to play themselves, Bublé gives a winning performance, and the ad lands its jokes without overstaying its welcome.

3. Waitrose - It's Time for the Good Stuff

Holiday ads are often focused on nuclear families that usually include small children who are brimming with wonder over the magic of Christmas. This year, however, several commercials are bucking this trend, acknowledging that festive cheer does not have to be limited to such a small demographic. The Waitrose holiday ad centers on a glitzy house party full of grown-ups ready to let loose. The only trouble is that mishaps keep cropping up. One couple arrives uncomfortably early, the police come calling, and two guests get locked in the bathroom. But these stumbles are quickly resolved with the introduction of new, mouth-watering foods. When the power goes out, the host materializes to save the evening. "It's okay everyone," she beams, producing a platter. "There's more cheese!"

Eurovision and talk show host Graham Norton makes an appearance, brandishing a Yule log cake before one of the guests can blow his cover. With a synthy upbeat backing track of Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough" and plenty of bad dancing, this ad is everything the holidays are about — food, loved ones, and carefree merriment.

2. KFC - The Stuffing Stacker

We're just going to say it upfront: KFC nailed this year's holiday ad. Its 2022 riff on "Twas the Night Before Christmas" was silly and fun, but the chain stepped it up big time this season. Set to the soaring "Nessun dorma" aria from Puccini's "Turandot" opera, it depicts a cook preparing a mystery piece of fried meat — tossing it in flour, lowering it into a sputtering vat of oil, and toasting brioche buns. As he does so, social media comments (presumably ones from real customers) float across the screen, asking the chain whether it's going to add fried turkey to the menu this year. "[K]fc wen you gonna do turkey at #xmas" one asks, while another simply demands, "Do turkey instead of chicken," and others suggest a KFT rebrand. 

As the cook tosses the fried meat into the air and it makes a perfect landing on the bun, new words appear on-screen, one sentence at a time, as the lights dim. "We saw you," it says, "We heard you." The lights switch on: "And we ignored you. We're sticking with chicken." Under the spotlight, you can see the creation: a limited-time Stuffing Stacker featuring two layers of fried chicken, a sage and onion stuffing patty, spicy cranberry sauce, and burger dressing. Touché, KFC. Touché.

1. Coca-Cola - The World Needs More Santas

With decades of heartwarming ads depicting random acts of kindness, Coca-Cola has found an ironclad way into our hearts despite being a multi-billion dollar company. Its holiday ads have varied over the years, focusing on everything from frolicking polar bears to the Christmas version of the iconic "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" spot. But this year's ad appeals to tradition.

It depicts a snowy city of identical Santas going about various activities. One is washing his suit at a laundromat, some are firefighters riding a fire engine, others are lifting weights at a gym, and one is skateboarding. Following a similar pattern to other Coca-Cola ads, the characters lend a helping hand to each other, whether it's giving one of the Santas a sock that he'd left in the washing machine, or making sure another Santa doesn't drop a weight on himself. The world of Santas melts away to reveal regular people going about their daily lives, but in a parallel universe where everyone is looking out for those around them. Subway doors are held open, someone offers a carrot from his shopping bag to complete a snowman, and a man hitches a ride home on a Coca-Cola truck. Call us sentimental, but at a time when the world seems to be in constant turmoil, this ad feels like a psychological Band-Aid. Celeste's jingly rendition of the Rankin/Bass song "I Could Be Santa Claus" doesn't hurt either.