It’s the Most Emotional Time of the Year!

By Julie Hall
December 22, 2021

Evoking emotion in advertising is part art and part science. Sentient Insights’ products identify the essential emotional drivers to build messages, assets, and campaigns that trigger emotional responses and create moments that matter.

We love this classic Hershey’s Kiss commercial in which the foil-wrapped candies perform as hand bells to the tune of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” According to the Hershey Archives, the commercial has aired each holiday season since 1989, making it the longest running Hershey commercial ever.

Every holiday season for the past 31 years, the Hershey Co. has aired its iconic ad that reimagines Hershey’s Kisses as bells playing the tune “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” It’s hard to think of iconic holiday commercials without mentioning Hershey’s Kisses. Many of us have grown up with the ad showing 11 chocolates “ringing” to the tune. We can practically name the order in which each Kiss moves.

Last year, the beloved chocolate-maker released a new spin on the commercial, including human actors in addition to the stop-motion candies putting on their annual performance. In the 2020 version, titled “Bells to Blossoms” a child’s hand pops into the frame and grabs a Hershey’s Kiss after the candies play a few bars of the song. Then, a father-daughter duo, smiling ear to ear, uses the Kisses to top some peanut butter blossom cookies as the carol continues to play on brass instruments instead of bells. The consumer disgust was immediate. “Another #fail for 2020!” Twitter tweets raged. Emotion was heightened. Hershey responded by airing the original ad too.

We were intrigued. As the leader in using behavioral science technology to understand how consumers feel and why, we diagnosed the iconic ad to understand the emotion behind the performing chocolate bells. We used RAPID Subtext to study the emotional impact on the general population. Below is the facial action coding output generated from RAPID Subtext revealing high levels of positive emotions being expressed throughout the ad.

The Last Second Is Crucial.

At the very end of the commercial, the Kiss on the far right starts ringing frantically, and when the conductor (who happens to be the trunk of the Hershey’s Kisses Christmas tree) finally motions for the Kiss to stop, the frenzied chocolate “wipes its brow” using its ribbon as if it were an arm. This sign of relief helps ring home the innocence and whimsy of the Hershey’s Kisses brand, Hershey’s reports, making it a critical scene in the ad. 

We know from research that Hershey Kisses are associated with sharing happiness. For Hershey, we see that this ad has achieved the same timeless association with holiday joy as Bing Crosby or Jingle Bells.

Dr. Cyrus McCandless

Senior Vice President of Scientific Discovery and Innovation, Sentient Decision Science & Sentient Labs

Since the commercial runs for such a short time frame—just a few months out of the year—and it uses a classic Christmas carol, people haven’t gotten as fatigued of the ad over the years as they have many others. Plus, since the product itself hasn’t changed, the Kisses “don’t wear out like normal commercials,” former marketing director for chocolate confectionary products at Hershey Leah Longan told the New York Times in 1994.

With each passing year, the ad triggers feelings of nostalgia—you can remember when you first saw it, and associate memories of holidays past, making it a tradition in itself. What may be most impressive, though, is how in just 16 seconds’ time, Hershey’s somehow gets you into the holiday spirit (and makes you think about grabbing a bag of chocolate Kisses) without saying a single word out loud. The song plays throughout the commercial, with just the line “Happy Holidays from Hershey’s Kisses” appearing beneath the chocolates at the very end.

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