For decades now, big brands have spent big bucks to deliver some unique (and sometimes cheeky) advertising content to our TV screens in hopes we’ll return the favor by shopping at their stores or buying their products during the busiest shopping season of the year.

But, in today’s day and age, when 86% of the general public skips TV advertisements, brands have become much more hard-pressed to capture the attention of their audiences as their commercials zoom by at triple speed. Read: if you’re not memorable, your holiday advertisement may never be seen at all. On that note, let’s get into the holiday spirit and take a look at some of the most memorable holiday commercials we’ve seen—and let’s see if we can’t learn a thing or two from those brands about smart advertising.

The Funny Ad

MMsDoExistBack in 1996, M&M’S struck comic gold with their holiday ad dubbed, “They Do Exist!” or simply, “Meeting Santa.” Granted, more people were forced to watch TV commercials back in the 90s because we all lacked DVRs, but the fact of the matter still remains: this ad is adorable. We DARE YOU not to smile when you watch this great M&M’S holiday ad.

I swear this was one of the funniest ads of its time, and I STILL giggle when I see it today. (Can you believe it’s already 17 years old?)

So why is this ad so successful? Forbes asked a panel of industry experts the same question, and here’s what one of them had to say:

“It’s so successful because it stars Santa. This takes us back to the time when we believed that he was real and we would wait up late at night to see him, the same way the M&M’S do in this spot.”

You don’t need to believe in Santa to get caught up in the magic of Christmas. This ad helps us relive those times when we couldn’t wait to get up Christmas morning to see what Santa brought us—and those emotions combined with such memorable comedy? Branding gold. Nostalgia, for the win!

The Traditional Ad

peter-comes-homeNow that we’ve got our giggles out, let’s grab the tissues and get ready for a good cry. Kidding! (Well, sort of.) Think way back to the year 1986. Check out “Peter Comes Home for Christmas,” from Folgers Coffee.

Much like the M&M’S ad, this commercial really seems to stick with you, but it certainly doesn’t have the same effect as the “They Do Exist!” ad. And it’s not just about replacing the giggles with tears, either. This ad seems to touch on something deep within the core of our hearts, something that matters more than anything else during the holiday season: Family. This ad reminds us how important family is, and how much we look forward to seeing far-away family during the holiday season. Pair that with the whole “The Best Part of Waking Up,” thing (that well-known Folgers tagline/jingle), and you’ve created a truly ingenious way for the general public to associate the Folgers brand of coffee with their treasured family members.

What’s more, because this commercial ended up airing for almost 20 consecutive years after it first ran, it regularly served as a warm reminder that it’s ‘that time of year again.’ It actually became a part of the holiday season itself.

Now THAT is successful brand advertising!

The Ad That Pushed the Envelope

joeboxer_kmartFast-forward to 2013. Kmart recently partnered with Joe Boxer to bring you one of the cheekiest advertisements to date. Whether you find this ad hilarious or borderline inappropriate, one thing is certain: you’d stop fast-forwarding through your pre-recorded TV to see what on Earth is going on with those fine gentlemen. (Admit it.)

If you’re part of the 86% who skip TV advertisements, chances are you’ll probably only stop on something or go back and take another look if it’s truly unique, or maybe even a bit bizarre. Now that’s exactly what Kmart is banking on.

Regardless of how you feel about it, this much is true: this ad totally gets your attention.

At the end of the day, advertising that gets your attention, risky or not, can be a great way to build brand recognition. Because the odds are against you, and that 86% of viewers might never see your ad, finding a way to get people’s attention by running a silly commercial for boxers seems like an extremely smart and savvy marketing idea.

So whether you go funny, go sentimental, or go cheeky (somewhat literally), the key to memorable holiday branding is creating something new, unique, creative and lasting—it’ll keep them buying your brand through the holiday season and throughout the year.

(Images: M&Ms, Folgers, Joe Boxer)