So this is Christmas. And what have you done? Another year over, and the festive ads just begun.
Yes, ’tis the season for brands to splash the cash on fancy holiday-themed adverts in hope of attracting that sweet Christmas shopping revenue.
Retailer John Lewis has been the reigning champion of the season for the past eight years by producing expensive, emotional, and highly-polished commercials that pull at the audience’s heartstrings.
This year’s ad cost multiple millions to produce, most of which was just to pay musician Elton John – and after an abysmal year of trading, with half-year profits down 99 per cent, the retailer is crossing its fingers and toes that the investment will pay off.
But John Lewis is not the only retailer with a fancy ad. Let’s take a look at the highlights of this year’s Christmas campaigns to see what we can learn.
Iceland – Disqualified
Iceland’s alternative take on the Christmas ad – a cartoon raising awareness about rainforest destruction – was a clever piece of marketing.
Unfortunately, the ad authority Clearcast refused to allow it to broadcast on TV as it was actually a Greenpeace short film rebadged with Iceland’s logo. Due to this technicality, I’ve got to give it a rating of zero. The lesson for retailers: don’t get your ad banned for being too political.
John Lewis – Some gifts are more than just a gift
This year’s super-expensive advert depicts the life of Elton John, all set to his hit “Your Song”, starting in the modern day and rolling back through the decades to his childhood when he was given his first piano.
It’s a change of direction for the retailer – the John Lewis Christmas ads normally depict original stories – but it’s quite melancholic for the holiday season, and Elton looks grumpy throughout. Money not-so-well spent.
Sainsbury’s – The Big Night
Handkerchief at the ready, Sainsbury’s is trying to hit you in your emotions. Singing the New Radicals’ 90s hit “You Get What You Give”, a little girl nervously performs on stage, before finding her confidence and getting a standing ovation, while her classmates put on possibly the most expensive school nativity play ever.
It’s oddly similar to the recent Waitrose ad set to Bohemian Rhapsody earlier this year – but it all works, thanks to the great music choice and wonderful visual design. A feel-good Christmas ad that will leave you smiling – perhaps even misty-eyed with joy.
M&S – Must Have
Retailer Marks & Spencer whips through the highlights of the Christmas experience – gifts, parties, in-laws, watching Bridget Jones – as Sir Tom Jones croons “Give A Little Love” in the background. Anchored around TV’s Holly Willoughby, the ad looks fine, but is a bit soulless.
Argos – The Christmas Fool
“Foolproof your Christmas” is the message of the Argos ad. A tiny pink rabbit-gremlin-monster thing – the eponymous Fool – tries to ruin the holidays with its antics, only to be foiled by the timely arrival of an Argos delivery man.
It’s an amusing and comical ad, but the Grinch-like Christmas Fool is honestly hideous to look at, and has probably given nightmares to children across the land.
TK Maxx – The never-ending stocking
The discount retailer offers further nightmare-inducing imagery with its giant, sentient stocking. The colossal creature, seemingly ripped out of Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas, comes to life and burps presents into people’s faces for a whole year. The ad is visually impressive with its effects, design, and a colour scheme that looks deliberately like one of Burton’s feature films.
Aldi – Save Kevin
Kevin the Carrot, mascot for the low-cost retailer, returns this year in a two-parter campaign.
The first ad shows Kevin driving a big orange lorry that looks suspiciously similar to Coca-Cola’s iconic trucks. I guess Kevin never passed his lorry-driving course, as he ends up dangling off a cliff edge (Brexit metaphor, anyone?).
The second part sees Kevin saving his family from an evil parsnip. Aldi’s tongue-in-cheek ads are clearly having fun with its satirical take on the Christmas ad format.
Asda – Bring Christmas home
Explosions, cannons, motorbikes, skiing yetis – Asda’s Christmas commercial packs everything but the kitchen sink. The bombastic ad – set to the rock tempo of Darlene Love’s 1963 classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – clearly had a big budget, but the result is bland, uninspired, and feels like it’s trying too hard.
Very – Elsie’s gift
“Find the gift that helps them find their gift” is the slogan for Very’s Christmas offering. The 3D-animated feature shows Elsie, a young mixed-race girl who loves space, grow up to become an astronaut after receiving a space helmet present as a child.
A nice and simple message, if a bit sappy, and is clearly ripping off Pixar and Disney movies. The ad gets extra PC-points for its racial diversity as well as pushing against gender stereotypes.
Amazon – Can you feel it?
The strengths of Amazon’s advert come solely from licensing the Jackson Five hit “Can You Feel It”. The ad depicts Amazon parcels singing along to the 1980’s toe-tapper. One to definitely get you into the holiday spirit.
So, what have we learned?
Don’t rely on celebs like Elton John and Holly Willoughby to boost your ad’s appeal. Asda, darling – less is more. And a good song, plus a bit of heart and humour, goes a long way. Also, Argos, try not to scare the audience with your weird, gross imagery.
Special mention goes to Twitter with its Christmas ad featuring John Lewis (the man, not the retailer) who receives thousands of tweets every year from consumers messaging him by mistake – usually to complain about customer service. Poor bloke.