Tuesday 24 November 2020 5:27 am

The good, the bad, and the orange: In search of the perfect 2020 Christmas ad

Luke is a former City AM features writer, now features editor for Tyto PR

To call 2020 a “garbage fire” of a year would not be unfair. 

This year has turned people’s worlds upside-down in so many ways. But at least a few things remain a constant presence in life — one of which is the return of the blockbuster Christmas TV advert. 

While the advertising budgets look a little smaller this Christmas, as some companies have struggled more than others these past 12 months, the annual tradition of the nation’s supermarkets and retailers trying to win our business with expensive, overproduced two-minute commercials is a welcome sight.

Speaking of yearly traditions, it’s time once again for City A.M.’s verdict on the best and worst Christmas ads of 2020.

Tesco: No Naughty List

Retailers had two choices with their ads this Christmas: acknowledge that Covid-19 happened… or don’t.

Tesco has thrown itself hard into the first category with its Christmas campaign, which tells customers to cut themselves some slack after a difficult 2020 as Santa won’t be writing a naughty list this year. The ad then cues up several people admitting their 2020 transgressions, which include buying too much loo paper and not washing their hands for a full rendition of Happy Birthday as per government advice. 

The tongue-in-cheek references to Covid are actually very funny, but I’m not sure how I feel about Tesco’s light-hearted take on how panicked stockpiling led to supermarket shortages early in the year.

Rating: 2/5  

Asda: That’s an Asda-price Christmas

Asda brings back real-life superfan Sunny and his family for their Christmas campaign — a character who also featured in the brand’s price relaunch and Halloween campaigns earlier in the year. Using Sunny therefore gives the ad a feeling of authenticity as he prepares for Christmas while his nosey neighbour complains about the festive decorations.

Like Tesco, Asda acknowledges what a crummy time 2020 has been, as Sunny tells us “I guess Christmas is going to be different this year”. 

The authenticity is a novel approach, and also a much cheaper one. Compared to the bombastic 2018 Asda ad, which featured cannons, motorbikes and a stampede down a snowy hill, this year is a much more humble affair.

Rating: 3/5

John Lewis & Waitrose: Give a Little Love

Remember last year’s John Lewis Christmas ad? It had pyrotechnics, a giant recreation of a medieval village, and a fancy CGI dragon. Clearly this year’s offering is a little less ambitious — perhaps a sign of a much reduced marketing budget from John Lewis?

The message — that we should be kind to one another — is welcome. But the hodge-podge direction of the ad, mixing several different animation styles of varying quality, just feels like a lack of coherent vision. Dull and disappointing.

Rating: 1/5  

Lidl: Big on a Christmas you can believe

Now we’re talking. Humour and satire are often the safest options with Christmas campaigns, and Lidl’s offering is a very clever parody of the usual festive fare. The animation is top-notch, the song hits all the right notes, and the lyrics are just very funny, mocking the schmaltzy tactics used by John Lewis and others in previous years to prick our emotions.

You have to smile at lines like “A jumper with our logo and pigs in a blanket” and “emotional gravy, that potato looks nice”. Quality work.

Rating: 4/5

Aldi: Kevin the Carrot

Ah, another sight for sore eyes as Kevin the Carrot returns once again for an Aldi Christmas spectacular.

This time around, the plucky root vegetable has been shot out of the sky and must traverse a snowy landscape with the help of a hedgehog to reach his family in time. Venerable actor Jim Broadbent, who has narrated Kevin’s life story these past few years, turns up as Father Christmas himself to save the little carrot.

Aldi, perhaps wisely, avoids referencing the pandemic, instead presenting a simple escapist fantasy about a tiny talking carrot. Very enjoyable.

Rating: 3/5

Argos: An Evening with AbracaDaisy & The Incredible Lucy

Another stellar effort by the retailer with this inventive ad campaign. Two sisters imagine a fantastic magic show to wow their family, using gifts from the Argos “book of dreams”. The editing, direction and magic tricks are all great here. Clearly the creative team here put in a lot of effort to make a quality advert, and it shows. 

Rating: 4/5

Sainsbury’s: The Gravy Song

Now this, this is a great advert. The supermarket’s commercial this year takes a gentler approach to its peers: no bombast or hand-wringing attempts to remind us that Christmas is all about kindness and giving or whatever.

Instead, the advert takes the time to reflect the concerns that everyone in the UK is feeling this year: will we get to see our family this festive season?

Covid hangs heavy over “The Gravy Song” as a father and daughter wonder hopefully whether she’ll be able to come back for Christmas, prompting the dad to regale her with his cringey but well-meaning gravy song. Never has a dad joke felt more emotional. 

As well as the compelling storyline, the execution of the ad is also very well done, recreating home-video footage from the era of the VHS camera. 

The Sainsbury’s ad is brave enough to reference the ongoing pandemic in a way that is far more tactful than Tesco’s approach, and I predict this campaign will be remembered for a long time to come. Well done to Sainsbury’s.

Rating: 5/5

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.