Christmas TV adverts. Which one’s your favourite?
I can’t remember the exact moment that the Christmas TV Advert became ‘a thing’ but I’m pretty sure it all kicked off in 2012 when John Lewis produced that snowman advert that everyone was talking about. Titled ‘The Journey,’ the story told us of a snowman who battled miles over fields, mountains, rivers and finally a busy city centre (undoubtedly the worst part of his journey) to get Mrs Snowman a lovely scarf and hat from John Lewis. People simply loved the advert, and for me the music made it. Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘The Power of Love’ cover from Gabrielle Aplin was a poignant, compelling and tear-jerking audio accompaniment that made people sit up in their armchairs and pay attention.
Now, six years on, the Christmas ad has become an art form in itself. Brands that are keen to make an impression on the British public no longer promote their products, but tell stories instead. Ads have evolved to become mini films that engage us in a brand’s narrative, spark our imaginations, entertain us and capture our hearts. It’s no secret that the UK’s biggest retailers jostle to create the nation’s most-loved Christmas advert each year.
I’ve taken a look back at the Christmas ads from the last five years to decide what I think are some of the best (and the worst!) from the UK’s biggest advertising spenders.
In 2013, M&S were yet to venture into the world of truly creative advertising as far as Christmas goes. With an ad much focussed on its female fashion and underwear range, it followed an Alice in Wonderland theme as part of its Magic and Sparkle campaign. I found the whole thing rather clichéd and a bit patronising.
Mobile network provider, Three’s ‘Dance Pony Dance’, which was reworked for Christmas brought back a favourite of mine, and I still can’t listen to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Everywhere’ without thinking about that Shetland pony, while Harvey Nichol’s ‘Sorry I spent it on myself’ was an interesting attempt at irony, with family members flagrantly enjoying their own self-generosity rather than giving.
John Lewis attempted to match the brilliance it achieved in 2012 with its cartoon, The Bear and The Hare, accompanied by Keane’s ‘Somewhere only we know’ covered by Lily Allen, but for me, it didn’t quite hit the mark. Instead, my award for 2013 goes to Baileys for approaching the Christmas ad from a completely different angle. With professional ballet dancers, it enacted a very cool party scene in its own take on The Nutcracker.
2013 Winner: The Christmas Nutcracker by Baileys
M&S returned with its magic and sparkle campaign, this time with women portrayed as fairies who magically grant the wishes of children and brighten up people’s washing lines with twinkly clothing. John Lewis plumped for an animal theme again, and Monty the Penguin proved a firm favourite for many. Unfortunately, I felt rather uncomfortable with the idea of a real penguin living in a domestic property, even if it was meant to be part of a little boy’s imagination.
2014 was the year that Sainsbury’s stole the show with its emotional tribute to the soldiers of World War One. Still fondly remembered four years later, the advert retells the story of Christmas Day in 1914, when British and German soldiers laid down their weaponry and left their respective trenches in an act of peace to wish each other a Merry Christmas and play a game of football. Made in partnership with the Royal British Legion, the ad not only serves as a reminder of our history but also instils in us the message that small acts of kindness can mean so much. Whilst some suggested that Sainsbury’s had been a little cheeky using such an event for its marketing, Sainsbury’s has been supporting The Royal British Legion for over 24 years. All the profits made from the sale of the £1 chocolate bar featured in the advert were donated to the RBL.
2014 Winner: 1914 by Sainsbury’s
In 2015 M&S were still struggling to find something new but thankfully it did move away from showing women in their underwear. A more inclusive dance sequence in #TheArtofChristmas made Uptown Funk the order of the day.
John Lewis had ditched the animals and it looked as if it had redeemed itself with the rather eerie Man on the Moon, but with its cover of the Oasis track ‘Half the World Away,’ it only ever reminded me of the Royle Family opening credits.
Harvey Nichols was back with its comedy gift-giving in its #giftface campaign, which was altogether funnier than its 2013 effort. Meanwhile, Lidl opened the doors to its School of Christmas, which did feel rather cringe-worthy. Aldi was full of its favourite things but it did feel slightly unoriginal.
Which leaves only one contender for 2015. And who would have thought that Sainsbury’s could do it again? Even though it wasn’t exactly faced with much competition in 2015, it was clear that the story of Mog’s Christmas Calamity would come out on top. Cleverly written, directed and produced, the 3-minute 20-second advert tells the story of the little pet cat who accidentally manages to both ruin and save Christmas day. Shot using footage of real people, together with CGI, it’s both funny and heart-warming to watch even if you don’t happen to be a cat lover.
2015 Winner: Mog’s Christmas Calamity by Sainsbury’s
This year Sainsbury’s plumped for something a little different. Its stop-frame animation guided us through the tale of the factory-owner father who struggles to find time to spend with his family in The Greatest Gift. And just as Sainsbury’s seemed to be on a roll with its advertising brilliance, John Lewis had simultaneously plunged to an all-time low. Its #bustertheboxer advert gave us wild animals bouncing on an outdoor trampoline in what had to be its most confusing and controversial advert yet. The ad was certainly met with mixed reactions from the public. Still, it has to be said that it did spark the production of rather hilarious parodies.
2016 saw Debenhams invest in some celebrity voice-overs for their gifts in a continuation of their #foundit campaign. There were also some new contenders to enter the market: Aldi’s Kevin the carrot first made an appearance on our screens and very.co.uk also launched its first CGI advert.
Despite strong competition from Sainsbury’s, the winner for 2016 had to be M&S. Finally waking up to the opportunity that Christmas advertising can bring if you get your target market and messaging right, the Mrs Claus advert absolutely rocked. Yes, Santa really does have a wife and not only is she a smart, well-groomed, highly organised woman in her 50’s but she also knows how to fly a helicopter to boot. Didn’t you know that when Santa is out on his sleigh, Mrs Claus is delivering those last minute emergency presents that Santa couldn’t manage? Like most women, she’s the one saving the day. It’s a true-to-life story with a little bit of magic. A definite 10/10.
2016 Winner: Christmas with love from Mrs Claus by M&S
2017 provided us with another sterling effort from M&S when they borrowed Paddington Bear for a trip around London to help a modern-day Santa deliver his presents. Not original by any means, but certainly entertaining nevertheless. Debenhams also upped its game with its take on Cinderella in the #YouShall campaign, featuring a surprise appearance from Ewan McGregor as a rather endearing lamplighter. Overall it was nicely made, with some describing the advert as “beautifully diverse” and “like watching a TV drama.”
John Lewis learnt from its previous year’s mistake and chose a fictional character rather than a real animal in the form of Moz the Monster, but to be honest it all felt a bit samey. Kind of like we were revisiting the 2014 penguin advert again but in a different format. Sainsbury’s advert was all about the people, alternating scenes with the public and celebrities as they all joined in for a Christmas singalong for #everybitofchristmas, but it was nothing far from ordinary.
So, this year we welcomed a new brand to the winning spot. The 2017 Glowsphere award goes to . . . very.co.uk for their beautiful CGI crafted advert featuring a wolf who helps a little girl rescue her gift. It’s a magical story, which as some YouTube viewers have agreed, should probably be made into a film.
2017 Winner: Get more out of giving by very.co.uk
So here we are, finally in 2018, but who will steal the crown this year?
Well, if you haven’t already seen enough of Holly Willoughby on TV this year then you might enjoy this year’s M&S ‘must-haves’ advert, although it did rather feel as if M&S might have run out of the budget to produce anything too lavish.
Debenhams has undergone a rebrand and to accompany its rather vague strapline ’Do a bit of Debenhams’ it has launched a new campaign ‘Do a bit of you-know-you-did-good’, based, I’m assuming, on the happy feeling you get when you know you’ve bought the right present. Admittedly I’ve seen worse, but if this advert stands to win any awards this year it might just for being the most annoying. “Star – that’s what they call you” by Kiki Dee, which was last used on the 1980’s talent show, Opportunity Knocks, really grates after a while and there are several different variants of the advert too, meaning we’re going to be super-exposed to it. The joy.
Moz the Monster has collected his P45 from the John Lewis HR department, only to be replaced with one Sir Elton John and his piano-playing life story. I’ve got to admit, I’m still scratching my head over this one and if Gogglebox is anything to go by, so is everyone else.
Sainsbury’s has maintained its focus on the real people of Britain as we spend time at the school Christmas play. Directed by Michael Gracey, the director of The Greatest Showman, The Big Night is wonderfully choreographed and whilst it’s way above the production budget of any real-life state primary school, it certainly feels very genuine. The parents in the audience are, reportedly, the real parents of the children and were deliberately kept away from the rehearsals until the day of the shoot. Great entertainment and hats off to whoever thought of plug boy.
Well, it’s been a close call, but I’m going to close my blog with my 2018 favourite. This year’s Christmas ad award goes to our favourite carrot, Kevin. It’s been the third year running for Kevin and there’s a lot be said for consistency. Kevin has become a bit of superstar in his own right. His popularity has led Aldi to describing him as “just a humble carrot who stole the nation’s heart” and only last month, Aldi saw people queueing outside its stores across the UK to buy its lovable soft toy. Kevin’s popularity has been put to good use and Aldi has launched 10 limited editions for auction on eBay in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust. The highest bid currently stands at £460.00. It’s always nice to see an entertaining advert, but it feels even better when you know some of the company’s profits are going to a good cause.
2018 Winner: Kevin the Carrot and the Wicked Parsnip