Whether we like it or not, Christmas adverts have become an annual talking point, with much-touted premieres, dedicated hashtags and acres of column inches (more of which below) to ensure this is so.
We round up the best and worst of this year’s crop - which is your favourite? What do you think of the phenomenon of Christmas ads? Let us know in the comments below.
The orange member of the big four has ostensibly foregone its own Christmas ad this year, and opted instead to use teaser clips from Oscar-winning Scottish director Kevin Macdonald’s 45-minute film Christmas in a Day. The film, produced by Ridley Scott and available to view on YouTube, has been cut from 360 hours of crowd-sourced footage shot by members of the public last Christmas, following the same format as Macdonald’s 2011 film Life in a Day. Short clips of ordinary people having their ordinary Christmas – old ladies dancing at their retirement home do, a man painstakingly preparing turkey with all the trimmings then eating it alone, children being surprised by their soldier father’s homecoming – speak for themselves. The campaign doesn’t seem to have much to do with Sainsbury’s - there are no products or deals displayed - but we know what they sell. The advert makes you think of nothing so much as your own family, your own home, your own Christmas, presumably triggering the thought that mustn’t forget to pick up the Christmas pudding to take to your mum’s or order that turkey. But where?
After 2012’s disastrous effort, judging by which the supermarket giant thought it was actually 1955, showing an exhausted woman frenetically assembling a holiday for her lazy, selfish family to remember - tagline “Behind every great Christmas there’s mum” - Asda has played it safe this year. It has stuck to promoting its low prices (and let’s face it, that’s why people shop in Asda), with scrawny snowmen representing the savings to be had at Morrison’s, Tesco and Sainsbury’s next to a giant, fat Asda snowman. It is unlikely to result in another 600 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority, because it is far too boring.
The Here Come the Girls girls have come and long gone, thankfully. Boots Christmas adverts are now in the business of appropriately Dickensian moral tales. This year’s modern-day menace is a moody hoody, although if you don’t automatically cringe in fear at the sight of someone under 25 in a sweatshirt it may take a second viewing to twig that he is initially meant to appear threatening (the signifiers of urban grit - a chain link fence and a rumbling Tube train - help). As he rampages through the hood unobtrusively distributing presents to the old man who helped him get a B in maths, the girl he fancies and the nurse who looked after his nan, he reminds us all that presents can actually be used to express genuine feelings, as well as to make Boots money, and that teenagers with really well-paid paper routes can be decent people too. It totally works, but while the sentiment is admirable, the soundtrack is inexplicable. Boots probably hasn’t paid much attention to the lyrics of Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy, and definitely hasn’t seen the video – probably the most heartbreaking of all time – but they were certainly paying attention when John Lewis misappropriated Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want a few Christmases ago.
Although at first glance it seems a bit of a misfire to presume that the sort of people who wear cashmere sweaters and hold parties in barns strung with fairy lights in which they folksily dance to Michael Bublé buy the same prawn rings as Kerry Katona, in the current climate they probably do, which is fair enough.
Following on from last year’s lovelorn snowman and 2011’s selfless child, John Lewis has stuck with its tried-and-tested formula of twee plus a twist, with the animated tale of the hare who bought his friend the bear an alarm clock so he could sack off hibernation for Christmas morning. It’s perfectly nice and cosy and inoffensive (like most of the department store’s stock) but isn’t really worth the hype, or the £7 million it cost - as if it possibly could be. Lily Allen sweetly crooning a cover of Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know went to No. 1 in the charts, possibly heralding in the replacement of X Factor contestants vying for Christmas No. 1 with pop stars doing saccharine versions of slightly-loved songs for advert soundtracks.
The Cadbury’s advert focuses on the fundamental joys of ripping off wrapping paper because it’s fun and eating chocolate because it’s delicious, by showing us a load of kids demented with happiness tearing through the purple paper encasing their street. As such it’s simple and refreshingly free of agenda besides the obvious, and lovely for it.
With their timeline of a succession of Christmases in the life of an ordinary British couple, Tesco has gone with the trend of using pretend “real” (ie, not massively attractive) people and the unfolding of their pretend-real lives in order to relate to their customers. This is all well and good and quite welcome, just as it was when John Lewis made exactly the same advert back in 2010. The soundtrack this time round might be Rod Stewart singing Forever Young (his own, not the good one Alphaville did that was in Napoleon Dynamite) rather than Billy Joel’s Always a Woman but mute that and there’s really no difference. For their Christmas 2016 offering, expect an animated feature about sweet-natured back-alley rats shyly presenting each other with cut-price iPads.
Another “real people having everyday moments” (clearly this year’s advertising trend) effort from the fast food monolith, showing how trips to McDonald’s fit into the festive season. Here the realism rings true, because who hasn’t nipped into McDonald’s for a quick bite while Christmas shopping? We can pretend we all snack in independently-run organic cafés when on the go, but we don’t. All normal people eat at McDonald’s sometimes. Like the people in the advert eating off their hangovers after the work night out, or those taking a group of kids out for a post-panto treat because whatever else McDonald’s is it’s also affordable, or the teenagers hanging out and taking selfies there because that’s what teenagers do. The Golden Arches might be utterly mundane but that’s the beauty of them; their reassuring constancy. When the pressure over Christmas for everything to be utterly magical and special and perfect gets too much, you can still go to McDonald’s.
Marks & Spencer, despite throwing a bunch of national treasures (Helena Bonham Carter, David Gandy, treasure-in-training Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Lewis Carroll) at their ad - in which Rosie tumbles down a manhole into a horribly smug mash-up of Alice in Wonderland, Aladdin, Hansel and Gretel and The Wizard of Oz - has managed to produce the most nonsensical and yet predictable of the lot. Although anyone who has read Alice in Wonderland probably wouldn’t have foreseen her clothes falling off every 30 seconds, or the suggestion that she might get it on with the Mad Hatter on Aladdin’s magic carpet.
Top of the class is Harvey Nichols’ Sorry, I Spent It On Myself campaign – an online video showing (once) happy families receiving Harvey Nichols-branded paper clips and sink plugs, bestowed on them by loved ones wearing the spoils of the money they saved on gifts. A daughter looks lovingly at her new Louboutins as her father unwraps the elastic bands she has given him. “You love toothpicks,” intones a woman as she presents them to her boyfriend, one hand caressing her new Givenchy bag. Predictably, some online commenters (the same puritanical souls who hated last year’s Walk of Shame video) seem to think Harvey Nics have missed the point of Christmas, when really they’ve hit the nail on the head. This is the only ad to openly acknowledge the rampant consumerism that characterises modern-day Christmas. The department store are well-known for their tongue-in-cheek approach to advertising (you probably wouldn’t guess they share an ad agency with John Lewis), and a sense of humour is refreshing among all the creepy sentimentality and forced schmaltz. The kicker is that the products featured are all available to buy – the range also includes a Non-Swiss biro pen for 81p, a real plastic doorstop for £1.43 and a multi-bristled toothbrush for 95p.