What is the best Christmas ad of all time? We asked the experts

Festive advertisements have become part of modern Xmas. Pete Martin introduces three Fellows of the Marketing Society who give their views on the best one ever
This year's John Lewis advert. Picture: ContributedThis year's John Lewis advert. Picture: Contributed
This year's John Lewis advert. Picture: Contributed

My wife once gave me a robot hoover for Christmas. I said ‘thanks’, but I didn’t mean it. A friend once presented his better half with a kitchen bin. As far as festive giving goes, that is literally a rubbish idea.

No doubt, you can fill in your own version of the unnecessary, unwanted, ill-advised and possibly insulting gifts you’ve received over the years.

You can also see where the giver has gone wrong.

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If only they’d sourced those outsize bloomers for you from John Lewis or some such.

You would have felt their largesse more fully.

You would have understood the intangible Christmasness of the gift. You would have sensed ‘how much they care’.

You see, that’s the function of the festive ad jamboree. On the one hand, advertisers seek to imbue a bunch of stuff with magical emotive properties, at least until the sales start. On the other hand, there’s the implicit shame and stigma that might follow from shopping at a lesser store – the fear of revealing yourself to be a Scrooge, a Grinch, an uncultured clod, a social pariah.

At least that’s how brands used to work. The brand was the mark that told you ‘this is the good stuff’.

And when that perception is shared, it creates social currency – the esteem of the product is passed between the giver and the getter as symbolic personal regard.

Nowadays, it’s not so easy. Online sales, consumer reviews and more informed shoppers have all blunted the power of brand, especially where products are more generic, purchasing is more rational and discount shopping can be cool.

So, let’s spare a thought this Christmas for the truly ‘down-on-their-luck’: the weary, bleary and bwildered retailers on Britain’s High Streets.

Last year, the British Retail Consortium conceded that Christmas sales had been the worst in a decade.

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As sales fell in real terms, even price cuts had done nothing to spur spending. This year, Brexit uncertainty suppressed consumer confidence and, as the pound fell, made imports more costly. The impact this year is unlkely to bring much cheer to the retail sector.

As the audience for real life shopping and real time TV both ages and dwindles, you should enjoy the Yuletide commercials while you can. There’s good reason to buy your gifts in a proper shop this festive season. The retailer will thank you, even if the recipient doesn’t. Pete Martin, Always Be Content, @alwaysbecontent

1914: For one brief moment there was peace

Amidst the haunting melody of ‘Silent Night’, the Sainsbury’s 2014 Christmas advertisment brought to life, for me, the true spirit of Christmas – compassion, hope, humanity.

We may never know the truth of what happened on this Day. But there are sufficient diaries and letters written by those on the Front Line to suggest that Jim and Otto’s story reflects a moment in time when both sides embraced this spirit of Christmas.

For a short time at least, the very best in humankind overcame the very worst.

By then, one million soldiers had lost their lives. However, late on Christmas Eve, as the Germans lit candles and both sides started to sing, a truce was called. Soldiers bravely introduced themselves, played football, cards, exchanged gifts and stories. For a few hours, they saw each there as fellow human beings rather than the enemy.

The year 2014 saw the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War. It was a year filled with a series of commemorative events that recognised the sacrifice made by those involved.

Even with a small dose of sentimentality, this Christmas ad by Sainsbury’s paid tribute to all those who fought. It also reminded us all that, especially at Christmas, humanity is a value we must continue to champion. Partnering with The British Legion the campaign had a worthwhile angle, giving valuable impetus to its incredible work. The charity helps our older veterans, as well as our serving forces around the world – some of whom might not get to spend Christmas with their families.

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OK – so there was a nod to commercialism. They are a retailer after all. But their commemorative chocolate bar had a place in the heart of the film’s narrative.

It represented the many gifts exchanged on the frontline between the German and British soldiers on Christmas Day, even if that meant a personal sacrifice. And there were several bars that appeared in our family stockings that year.

I can always appreciate the magic and sentiment of a lonely penguin or the amusing antics of an animated carrot.

But, for me, our world is still battling conflict and strife alongside the ever-present sense of hope and compassion. The message is one that resonates far stronger at this time f year and that’s why Sainsbury’s Christmas ad 1914 will always have relevance. Lest We Forget. Helen Campbell, VisitScotland and Marketing Society Fellow, @helbelcampbel

The best one of all had no ad agency involved

The Best Christmas ad wasn’t created by a big London ad agency.

It wasn’t written for a soap, supermarket, department store or fizzy drink. The best Christmas ad is actually so good you don’t even know it’s an ad. But more of this later.

I’ll start by answering the question straight on and give you the four runners up. And by goodness they’re belters. Picking a top ten is difficult, five almost impossible. To do it I set myself some rules:

Christmas has to be a critical theme in the ad. You’d be amazed how many ads are actually about parties, family gatherings and general good times.

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The audience’s understanding of Christmas, especially peace and goodwill, must be explored and leveraged. It must and should be soooo good you could watch it in July during a heatwave and wish it was cold, dark and you were with your nearest and dearest. So where did this leave me? In reverse order, here are my top five.

5th Place – The Book of Dreams by Argos is the only entry from this year. I love this ad, it makes my heart sing, my foot tap and captures everything I want Christmas gifting to be. Christmas is about being closer to friends and family, and Argos nailed it and the joy it brings.

In fourth place is pretty much every Christmas ad by John Lewis could be in a top 20 ads of all time list, let alone festive ads. They’re that good. Equally, they’re so consistently excellent that it’s easy to take them for granted. They set the bar that other retail brands follow and have done so to perfection. They’re just a brilliant exploration of the human condition at Christmas.

In third place is an ad has been walking in the air for more than ten years and defines for me the notion of ‘timeless’. Irn Bru’s phenomenal and uniquely Scottish take on The Snowman doesn’t age and, like a Morecambe and Wise Christmas special, raises a devilish smile year after year. Not only one of the best Christmas ads ever but the only one from Edinburgh (or, perhaps more accurately, Leith).

In second place – The cultural impact of our runner up globally can’t be measured. For this reason it pips others. The fact that this brand defined how we see Santa in 1931 shows you exactly how powerful their communication has been. Simply by saying “Holidays are coming” you know the brand, the colour, the vehicle and the weather. Cheesy? Yes! But so is Christmas, so it’s brilliant. It’s an ad that owns Christmas in many ways.

And in first place, there can be only one winner, Band Aid – Do They Know it’s Christmas.

Firstly – there is a message. It was inspired by Sir Bob as a call to action to inspire behavioural change. The lyrics may not be the most jaw-dropping copy but you can’t deny their effectiveness. Secondly it sells. Not only did it generate charitable revenue from record sales for the Band Aid charity, it also created a launchpad for Live Aid and a host of sequels. As for longevity, it still promotes its message to this day. David Roberts, Multiply and Marketing Society Fellow, @bigdavidroberts

A low budget, simple message winner

The best Christmas ad ever? I’m pretty sure I’d change my mind if you asked me in January. I’m fickle, just like most shoppers these days: low on loyalty, high on hype.

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But for now, I give the thumbs up to the Hafod Hardware store ad. I won’t ever shop there – it’s in Wales – but if I could, I would.

I just love a hardware store. The smell just gets you at once: a concotion of paint thinner, Chinese rubber, John Innes compost and wood dust.

If you’re lucky they might even have a key cutting machine which bring oily undertones to the DIY party. The contents are rich and practical.

Everything from picture hooks to snow shovels, magic sticks for whitening clothes to those sticky things that stop furniture scuffing wooden floors. But it’s not about this shop, or what it sells, or the brand. It’s about how community counts. Personal contact at a time when we live more solitary lives and loneliness is a real problem. This advert is like light at the end of the Black Friday tunnel.

The PR professional in me enjoys a good story being told and the simplicity of the message: Be A Kid This Christmas. And this ad was cheaper than a new Bosch drill, reportedly costing just £100. The ad also champions the concept of shopping local, keeping our high streets alive and people in local jobs – good for the planet and the economy.

And in independent retail you might just find something truly original to wrap up and gift this Christmas.

I’m off to seek a draft excluder and an Allen key for my husband’s Christmas, with the added benefit of a bit of advice on oven cleaning and local gossip along the way. Clare Smith, Marketing Society Fellow, @clarebearalert