I know what you’re thinking: thank god someone’s done it right? If you’re anything like me, as someone who spent the last week watching two seasons of The Crown in Netflix’s cosy ad-free embrace – you don’t actually see a lot of adverts organically these days.
Christmas is like Oscar season for the marketing community – all the big brands are out and vying for the coveted spot as the nation’s favourite Christmas advert. And there’s obviously a very compelling commercial reason too – Christmas is the biggest retail event of the year, and people are at their most sentimental, and most ready to buy whatever you’re going to throw at them.
With that in mind, I’ve done the legwork and watched, appraised and rated 7 Christmas ads from some of the big players. You are welcome.
John Lewis: Excitable Edgar
The big ‘un. The one everyone waits with bated breath to see. I was disappointed. I didn’t think I liked last year’s Elton John-centric effort, but this return to the cute misunderstood character format complete with lamenting indie cover of well-known song had me longing for Your Song. There have been yet more plagiarism claims from several children’s authors claiming they created similar stories and characters, meaning yet again (this happened in 2014 and 2017) the wrong type of message is surrounding their Christmas advert. Not to mention the week tagline at the end “Show them how much you care” – oh please, if someone asked me to write a Christmas tagline in my sleep, that’s what I’d write. In fact, after watching this I went back and watched last year’s, which ended with “Sometimes a gift is more than just a gift” – which is absolute dynamite. This one is just another push to sell more soft toys. and we are not amused.
Charli’s verdict: 2 out of 5
Tesco: 100 Years of #DeliveringChristmas
This one is more like it. Nostalgia is probably the most powerful emotion brands can invoke at Christmas – and they’ve used it well here. The obvious reference to Back to the Future combined with the little jokes and nods to historical figures – when he lands in the Victorian era, the driver exclaims “What the Dickens?”, and he delivers a package of mince pies and port to Winston Churchill at 10 Downing Street – hit the spot quite nicely. Not to mention they’ve used the best Christmas song. I’m not entirely sure why he goes to a rave, but it gives them the opportunity to make a joke about his fluorescent gilet, so I guess there’s that.
Charli’s verdict: 4 out of 5
Argos: The Book of Dreams
Speaking of nostalgia – this is another “throwback” effort from Argos. I feel the need to mention here, as a fan, that Bill Bailey coined the phrased “laminated book of dreams” to describe the Argos catalogue. But he wasn’t wrong – we all remember the thrill of flicking through the Argos catalogue at Christmas, picking out what we wanted and to get that tantalising “we’ll see” look from our parents. Argos have called back to this nicely here. I think it’s very clever that they’ve got the dad at the centre rather than the kid – it’s the parents Argos are trying to appeal here, not the child. The child in the advert has likely never seen an Argos catalogue before. Combine all this with a great 80s song and you’ve got a winner.
Charli’s verdict: 5 out of 5
Boots: Bootiques by Boots
I quite like this campaign by Boots. It combines a bit of humour with some real practicality – we all have those people in our lives who we have absolutely no idea what to buy for. I’m not entirely sure I like the ad – the opening scene is a bit odd. Where are they, and why is this woman talking about massage oil? It also commits possibly the greatest sin you could with a Christmas ad – it just doesn’t feel that Christmassy. I’m not saying they all have to be pine-scented, sickly-sweet schmaltz-fests, but it just felt a little cold to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still be paying a panic-induced visit to their 3 for 2 section. Always a lifesaver.
Charli’s verdict: 3 out of 5
Asda: Let’s Make Christmas Extra Special
Ok, after I was complaining that the Boots one didn’t make me feel very Christmassy – this one was so sickly sweet it gave me a cavity. And while I know there has to be some creative license here – this has absolutely nothing to do with Asda. At least the Tesco one featured a friendly Tesco delivery man, and the Sainsbury’s one featured some Sainsbury’s oranges (we’ll get to that in a bit). It’s just a bit low-effort in terms of an idea, and amongst some of the more creative ideas like the ones from Tesco and Sainsbury’s, it really doesn’t stand out.
Charli’s verdict: 2 out of 5.
Sainsbury’s: Nicholas the Sweep
When I first watched it I didn’t really get it. Then I went and made a coffee, and I thought about it, and I decided that I quite like it. It’s obviously a bit of a send-up of all the forced character origin stories we get in film and TV now – Nicholas is Saint Nick, geddit?! It’s a different take on the Christmas ad and I think it’s quite clever. That being said, if you have to go away and think about Christmas advert before it hits you, is it really doing it’s job? Not to mention the fact that one of the characters bites into an orange, without removing the skin. That’s not acceptable on any level.
Charli’s verdict: 4 out of 5
Aldi: Kevin the Carrot returns
I took great pleasure in hearing “Robbie Williams” (is it Robbie Williams, or someone doing a really good impression?) sing “decorate your Christmas trees, smother me in cranberries” – so in terms of memorability, I think this one’s a winner. Marketing Week crowned it as the year’s most effective Christmas ad. I’m not sure about that, but I agree it’s memorable and does the job of differentiating itself from the other big players. Maybe that does make it the most effective one, I hear you argue? I respectfully disagree – I think advertising at Christmas is as much about evoking an emotional response as anything else, and this fell short for me.
Charli’s verdict: 3 out of 5
Charli’s winner: Argos.
Maybe it’s because I’m a child of the 90’s and I have similarly fond memories of perusing the laminated book of dreams for Barbies, Lego and the like, but for me this ticked the boxes I want in a Christmas advert. It’s memorable, it’s nostalgic, it’s got a great song, and it’s just good marketing. It pitches at the right level for the audience and promotes an actual product without feeling too product-driven – I would not be surprised if countless children this year now want a mini drum kit. I mean, count me in anyway.