Christmas can be a tricky time of year for advertisers – it’s not easy to judge the mood of the nation. Get the zeitgeist right, and you’ll be hitting all the right notes; get it wrong and you may as well flush your advertising budget down the toilet.
But getting it right isn’t easy – if you consider that most productions start in Spring, and a lot can happen in six months. Marks & Spencer reportedly changed tack in May this year because they felt they weren’t on the right track. It’s not surprising – the mood has changed a lot this year.
After Christmas 2020 and 2021, both of which were affected to different degrees by the pandemic and the Omicron variant – this year was perhaps expected to be a perhaps more joyous, carefree occasion. Like the good old days eh?
But it’s been a funny old year, all in all.
First, the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Then the Boris Johnson ‘Partygate’ saga, political shenanigans, and his eventual demise as PM. Soaring fuel prices driving rampant inflation. Interest rates rising rapidly. The election of another PM, who made it worse. Idiot. And then another PM. Restoring some stability?
And in between all that, the death of our monarch. Annus weirdus.
Could all of that been anticipated back in May? How can advertisers be expected to have nailed it this year?
Oh, and not to mention the World Cup. We’ll either be buoyant or depressed in England and Wales. Whilst the Scottish and Irish amongst us will remain largely non-plussed.
The danger of course, is that Christmas advertising becomes a bit bland – because advertisers don’t want to risk getting it wrong, they fail to really capture the mood.
It’s easy to say now, in November as we approach Christmas, but for me, this year needs to be about, having fun and letting go a bit (it’s been a tough year after all) but whilst being reasonably prudent – living within our means. This is not a time for spend, spend, spend. This is not a time to be ludicrously hopeful. But enjoy Christmas, have a bit of fun with it.
In our opinion, the brands that have really smashed it are the ones who have stuck to their brand positioning. Let’s look at some of this year’s runners and riders.
Marks and Spencer – Gifts that Give
Nothing against the sentiment. But it feels a bit desperate.
M&S said that: “We listen to our customers, and we saw month by month that they were talking more about community, and we switched to make sure we were reflecting that”. It led them to take their original idea off the table in May and start again.
The problem is it doesn’t feel authentic. I mean, it’s nice. But it’s not stand out. Pretty typical fayre really. Everyone being nice to each other, looking after each other. It’s just not real. Are we expected to believe there’ll be street parties in middle class communities on Christmas day?
If we’re going to do a fantasy sequence, make it outrageous.
Sorry, I’m non-plussed.
John Lewis – The beginner
This is one we’ve been waiting for.
If you’re going try to a bring a lump to the throat of every parent out there, then this is the way to do it. John Lewis has teamed up with two charities that look after and help children in the care system – Action for Children and Who Cares? Scotland.
The ad, which raises awareness of children in care, moves away from the retailer’s traditional big budget spectacular approach and tells a simple story. The tone feels appropriate for the current mood and it works. Downbeat, but with a note of hopefulness.
Although that said, it will be interesting to see if anyone remembers this in a couple of years’ time.
Shelter – Brave Face
While we’re on the subject of tugging at the heartstrings, try this year’s Christmas ad from Shelter. This is a lovely ad, beautifully melancholy – an authentic tear-jerker that doesn’t overdo the doe-eyes. John Lewis would be proud.
Well done Shelter, I hope it delivers for you.
Disney – The Gift.
A pretty typically ‘heart-warming’ affair. I guess sickly-sweet is what Disney do best, but you’d think with the resources at their disposal that they could come up with something a bit more original.
It’s just too perfect, too predictable.
Bring me a bucket.
Sainsbury’s – Once upon a pud
I’m not sure what they’re trying to do here. A fairytale countess who puts pressure on a servant to come up with something better than a traditional pudding (because she doesn’t like Christmas pudding).
She says, “Bring me something different. Or else”.
That’s workplace bullying, isn’t it?
Or repression of the working classes. You saw him repressing me, didn’t you?
Come the revolution, you know where that Christmas pudding is going.
Asda – Buddy the Elf
OK, I get why they’re doing this. It’s certainly getting some attention. And there’s some good effects work, nicely edited etc.
But the central idea appears to be to steal the feelgood factor of Elf the movie, rather than create Asda’s own feelgood factor.
This could be any brand.
Next year, will we be talking about that Asda ad, or that Elf ad?
Morrisons – Farmer Christmas
Oh God. I mean…What’s going on? It’s…. just…all…so…. awful.
I’m really not clear what story they’re trying to tell here. Mince pies, ham. Right. Yes. You’re a supermarket, I get that.
“Where’s the gravy” says Farmer Christmas.
I’m not surprised he can’t find it, when there’s the entire stock of the supermarket on that table.
No room for plates.
What are they going to do, eat off their laps?
Could do better.
Lidl – The Story of Lidl Bear
This is nice.
A fun take on the typical ‘Christmas story’ ads from the John Lewis mould – but as you’d expect from Lidl, not taking itself too seriously.
On brand. Not too schmaltzy.
It’s fun, it’s tongue in cheek. It’s Christmas you can believe in.
I’ll buy that.
Not a world-beater, but nice.
Boots – Joy for all
I didn’t expect to like this, but I do.
It’s got all the elements you’d expect. Products are showcased, but not at the expense of the story.
The lead actress is relatable, there’s good diversity, it’s an unusual idea and there’s a nice thought about thoughtfulness running through it – it’s a big production that doesn’t feel too brash.
Not sure I’ll remember it this time next year, but yep, its good.
TK Maxx – Nail Christmas for Less
Now this is more like it.
A bit bizarre but it’s completely brilliant.
Christmas nailed for less – here, there’s a very clear proposition that’s appropriate for our current times and of course, 100% on brand.
Nothing deep and meaningful here, there’s just no need for it.
The execution is unusual, colourful, fun and hugely enjoyable. In my view, the best of the bunch by a country mile.
Other advertisers are available this Christmas
So there you go, a small selection box of what you’ll be seeing on your screens for the next six weeks.
Some nice efforts in there, but for me, Christmas won’t be Christmas until I see that big Coca-Cola eighteen-wheeler coming around the corner.
What about you? What’s your favourite Christmas ad this year? Or of all time?