Sainsbury’s is always the last of the major ads to land, only breaking tonight. Last year, its Christmas ad prompted a chorus of think pieces about what makes for appropriate ad content after it featured a recreation of the Christmas Day football match which took place between German and English soldiers during the First World War. Perhaps wanting to avoid another appearance on the Moral Maze, the brand has gone for a safer subject this year, with an ad based on the much-loved children’s book character Mog.
It’s still an epic piece of work though, coming in at over three minutes long and featuring beautiful animation. It also includes a cameo appearance from Mog’s creator, Judith Kerr, who collaborated on the ad. Its tone gets very sentimental at the end but with its low-level branding (plus a tie-in with Save The Children to promote child literacy) the ad is a very strong contender this year. Agency: AMV/BBDO. 9/10.
John Lewis is of course the brand to beat in the Christmas ad stakes and this year it demonstrated why with an epic two-minute-long whimsical tale featuring a young girl who befriends a lonely man in the moon. The spot continues all the traits that we know and (some of us) love from John Lewis at Christmas – a sentimental story involving a child, a poignant cover version of a classic song (this time it’s Oasis’s Half A World Away) and high production values. Bolstering it even further this year is a reminder to look out for those who might be lonely this Christmas in the storyline and a tie-in with Age UK. Agency: adam&eveDDB. 9/10
The M&S ad is weirdly lacking in its distinctive gloss this year, which is a disappointment. It’s also blatantly trying to shift product with this spot, instead of telling a story. All round not as good as one would hope from a brand that is usually up there in the top three ads of the Christmas season. Agency: RKCR/Y&R. 4/10
Waitrose’s Christmas ad treads very traditional ground. The vibe is quality, not tack, the food looks very tasty and there are lots of lovely Christmassy scenes involving snow, flaming Christmas puddings and so on. But will I talk to anyone else about it? I don’t think so. Agency: adam&eveDDB. 5/10
Boots now. Oh deary me. I’m not sure what happened at Boots between this year and last (presumably not enough ROI) but the brand has switched from the sombre and sentimental tone of its 2014 spot to a frankly cheesy spot, with products heavily pushed throughout. It’s not only dull but could be for any similar retailer – there’s no sense of the Boots brand and what makes it special, or different. Agency: Mother. 2/10
Morrisons has dropped Ant & Dec from its Christmas ad campaign this year, in favour of placing the emphasis on its staff and the stores’ supposedly ‘handmade’ quality. Sadly it all feels very bland and unmemorable though. Agency: DKLW Lowe. 2/10
Lidl has made a good fist of it this year, at least injecting some personality with the ‘Lidl School of Christmas’, where participants learn tricks such as how to make leftover sandwiches and how to untangle fairy lights. Plus there’s a comedy dog! Agency: TBWA\London. 7/10
Tesco is running several ads this year, all featuring the rather strange family set up of Ruth Jones, Ben Miller and Will Close that has appeared in its other recent commercials. The above spot, which highlights the gluten-free range, might just about raise a smirk but another, titled Flirt, is a little creepy. In all, the set-ups feel pretty old-fashioned. Agency: BBH. 4/10
The Aldi ad feels like a mash up of every other Christmas ad you’ve ever seen, and in this loses anything distinctive it can call its own. Agency: McCann Manchester. 4/10
This Currys Christmas ad caused some real-life LOLs in the CR office when we first watched it. The spot features Jeff Goldblum offering a masterclass in how to act your way out of accepting a bad gift and is charming and amusing. There are seven videos in total online to view in this campaign though, which might be asking rather a lot of even the most hardcore Goldblum or Currys fans. Much more shareable than most though. Agency: AMV BBDO. 7/10
Asda has eschewed the sentimental tone that many ads adopt at Christmas, instead going for a manic fun vibe. It is also the ad that will most help you if you have forgotten what Christmas is all about as it not only shows all the elements that make up the festive season, it also spells them out in words. By the end though, I’d forgotten that the spot was for a supermarket, let alone could remember which one. Agency: VCCP. 5/10
Argos has also gone high energy this year and sent masses of its products down a ski slope. Rather than just let us watch that though, the brand has then layered bold text over the top of the film and also introduced an annoying voiceover spelling out what the brand is offering. It’s all too much. Agency: CHI & Partners. 3/10
Mulberry continues the tongue-in-cheek approach that it established last year, presenting a nativity-themed spot this time round. The joke is just about sustained over the two-minute running time, but is stretched pretty thin. Agency: adam&eveDDB. 6/10
Harvey Nichols and Mulberry’s Christmas ads run the risk of getting dangerously blurred, with this year’s Harvey Nicks spot feeling rather reminiscent of Mulberry’s #WinChristmas of 2014, though with bad gifts rather than good. It slightly lacks the edge that we’ve come to associate with Harvey Nichols too. Agency: adam&eveDDB. 5/10
We end with what can only be described as the Christmas turkey (boom!). The one rule of Christmas ads is don’t mess with Santa, yet Paypal has boldly thrown him out of the picture in this ad which features two young boys who can’t work out why their parents aren’t coming home with bags of gifts in the run-up to Christmas (they are using Paypal of course). The ad has received a backlash in the press for ruining Christmas, and perhaps unsurprisingly, comments are disabled on its YouTube post. Agency: Crispin, Porter & Bogusky. 1/10
In conclusion, this year’s crop feels far more risk averse than in recent previous years, and a little bit of a waste of the press attention that now accompanies the release of the UK Christmas ads, which has drawn comparisons with the Super Bowl in the US.
Many brands have opted to play it safe and heavily push product, which is all very well in the old world of advertising, where viewers might just come across the spots on TV, but in the world of shares and likes, it could be a short-sighted move. Only John Lewis and Sainsbury’s have created films that customers are likely to actively seek out themselves this year, proving that once again they are the UK brands to beat at Christmastime.