Ads of the Week: Christmas Ad Special

Cynics, beware: it’s our bumper Christmas ad round up!

Cynics, beware: it’s our bumper Christmas ad round up!

With most of the major Christmas ads now out, we’ve decided to gather our pick of those released here, so you can get your festive cheer in one big twinkly hit. This year sees a large serving of what may once have seemed decidedly un-British full-on sentimentality from many brands: this is a trend that has sprung out of the success of John Lewis’s annual tug at our heartstrings, but has been taken even further by several companies this year, who are clearly searching for those Twitter tears.

Elsewhere there is a general return to traditionalism. Whereas in recent years we’ve seen some moments of experimentation emerge in the Christmas ad season (for example, Sainsbury’s Christmas in a Day), many brands are playing it safe this time round and opting for the snow-turkey-celebrity combo. But hey, perhaps this should be expected: Christmas is a time when convention rules, after all.

Anyway, enough chit-chat, here come the ads:


First up, the Sainsbury’s ad. Created by AMV BBDO, this spot has received the most interest after the John Lewis ad, having racked up over four million views on YouTube since its release on Thursday. Not all of this attention has been positive, however. The ad focuses on the famous football game played between German and British soldiers in No Man’s Land on Christmas Day 1914. It is a gorgeous piece of film, directed by Ringan Ledwidge, but whether a brand has a right to co-opt such an important moment from history (even though the ad is created in partnership with the Royal British Legion and proceeds from the sales of a chocolate bar featured in the ad will go to the charity) has been the subject of fierce debate. The Guardian called it “a dangerous and disrespectful masterpiece” while even a Telegraph columnist said it had “gone too far” (though its commenters were heavily in favour of the ad).


Next, the behemoth: the John Lewis Christmas ad. We’ve already reviewed it here, but just in case you’ve somehow managed to miss it, here it is again. Views on YouTube are already over 14 million. Agency: Adam&EveDDB. Director: Dougal Wilson.


Whereas Boots was once a brand we could rely on for Here Come The Girls-style cheeriness, the company has switched to the tearjerker route lately, and this family focused ad delivers that in spades. I miss the joyfulness of the earlier spots personally, but there we are, blame John Lewis. YouTube views: 236,000. Agency: Mother. Director: Noam Murro.


Sticking with earnestness, here’s the Waitrose ad. It’s a sweet tale about a schoolgirl overcoming her fear of baking, set to the obligatory saccharine soundtrack (this time a cover of Dolly Parton’s Try sung by members of the public who took part in the brand’s ‘Donate Your Voice‘ campaign). Things get a little confusing at the end though when the voiceover comes in and gives another brand message about Waitrose being owned by its staff, which sits a little oddly with the girl’s story. YouTube views: 455,000. Agency: BBH; Director: Tom Tagholm.


On to the rest of the supermarket chains now, where things start to blur. Here’s Tesco’s offering, which plays it very safe, focusing on Christmas lights. It’s created by Wieden + Kennedy, but rather lacks the cheery (and slightly cheeky) oomph of the agency’s first Xmas ads for the brand, in 2012. Still, it’s been a tough year for Tesco so maybe it’s wise to go for the middle ground this time. YouTube views: 416,000. Director: Guy Manwaring.


Lidl has opted for a competitive approach, serving up a Christmas meal and leaving the guests to work out where the food has come from. They say M&S or Waitrose, and are surprised (and perhaps even a teensy bit disappointed?) to see it’s from Lidl. Such blatant competitiveness feels a bit unChristmassy, but rams home the point that Lidl is now a serious player in the supermarket wars. YouTube views: 119,000. Agency: TBWALondon. Director: Finn McGough.


Aldi has gone down a fairly conventional route, showing a series of different Christmas dinners topped off by an appearance by Jools Holland. It all feels quite mainstream compared to the brand’s brilliant ‘Like Brands, Only Cheaper‘ series of ads, which is a bit of a shame. YouTube views: 31,000. Agency: McCann Manchester. Director: Lucy Blakstad.


Onto the department stores now, and first up is the big one in this category: M&S. It stars two fairies delivering Christmas wishes, and is glossy but safe fun, but with almost 3 million YouTube views so far, is a major contender in the Xmas film battle. The ad is also backed up with an account on Twitter for the fairies (@twofairies) and a whole range of stunts whereby said fairies bring a little Magic & Sparkle to communities up and down the country. Agency: Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R. Director: Philippe Andre.


More sparkles from Debenhams, as a group of kids run riot in the closed store, discovering treats aplenty. YouTube views: 639,000. Agency: JWT London. Director: David Edwards.


Argos’s ad has plenty of traditional Christmas references, including an advent calendar and snowflakes, but with a soundtrack from Run DMC and the sharp visual approach of its new creative direction, feels a bit different from the rest. YouTube views: 329,000. Agency: CHI & Partners. Directors: Geremy & Georgie.


If it’s real convention you’re after though, here’s the Coke ad. And, a little surprisingly, the first big appearance from Santa on this list. If this is your thing, Coke’s Christmas Trucks will also be on tour around the UK from the end of this month. YouTube views: 101,000.


As we’ve reported previously, Gap’s US holiday ads are a little more tongue in cheek this year. Shot by Sofia Coppola, they highlight how the holidays bring families together, no matter how awkward that might be. One of four ads is shown above. YouTube views: 80,000. Agency: Wieden + Kennedy New York.


We’re on the home straight now, and moving onto the luxury brands. First up is some out-and-out comedy from Mulberry (read our full review here). YouTube views: 310,000. Agency: Adam&EveDDB. Director: Andy McLeod.


Burberry’s Christmas ad is a four-minute-long glam fest featuring Romeo Beckham, alongside plenty of examples of Burberry’s signature garment: the raincoat. The film has been a huge hit online, with nearly 5.5 million YouTube views, though we can’t help feeling that the soundtrack, by Ed Harcourt, doesn’t quite fit with the visuals? Director: Christopher Bailey.


To close, two animated pieces. First up, from TBWALondon for Harrods, is a stop motion work by A+C Studios that tells a cutesy story of Father Christmas and his mice helpers (perhaps inspired by the mice in Bagpuss?). YouTube views: 26,000.


Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end! And to reward you, here’s a beautiful piece of animation for Tiffany & Co, from Ogilvy & Mather and Psyop. I can’t find it on YouTube so no viewing figures, I’m afraid.

Merry Christmas everyone! (is it too early for that?)

  • Damon

    Next year’s Sainsbury’s christmas ad rumoured to be a heartwarming tale set in Dachau. Americans bring Taste the Difference mince pies.

  • Liliana

    They´re all very touching and full of affection! Thank you
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

  • John


  • Tim

    The Sainsbury’s ad manages to find new ground under the barrel, especially when you view it without knowing who it’s for — you know it’s crass, sentimental and disrespectful, but when the logo pops up at the end, it really does take the biscuit… or should it be chocolate?

    Talking of trivialising things…. how much do these period dramas (Peeky Blinders, Fury et al) owe to the current trend in George Orwell haircuts? I watched the Godfather the other day, but couldn’t get beyond James Caan’s seventies perm.

  • mbx

    When someone described the Sainsburys ad to me i literally couldn’t believe it.

    Although its not as bad as it might have been the whole undertaking feels to me grubby and jaw-droppingly crass.

  • Rai

    the Sainsbury ad is utterly disrespectful, I watched with some interest not knowing what it was for, but part way through I commented to my o/h I hope this is not some **** supermarket Christmas ad campaign. long before the log came up at the end we both feel that it is unbelievable how a chain can use trivialise such an important moment in history especially during the centenary year

  • Tofurky

    Can a supermarket justify using a conflict that saw the industrial slaughter of 20 million? Let’s ask the turkeys…

  • Love the John Lewis one.

  • Phil

    I think it’s all too easy to be cynical about the Sainsbury’s ad, but as they’ve been supporting the Royal British Legion for 20 years (and seemingly got their support for creating the ad) I don’t think it’s distasteful / disrespectful at all. Highlighting an otherwise little-known act of extraordinary humanity can only be a good thing. I’m glad someone had the balls to do it.

    By criticising the ad, you’re essentially saying all wars are untouchable as a subject if they result in commercial gain, but what about the countless war movies that have been made in the past century? They’re not exactly selfless good deeds. They line the pockets of fat cat studios without any sort of kickback to a relevant charity.

    I’m all for a bit of corporate bashing but if you’re going to get on your high horse about the Sainsbury’s ad, you might as well be up in arms about how a major religious commemorative holiday has been warped into a huge commercial event. Why is war more sacrosanct than religion?

    Also, on a more trivial note, I’m pretty sure the haters lapped up the Carling Black Label dam busters ad back in 1989. What’s changed?!

  • mbx

    Phil – sounds to me like you might work for Sainsburys or the ad agency! Or you are just a troll : )

    Assuming the former as far as I’m concerned the logic of your argument is fallacious and preposterous.

    “By criticising the ad, you’re essentially saying all wars are untouchable as a subject if they result in commercial gain”

    Pretty disingenuous misrepresentation of what others and myself are saying I’m not saying that at all, I am saying is i find this particular ad particularly crass.

    I don’t know about “little known incident” I’d heard of it and anyone else i’d talked to had heard of the incident. Subjective i know, but I’m expressing my personal opinion here.

    “you might as well be up in arms about how a major religious commemorative holiday has been warped into a huge commercial event. ”

    These were real people who really died. I think you might be assuming people think religion is something that ought to be respected, a little presumptive perhaps.

    Incidentally pagan solstice festivals existed prior to the Christian Christmas, so if you are going to start arguing about the meaning of festivities changing you might as well get informed about who is hijacking whose festival!

  • “There’s only one thing worse that being talked about – and that’s not being talked about”

    What business are we in again?