Christmas is clearly the time of year for generosity, and it is with this firmly in my mind that I watch the seasonal ad offerings from Aldi, Marks & Spencer, Halfords, Sainsbury’s, Boots, Mulberry, Argos and John Lewis.
Some filled me with Christmas cheer whilst others brought out my inner Scrooge, but I’ll start with my Scrooge hat on. Aldi may be winning the supermarket wars but the discounter has taken a bit of a misstep with its Christmas ad. Its offering is pretty standard festive fodder – families round a table, check; a vast array of festive food, check; inane good cheer, check.
Sure, all the elements are here but it doesn’t offer anything new and it certainly doesn’t fill me with Yuletide bonhomie. The acting is just terrible and I’m not sure of the rationale behind Jools Holland’s appearance– though I am sure he is laughing all the way to the bank. Bah humbug Aldi!
Oh Marks & Spencer – how much further will you sink? Last year’s offering was stuffed to the brim with movie stars, beautiful supermodels and wonky CGI effects. It was devoid of any genuine Christmas feeling and hardly merited the no-doubt exorbitant sum spent. I’m afraid this year is more of the same. The brand may have divested itself of Helena Bonham-Carter and co, but the addition of a couple of Christmas fairies (albeit pretty ones) wearing glittering dresses does nothing to reverse the decline in quality. Dull, uninspiring and rather like the lump of coal in the toe of an errant child’s stocking.
Speaking of lumps of coal…Halfords, the “Does anything beat a bike” sign off, gets my answer of: “Yeah, what about an iPad or Xbox for starters?” I think today’s youth has moved on from lusting ardently after a bike, so Halfords’ offering is frankly rather dated.
Now I know I am treading on sensitive terrain with Sainsbury’s ad. The idea of playing back a famous moment in history (the Christmas truce) is both timely and well conceived, and the ad itself is beautifully shot and put together. However, it all feels rather saccharine and for me is a conceit too far.
The ad lures the viewer into a very emotive subject, especially in this centenary year of the start of the great war, to only reveal it is an ad for Sainsbury’s who are supporting the Royal British Legion. The link is jarring and, in some ways, exploitative. The fact that over 250 complaints have been received by the ASA would seem to indicate a similar disquiet is being felt.
Now with my Merry Christmas hat on. All hope of peace on earth and good will to men is not lost. Boots’ offering is actually quite nice. It reflects perfectly the “always-on” world we live in and reminds us that someone has to work over Christmas. A heart-warming family scene, where the whole clan comes together on Boxing Day to visit the hard-working nurse nearly brings a tear to the eye. It is a shame about the gratuitous use of the Boots outlet in one of the shots, but it doesn’t distract overly from a highly emotive ad.
A bit less emotional, but no less effective, Mulberry’s ad is just brilliant. It really nails the dread and rivalry of Christmas gift giving. With tongue firmly planted to cheek, the ad lays out a traditional family gift-giving scene with a fair amount of one-up-manship thrown into the bargain. The gifts get more extravagant and unusual (a unicorn appears at one point) until the Mulberry bag is unwrapped – the perfect gift. The ad is cheeky and irreverent, both attractive qualities, but it also underlines the brand’s #WinatChristmas social media campaign. A job very well done.
Christmas paper crowns also off to John Lewis for producing yet another beautiful Christmas ad. Tapping into the core values of the season without a cliché in sight or indeed an astronomical budget, the ad’s star, Monty the Penguin, really draws the viewer into his story – the poor penguin getting lonelier as we get nearer to Christmas morning, only to have his dreams fulfilled when his present is a nice lady penguin partner.
This is all rounded off nicely with the final reveal that the new addition is also what the little boy dreamed of for Christmas. I predict there will not be a dry eye in the house again this year, all over the country and Antarctica. John Lewis, you really do know how to get Chrimbo off to a bang. What’s more it looks as if Monty the Penguin will be helping John Lewis to a commercially successful Christmas too with Monty and Mabel merchandise everywhere, including Google Cardboard “Goggles” to deliver a VR 3D world of Monty and Mabel.
As a coda to my Christmas tale, an honourable mention has to go to Argos. Its ad comes as the culmination of a year of transition for the brand. It has significantly changed store layouts and services and I think that the brand’s new ad really showcases its attempt to become a more digitally-focused, modern retailer. The ad feels like a well-deserved pat-on-the back. In fact, Get Set, Go… Christmas Argos.
Mike Cavers is executive creative director at DST Global Insight Group (The GIG at DST)