Spooner on…The biggest Xmas TV ad review of the year

Xmas crackers? (clockwise from top left) Tesco, Asda (main pic), John Lewis, Ikea, TK Maxx, Xmas Spooner, M&S, Sainsbury's and Asda

Xmas crackers? (clockwise from top left) Tesco, Asda, John Lewis, Ikea, TK Maxx, Xmas Spooner, M&S, Sainsbury’s and Lidl

It is that time of year again. A heavy, all but palpable, sense of doom hangs over the neatly appointed holding-pens where Lord McKelvey’s handsome Gressingham Ducks, his sleek Lancing Geese and his magnificent Broad-Breasted Bronze Turkeys converse and squabble.

Soon it will be time for them to die.

Soon it will be time for all of us to vote, like them, for the new Xmas Government we all half-knowingly fear and dread.

But away with gloom! Away with care! On with the Xmas Motley, the capering, the cap, the bells! Let the merry Xmas japes and pranks begin with an astonishing TWENTY-FIVE examples of what the UK advertising industry believes to be its finest festive commercials, which can be found here>

God give me strength now.

Tesco: Delivering Christmas
Time travelling Tesco delivery van visits key moments in UK history delivering Xmas cheer. “What the Dickens!?,” exclaims our heroic driver as his van is surrounded by cheerful “Twisty” urchins. Contains the most appalling scenario imaginable as scally in bucket-hat at rave, gurning and, presumably, dry-mouthed, enthuses over a Tesco pork-pie.

Every point on the planner’s brief ticked off in a blizzard of stomach-turning cod-nostalgia that concludes in the driver’s unlikely return to an agreeable suburban villa manifestly unaffordable on his zero-hours contract. This is only the first and I have lost the will to carry on.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: Three puddings from a possible ten

Homebase: Monster Fairy
“Adorable child” makes grotesque fairy from bog-roll to horror of prim Mama, who utilises Homebase Xmas Tree USP revolving base to consign it to tree-reverse oblivion.

I am getting nothing here other than an attempt to be (dread word) “relatable”. Honestly, who signed this off?

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: One candy-cane from a possible ten

Boden: The Real Spirit of Christmas
Does one immediately think of Boden as a champion and staunch defender of the NHS? I thought not.

Admirable though the platform it offers to over-worked medical personnel may be, genuinely welcome though the makeovers, food and (especially) booze proffered must have been, the result is an excruciatingly patronising smug-fest of barbaric insensitivity only receiving any marks at all in sympathy for the real lives of its participants.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: One holey stocking from a possible ten

John Lewis: Excitable Edgar
I was in the queue at Waitrose when I first saw the hideous, overpriced, plushy toy dragon, the sale of which can be the only point of this over-produced abomination of a commercial.

Why medieval? Why melting and incinerating Xmas shizzle? Why the titanically feeble pay-off of a lit Xmas pudding? Why? Why? Why?

This is only getting points because of the charmingly natural performance by the small heroine who reminded me of my daughter.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: Two sticky sugar mice covered in fluff from a possible ten.

Debenhams: Hard To Buy For
Apparently this stars ‘celebrity’ Fleur East. Me neither.

Snappy, poppy, bright, glittery, tinselly, cheap, gifts that scrape the Debenhams Xmas barrel of overpriced tat are randomly apportioned to a diversity of stereotypes turning those frowns up-side-down. Everybody dances. Including an Airedale Terrier. Perhaps that is Fleur.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: Half of a decaying tangerine from the toe-end of an old rugby sock – out of a possible ten

Burberry ‘What Is Love?’
Right. There’s always one completely bonkers one…

Carla Bruni, inevitably looking mature yet fruity and a baffled, uncomfortable-looking Ruben Loftus-Cheek, his eyes wide with fear, share an infinity-sweep set with an angel and the oddest-looking Mr-Tumnus-The-Faun ever to escape Narnia – as well as dozens of those exquisitely beautiful yet slightly deformed looking people who specialise in ‘fashion modelling’.

They jiggle about.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: Two cracked and dusty brown, red, black and white plaid baubles lost for years in the attic – out of a possible ten

Sainsbury’s: Nicholas The Sweep
Hmm. This is ‘meta’. I must confess to quite liking it. Damn. What IS the matter with me? So, forget the ‘real’ Saint Nicholas (a baffled Palestinian press-ganged into Imperial Roman Service in Syria in the 4th Century AD), Sainsbury’s, in celebraton of 150 years in the High Street, have come up with that classic trope of the super-hero movie; the ORIGIN STORY. It is all done with great attention to detail and the casting is assured.

It is 1869 and framed for a fruit-theft actually committed by his Fagin-ey slave-master, Nicholas the chimney-sweep is rescued by a frankly gorgeous and noble ‘Mrs Sainsbury’ and resolves to invent the idea of giving each other presents at Xmas ever after, or something. Bear with me here, the production values and knowing humour lead naturally to the (spoiler alert) final cape and hat reveal, which possesses all of the spurious life-affirming uplift of your average Marvel franchise hit.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: Six misapplied cotton-wool beards from a possible ten!

Zalando: Free To Be
There is something very honourable but also slightly disturbing about the gerontophile (Hey! Whatever floats your boat!) under/overtones of this stylish commercial for an ‘online retailer’ where a geeky-yet-charming young fellow takes his ‘grandmother’ to the dance.

Excellent soundtrack from that T-Rex playing ‘Cosmic Dancer’, mind. Also, the thing may have achieved its objective as I have now heard of ‘Zalando’.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: Four Turkey Twizzlers from a possible ten

Joules: Christmas At The Click Of A Button
For the love of Satan how much did this cost?

I once posited using Aardman for a TV commercial for a famous children’s charity and even with their generous discount for a good cause, the net cost would have been quintuple the budget, so how ‘Joules’ have afforded this I can’t imagine.

As with everything Aardman, this is slick, neat, possessed of some charm and somehow universal – while remaining quintessentially English. Even the product placement is executed with a little grace, which is saying a great deal in these dark days. Also, the thing may have achieved its objective as I have now heard of ‘Joules’.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: An astonishing five Wensleydales from a possible ten

Amazon: Holiday 2019
Usually with the Decision Marketing Xmas TV Ad Review I am able to call out crass, sentimental hypocrisy without compunction, but Amazon presents an unpronounceable shibboleth for me, in that I despise the organisation – but, like so many, cannot stop using their services.

I deserve to be the pig in a particularly hot, fatty blanket for my sins.

Anyway, I can only assume that this execrable torrent of platitudinous slime is designed for ‘the global market’ – and that the PRS will be put to good use by an ageing R&B performer. Were I not awaiting my children’s Xmas presents I might express myself more forcefully.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: No presents under the tree

JD Sports: Come Alive
“The retailer’s advert features a host of celebrities and athletes to promote its range of products available for the festive season,” it says here.

I am assuming that un-ossified individuals may know who some of these people are. Telly advertising by numbers. See Amazon review above.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: One dreary Boxing Day Fixture out of a possible ten

Argos: The Book Of Dreams
My cousin Alwyn who was a Welsh Chapel Minister might have had something to say about the Argos Catalogue describing itself as ‘The Book Of Dreams’, it being a compendious list of all the philistine gimcrackery and gew-gaws without which our fallen society feels empty in these post-lapsarian times BUT at least there is some energy in this and splendid performances from the small drummer person and her stage dad. Also proof that eventually even the most otiose of ‘pop groups’ will have their time again.

Incidentally, a friend once worked on a Spanish tour with Simple Minds and tells me that Jim Kerr was delighted that the Galician road crew had nicknamed him ‘Juan’. He just didn’t get it poor lamb.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: Three Chicken Drumsticks out of a possible ten

Boots: Introducing Bootiques by Boots
I wonder if anyone will ever use this advertisement’s hashtag: #GiftLikeYouGetThem? I wonder…

This all hangs from the hoary premise that it is difficult to choose a Xmas present for other people – and suggests that the solution is some kind of Department Store redux operating under the Boots umbrella.

It filled me with existential dread. It may fill you with existential dread. Do we even believe in the concept of ‘other minds’ and given that we do, in what sense can those ‘other minds’ ever be ‘knowable’. Boots is, of course now an American company and it shows.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: One elderly Thanksgiving Turkey passed off as a Xmas treat out of a possible ten

Selfridges: Future Fantasy
“Who shall we get to be the face of the Xmas advertisement this year?” someone in a meeting must have said, “We need someone, you know, fresh, fashionable, Charlize Therony, gender-fluid, taut, omnispectric! Someone NOW! But who won’t alienate any of our traditional core audience… Hmm…”

“I’ve got it!” “Who? Who?!?” “Noomi Rapace of course!” “You mean the one who performs a robot/alien abortion on herself in the film Prometheus and who savagely murders all those sexist capitalist men in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo?”

“Yup!” “Perfect”.

Incomprehensible with hybrid poetry-rap.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: Two cold Bleak Midwinter Agit-prop mini-sausages out of a possible ten

Barbour: 125 Years Of Blooming Barbour
Buying a Barbour Jacket will fiscally cripple you and mean that you self-identify with some of the most appalling people in the country, but don’t worry as it will last for ever!

I hope Raymond Briggs a) made a lot of money out of this and b) has not seen the shoddy animation. Also, this is set in 1894, 1930, 1960 and the present day. Who is the Xmassy woman in the photograph? Santa’s mother? His wife? His sister? And where is she now? Is she dead? Does the immortality gene pass only through the male Santa line?

My advice would be to buy a Belstaff.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: One elderly snowman floating in the air out of a possible ten

Asda: Let’s Make Christmas Extra Special
So we are Up North, we know this from the streetscape and the fact that the Aurora Borealis is clearly visible (we must be considerably further ‘Up North’ than, say Halifax). And ‘Up North’ is more authentic as we know.

Xmas is coming. Grandpa is dead. Smart, independent, quasi-genius female child constructs some kind of Heath Robinson, steam-punk Northern Lights Catcher out of bits and bobs, harvests the magic of the celestial lightshow and uses it to turn people into Xmassy objects and to animate the inanimate in a festive extravaganza, which is frankly quite disturbing.

Sadly her magic oofle dust runs out before she can ‘do’ her own home and she goes to bed disconsolate. Luckily sensitive, caring older brother has the nous to get more angel-crack, sprinkles it in her bedroom and creates SNOW. I think that’s about it. A touching hallucination of love, loss and the power of Xmas. It did not make me feel sick.

Excellent! Philip Pullman should sue.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: SEVEN amber spyglasses out of a possible ten

Aldi: Leafy Blinders
Apparently there have been Kevin the Carrot riots in Aldi stores the length of the land.

I’m just leaving that there.

Robbie Williams’s Kevin the Carrot, channeling Huge Jackman’s The Greatest Showman clashes with a sprout, channeling Cillian Murphy’s Peaky Blinder. Mayhem ensues. What makes this twaddle interesting, however, is the glowing centerpiece Xmas lunch, which could have been shot in the Eighties and is the oddest aspect of the commercial.

These reviews point up what Foucault calls “the dissonance between the real and the desired”. How real is Xmas? How real are our aspirations? Where on earth is Little Baby Jee? Onward!!

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: Four phlegmy dollops of bread sauce out of a possible ten

TK Maxx: Gift Different
“Gift different”, “future-proof your now”, “start your impossible”, “unlimit the more”, these are all real advertising lines in real advertisements.

I can only hope that TK Maxx’s “Gift different” is as tongue-in-cheek as the rest of this jaunty commercial and is a pastiche of the current trend in grammar-mangling, gnomic cockwomblery that pervades the industry.

Bastard son of Hotels.com’s Captain Obvious has fun on the ski-slopes presenting desperate re-seller as the best place to look for a present that will startle.

I quite enjoyed this and would like some of whatever the copywriter was taking on board when he capped the ad with “ridiculously oooooh gifts at ridiculously woo hoo prices”.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: Five failing fairy lights out of a possible ten

Very: Get More Out Of Giving
As an elderly man with recurrent mental health issues, living alone, I wonder what my reaction would be if my neighbours got together to give me a charming Xmas in a box?

That is the story of this sleekly animated commercial for the consistently high-spending online retailer.

I think it would have been more fun if the doddering recluse had reacted in either of the ways I imagine that I might have done: a) precipitate weeping breakdown b) extreme violence.

This might perhaps have narrowed the target demographic.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: Four strands of tangled tinsel out of a possible ten

Iceland: #MagicOfFrozen
Well, the marketing director of Iceland must have felt as if all of his Xmases had come at once, as it were, when the sisterhood-empowering, wintery, ankle-biter’s delight ‘Frozen’ launched its sequel just in time for this year’s marketing push.

Sadly the review of this tired commercial matches those of the film itself: it is tired, derivative and dull and will not push out many prawn rings. Surely they could have done something with Kerry Katona’s preferred white powder?

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: One badly defrosted, tooth breaking, miniature mince pie out of a possible ten

Not On The High Street: Happiness is…
I shall reproduce my notes verbatim here: Interminable. Politically correct. Mad grading. I give up.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: One disappointing plastic stocking-filler out of a possible ten

Lidl: A Xmas You Can Believe In
There is something very odd about this extremely conventional commercial showing families preparing for and enjoying their Xmas. It’s as if the soul has been scooped out of it like the congealed stuffing from the golden, glistening turkey. It’s as if all of the crucial signifiers are present only to distract from the emptiness behind the eyes of its protagonists. After twenty-two commercials, I now begin to fear for my sanity.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: Two squashed loganberries out of a possible ten

Ikea: Silence The Critics
One has high expectations of the Swedish Flatpackers; they have produced interesting films in the past and this, though heavy on the product placement is as oddly engaging as previous efforts. I was very fond of the cat one, yes.

The weird premise of this seems to be that your ornaments are judging you and that the only way to satisfy them is to buy lots of things from Ikea.

Lets face it, after a long and difficult evening with @DM_editor, I have often felt the same. Naturally, given the high visual standards of the brand, by the end of the ad the various knick-knacks and tschotschkes are satisfied and silenced.

If only a visit to Ikea was all it took to quieten *MY* talking ornaments.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: Six (6!) meatballs with lingonberry sauce out of a possible ten

M&S Food: This Is Not Just Food
Oh god. Strange woman off the telly with irritating man off the telly wander around an M&S Xmas Market eating things while serenaded by a school choir. Some classy product shots, as you’d expect.

That’s it, that’s all I’ve got.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: Three (I was hungry when I watched it) luxury eighteen-month aged Xmas puddings out of a possible ten

M&S Clothing and Home: Go Jumper
Well, this is it, I have crawled, smothered in silly-string and reeking of brandy over the Xmas finishing line and what better way to finish than with this Xmas atrocity.

In 1993, DJ Muggs from the excellent Cypress Hill was persuaded to work with LA’s Taft High School Hip Hop luminaries House Of Pain on what I am told is ‘the classic banger’, ‘Jump Around’.

Little did he suspect that some 26 years later an ‘advertising creative’ would say to him or herself: “M&S? Jumpers?? Xmas Jumpers??? JUMP AROUND!!!! I HAVE CRACKED IT!”

There are some nice people dancing as if possessed by their M&S Xmas jumpers. I hope that Mr Muggs’s PRS cheque is some consolation to him.

Spooner’s Xmas Rating: A three-pack of snugly-fitting expandable knickers out of a possible ten

It was interesting from an anthropological or sociological point of view to see how desperately advertisers want Xmas to be REAL. They ACHE for it to be real. They assume that we are all searching desperately for a REAL Xmas.

Yet, paradoxically, a REAL Xmas is a MAGICAL Xmas. (Hence the preponderance of animation, spanning this divide as it does.)

In fact, what our brands and advertisers seem to be looking for is ‘REAL MAGIC’ a true Xmas Oxymoron, if ever there was one.

There was, with the exception of Iceland and Joules very little in the way of what Lucian Camp used to excoriate as “borrowed interest”. Our advertisers’ search for REAL MAGIC seems to preclude being “spoken for”.

There were, too, fewer “celebrities” than in 2018, though that is not to say that there weren’t plenty.

I was also delighted to see very little in the way of overt sexism – with very few womenfolk there just to be ogled at, and very few capable or, indeed, incapable menfolk, though, naturally, gender stereotypes abounded. What’s more, refreshingly, when it came to children, the girls seemed to be active instigators and the boys sensitive and gentle.

Perhaps there is hope after all.

And remember! Decision Marketing reviewed these advertisements so that you can fast-forward through them with impunity.

I must go and lie down in a darkened room now with a slim volume of verse and some mint imperials, until Boxing day dawns.

Don’t forget to vote.

Merry Xmas one and all!!!

Jonathan Spooner is consulting creative director at Spoon Creative

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