Spooner on: The Ghost of Christmas Overdone, 2021

2021_Xmas_adsImagine my delight when I was invited by the jovial, debonair Lord McKelvey to ‘sit in the servants’ kitchen and dine on the leftovers’ from his annual feast with the great and the good of the world of one to one communications (or whatever we are calling it this week).

And not only to sit in the servants’ kitchen but to ‘stay the night in one of the garrets’ located in the vast roof spaces behind the turrets, belvederes, crenulations and machicolations clustering around the louring central tower that crowns the topmost tip of Lord McKelvey’s vast West Sussex pile.

My little heart went pit-a-pat as I fawned on his handmade Grenson riding boots. He pushed me away with gentle, yet manly force.

“From eight on the 27th, Spooner you cur. You may wear your usual rags as no decent person will be forced to look upon your hideous form.”

Oh the cheese rinds! Oh the herring bones! Oh the peels, piths and cores of so many exotic fruits! Even a small piece of only-slightly-chewed- steak from Lord McKelvey’s own herd of Aberdeen Anguses (presumably now ABRDN ANGSS grace à Wolff Olins)! Pie-crusts! And the licking from plates and dishes of luscious slicks of sauces, roux, dressings, jus, creams and gravies galore!

When the upstairs maid, Ms Davigdor, delicately flushed from our trudge up flight after flight of back stairs, unlocked the door to my garret, and shoved me graciously over the threshold, my pale stomach was gloriously distended in a way that it had not been since the McKelvey IX was forced to cancel the home game against the Lord’s Taverners in ’07, due to a plague of egrets and I had my way with the discarded afternoon tea!

Making a small nest in the pallets of pale straw I fell into a deep and, as you will see, not untroubled slumber.

I woke with a start in the early hours. An owl hooted mournfully somewhere in the birch woods behind the McKelvey Mansion.

There it was again! A sort of slithering, crashing sound from the fireplace opposite.

Another slither! A louder crash!

And then, with a jangling, crashing, tinkling thump, a Terry’s Chocolate Orange the size of a monster pumpkin emerged in a great cloud of soot from the hearth and began to swell and convulse alarmingly.

What little hair I allow myself began to lift from my scalp as a muffled voice from within began to chant:

“Tap it! Unwrap it! Tap it! Unwrap it! Tap it! Unwrap it! Tap it! Unwrap it!

“TAP IT UNWRAP IT! TAP IT UNWRAP IT! TAP IT UNWRAP IT!

“TAP IT UNWRAP IT! TAP IT UNWRAP IT! TAP IT UNWRAP IT!!!”

The voice rose to a shrieking imperative. Trembling like a last, lone leaf in an autumn gale, I scrambled to my feet and edged hesitantly towards the monstrous orange manifestation. Removing my boot, I took my courage (and my boot) in my hand and brought the heel down hard on the top-most mid-point of the now armchair-sized uncanny confectionery.

Thrown, breathless, into the corner of the room by a bone-jarring explosion of tinsel, glitter and party-poppers I looked on in horripilated horror as a terrifying figure began to emerge from within the circle of unbound chocolate-y segments.

An appalling smell of rotting turkey, blue cheese and caramel filled the room. Higher and higher the shrouded figure rose, swathed in red reindeer skin, and scarlet tinsel, around its head a Blue Peter Advent Crown of burning candles. Slowly it began to turn its face towards me, raising its preternaturally long arms that ended in twinkly, festive talons.

Reader, I screamed.

The horrible waxy face-skin hung in folds down to the vast, dirty yellow beard that spread across the cavernous, skeletal chest just visible through the parting in the skins of Rudolph and his pals.

But the eyes! Two fizzing, popping LED Xmas lights, shorting and sparking. It opened its mouth and the stench of turkey, blue cheese and caramel intensified and I gagged.

“Ho, ho, fuckety ho!”

It screamed in a banshee wail that stopped the breath in my chest.

“I am the Ghost of Christmas Overdone! And I have been summoned to show you what happens when you overdo it!”
It swept its arm wide and pointed at the lime-washed wall of my borrowed garret.

“Behold!!!”

Sainsbury’s, A Christmas To Savour by Wieden & Kennedy London
This is one of those ‘we’ve got a bit of technical wizardry and we’re damn well going to use it’ commercials. The shtick being the ‘freezing’ of the action as the POV moves through some typically Xmassy shizzle. We are meant to feel that Sainsbury’s feels our pain at having to put our lives on hold. We know that it doesn’t, that it feels only a rabid desire to hoover up our money. Lovely performances from the very inclusive cast and worth the odd bauble for the Jack Russell frozen in mid leap and the soundscaping as the POV passes through great gout of spurting champagne. But oh the weariness of yet another groaning board and yet another happy family! One further point for the nod to Tintoretto’s (not da Vinci’s) Last Supper in the final frame.

You’ve overdone it again points: 5 Gold Rings

Tesco, This Christmas Nothing’s Stopping Us by BBH London
This abomination will have Farrokh Bulsara, Zanzibar’s most famous son revolving in his grave at far more than forty-five revolutions per minute.

Here, again, we are asked to contemplate the many things that might stand in the way of a successful Xmas. But, though the post-Brexit, mid-pandemic supply chain issues are hinted at by the substitution of leeks, aubergines and bananas for traditional carrot-noses in the snow-faces of various snowmen, Tesco are not asking us to consider the apocalypse of governmental and electoral idiocy that, coupled with a lethal upper respiratory tract infection is actually throwing a spanner into the festive works. Oh no. It is the absence of cranberry sauce that Tesco believes will strike terror into the hearts of seasonal revellers. Crass.

You’ve overdone it again points: 2 Turtle Doves

M&S Food, Percy’s First Christmas by Grey London
What is it with the soi-disant upper-middle classes of this country and pigs? Here’s another, voiced by Tom Holland, thereby creating a bizarre cross-cultural nexus which had me humming ‘Spider-pig, spider-pig, does whatever a spider-pig does’ in a Homer Simpson voice.

The fairy godmother is Dawn French. Of course she’s bloody Dawn French. Like other ads in this Kent lorry park of telly ads, there is something rather lonely and bleak about this scenario where a necromantically enlivened Percy trots around an empty, after-hours M&S store, hoggishly attracted by various toothsome Xmas delights. I had been hoping for a frenzy of weird autophagous awkwardness among the hams and sausages, but the creative team managed to swerve that potential nastiness. M&S is a gloomy treasure house of unwanted items in this film. They shall not be enjoying my custom no matter which of their sweet treats they animate with the aid of an omnipresent Xmas-fairy, green-suited by a ‘national treasure’.

You’ve overdone it again points: 1 Partridge

Asda, Make Christmas Spectacular by Havas
It’s all just so dreadfully tired and weary. I may have to hit the office bottle to get through this, which may result in prose yet more lapidary.

Imagine, if you will, an Asda store on an ice rink, then a school nativity play, an office party and the family home. On ice. All on ice. Do you see? Because ice rinks are kinda wintry and kinda spectacular. Do you see? That’s it. That’s the idea. It is only getting half a point because I liked the skating photocopiers at the office do.

You’ve overdone it again points: ½ a Partridge, possibly just the legs

Lidl, Big On A Christmas You Can Always Believe In by Karmarama
Ah! That’s the ticket! There’s nothing better than an enormous gin to make this guff tolerable.

Now, astonishingly (perhaps it’s the gin), I actually liked this one! Lidl want us to imagine a kind of platonic ideal of Xmas repeating itself endlessly into a future full of technological and life-enhancing potential. Yeah baby! I’m down with that!

The art direction is lovely, imagining as it does, ever-more space-age fashion in Xmas jumpers, culinary equipment and coiffure. And the writing is sharp too, particularly the inflection given to the emblematically moronic Xmas-dinner-table conversation: From ‘Are you enjoying living in Spain?’ ‘Well, we like it.’ through ‘Are you enjoying living on the moon?’ ‘Well, we like it.’ to ‘Are you enjoying living forever?’ ‘Well, we like it.’ Both clever and funny AND nodding to the ghastly repetitive loop that is our annual Yule-life. Though it’s not saying a lot, this was the least offensive of this year’s offerings.

You’ve overdone it again points: 8 Maids A-milking!

Boots, Bags of Joy by The Pharm
When you’re a high street colossus with a reputation for pulling out all of the stops for your Xmas TV commercial, the temptation must be to go for a big name director, wang him a vast budget, add a national acting treasure then sit back and watch the prole-cash flood in.

Sadly, Boots plumped for Tom Hooper, the man who gave the world Cats.

Jenna Coleman does her best and is hard to actively dislike, ever since her performance as the Impossible Girl in the Whovian franchise. But, oh dear! Jenna’s nana gives her a bag. The bag is like the bag in Mary Poppins and is a magical cornucopia of Xmas plenty, stuffed full of just the right gift for whomsoever Jenna meets. The telling moment is when the diminutive charmer turns the bag upside-down above her bed pouring a great stream of cosmetics, toiletries and fragrances onto the crisp duvet. Our heroine then leaps onto the bed and rolls around in the meaningless (and probably quite spiky) bounty and turns onto her back fondling a flaçon of smelly.

There it is: Late stage capitalism achieving climax.

You’ve overdone it again points: 3 French Hens

Sports Direct, Go All Out by Mox
I am so old, so very, very old. This £6m (SIX MILLION POUND!!!) campaign features a star studded sporting line-up including England players Jack Grealish and Jordan Pickford, US Open winner Emma Raducanu, Olympic champion Jessica Ennis-Hill and grime artist Big Narstie. Presumably, for younger people, the fun will be in recognising all of the very many sporting idols whose agents will have rubbed their hands together with glee at divvying up that £6m (SIX MILLION POUNDS!!!). All of that said, I rather enjoyed it in a ‘gosh I’m pissed and I quite like this Tyler The Creator track, I’m going to DANCE!’ sort of way. And of course, anything with Big Narstie in is always worth a look.

You’ve overdone it again points: 7 Swans A-swimming!

Lush, The Snow Fairy by Feral Child
For many of the 35-odd years that I commuted between Brighton and Victoria stations there was a Lush franchise on the concourse just past the ticket barriers for platforms 15 to 19. If arriving with an appalling hangover, as I often was, the eye-watering Jeyes Fluid stench of old-lady-soap and floral bath-bombs that swirled around that corner of the station was enough to make one’s fillings tingle – and often provided the necessary incentive to sprint through it and down to the underground.

This commercial exemplifies the premise that all you need for a decent Xmas Telly Ad is a technique. The animation here is quite lovely and follows a trend of showing a lonely pre-teen wandering off into the woods. There she meets the Snow Fairy and her cauldron of pink gloop. That’s it. The gnomic super at the end telling us that ‘The Snow Fairy Has Arrived’ implies that we have all been waiting for her.

We haven’t.

You’ve overdone it again points: 1½ turtle doves

Aldi, A Christmas Carrot by McCann London
I was dreading this one. I could feel its presence even before I witnessed it. The annual Kevin the Carrot offering from those lovely Aldi people. As ever it will garner points for the very high, almost Pixar level, standards of animation. It is called a Christmas Carrot (by Charles Chickens) and there you have the problem. Pun-tastic overload – from Ebanana Scrooge to Marcus Radishford the copywriter couldn’t help himself. I am also always disconcerted by the jarring disconnect between the quality of the animation and the old-fashioned way on which the inevitable groaning Xmas Board is filmed. In the old days at WWAV in Bayswater I used to have to write the copy for a Christmas Hamper company and the IRL imagery here reminds me forcefully of that early Nineties gloss. It feels almost as if Xmas is about wallowing in nostalgia. Surely not?

You’ve overdone it again points: 4 Calling Birds

John Lewis, Unexpected Guest by Adam&Eve DDB
And so to the inevitable John Lewis thing. In order to select the ten ads in this Xmas review I had to watch a great many more – and this film epitomises a slightly gloomy, sense of loss and isolation that is, I suppose, unsurprising given what the last couple of years have been like.

A lonely child seeks companionship and validation in an icy landscape.

I’m sure there’s an Andrei Tarkovsky film with the same premise.

I could get all cynical (moi!) about the breathy, sparse, taut, omnispectric re-working of the Phil Oakey / Giorgio Moroder classic ‘Together In Electric Dreams’, but I can’t be arsed.

The space-ship buggers off with the androgynous space-teen in it.

We are alone again with our ghastly families.

Merry Xmas one and all! God help us every one!

You’ve overdone it again points: No Pear Tree, No Partridge

Let’s wrap it up then. I have had my fun with my ‘amusing’ introduction. I have watched a great many television commercials. Most were dreadful, but no more or less dreadful than those of previous years. A sense of perfectly understandable desperation seems to have hung over adland during the creation of these advertisements. Some were a bit clever, most were a little knowing and tongue-in-cheek. But there doesn’t seem to be any getting away from a sinister realisation. In an age of global chaos with the Four Scooter-Boys Of The Apocalypse hurtling through the empty shopping centre of our dreams, is it really appropriate for us all to be indulging in a festival of materialism? Do we need just another wafer-thin mint? Shall we explode?

I think a return to the days when we killed a large animal, got pissed and told each other ghost stories round a fire is in order. I generally cook a ham in some kind of exotic booze for Xmas and eat it with my ghastly teenagers. It’s sort of nice. I wish you all a sort of nice Yule, too.

Jonathan Spooner is consulting creative director at Spoon Creative

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