The best and worst Christmas ads: Marketing Week picks

With Christmas ad season well and truly under way, the Marketing Week team picks their Christmas crackers and turkeys among this year’s feast.

Charlotte Rogers

Best: Waitrose ‘Fast Forward’

This advert works on so many levels. Instead of waiting with baited breath all year for the release of the John Lewis Christmas ad, this middle-class mum and dad have other things on their minds – a dark chocolate orange stollen wreath to be exact.

They gleefully fast forward the ad at the highest speed possible, before devouring the stollen as the dad explains – between mouthfuls – that he actually prefers ‘the one with the penguin’. He is of course referring to Monty the Penguin, the John Lewis ad circa 2014.

Who did it best? Vote for your favourite Christmas campaign

Showing that John Lewis and Waitrose actually have a sense of humour, the advert is also a clever way of bringing the two brands closer together in the minds of consumers, a long-term ambition for the partnership.

In general, the decision to take itself a little less seriously is a good move for Waitrose. ‘Fast Forward’ is just one of six adverts in the ‘Too Good to Wait’ series for Christmas 2018, which show singers ditching their choir performance in favour of chocolate and cherry mince pies, and a woman skipping a kiss under the mistletoe to get her hands on a cranberry stuffed turkey breast.

Worst: Tesco’s F&F

Concepts do not get much more literal than Tesco’s F&F, which decided that a supermarket car park was the perfect location for an impromptu festive catwalk.

Shot in the style of a or Pretty Little Thing ad, the models prance past rows of hatchbacks in sparkly tops and metallic jumpsuits, pushing trollies and sitting on the bonnet of cars while a remixed version of Jingle Bells plays in the background.

The fast fashion ecommerce pure-plays have nailed the ‘prance and price’ focused ad with the help of celebs likes Hailey Baldwin, last seen strutting through a club decked out with wall-to-wall mirrors in the new Pretty Little Thing advert.

I get the concept that ‘I only popped in for mince pies’ and ended up buying a dress, but why should F&F’s fashion be an afterthought? Would it in fact have been a better idea to make the clothes the hero by removing them from the drab supermarket setting? Surely supermarket fashion deserves a bit more love than this.

Molly Fleming

Best: CollectPlus

My favourite Christmas advert has to be CollectPlus. It only just topped Iceland’s Palm Oil ad, largely to do with my penchant for a yellow coat, but also for the warm feeling it gives you.

The brand is pledging to do something positive for Christmas by providing labels to help people donate unwanted coats to those who need them. By helping others do their little bit, Collect Plus will no doubt make people more likely to use them. Besides it’s nice to see a Christmas message that goes beyond just selling a product.

I also appreciated the nod to subverting gender norms with the female protagonist proposing to the man.

Worst: JD Sports

JD Sports is cool. Very cool. So cool in fact that it has various famous athletes and social media personalities frozen or perched on blocks of ice in its new Christmas ad. From the posey models to its unsettling jingle remix I am just not a fan.

I understand that the advert is trying to appeal to a young demographic but I don’t think it works. It’s not particularly memorable and definitely not Christmassy. Christmas isn’t about cool, it’s about dancing to Mariah Carey and not caring how you look, stuffing yourself with mince pies, cute children singing out of tune and all the other good stuff. JD’s advert seems to forget that and thinks that adding in some ice special effects and a jingle will make it a Christmas ad.

Hopefully next year it tries to be a bit more humorous or inventive and in doing so appeal to the Christmas cheer.

Lucy Tesseras

Best: The Heathrow Bears Return

Thank goodness for Doris and Edward who have injected some much-needed festive cheer into an otherwise lacklustre Christmas ad season. In a year that has seen many brands forego the usual festive extravaganza in favour of product-led, “unashamedly commercial” campaigns (and in some cases quite rightly), the Heathrow Bears provide the perfect antidote.

Returning for a third year, the cuddly couple have again proved they can hold their own against the retail heavyweights with an ad that perfectly balances humour and heart-warming charm to deliver all the Christmas feels needed at this time of year – without going overboard.

At a time when brands are all fighting to get noticed, familiarity shouldn’t be underestimated.

This time around, the Blairs can be seen getting ready for Christmas at their home in Florida, but realising things are not quite the same – snake in the decorations, fan blowing the tree over, frozen turkey dinner – they catch a last-minute flight back to the UK so they can spend Christmas with their family. As someone whose grandparents used to fly into Heathrow for Christmas every year, it captures the sentiment perfectly (I can’t watch it without a tear in my eye).

Continuity also plays a factor in its success. I’ve been a fan of the ads since the beginning, and each year the story has evolved without losing any of the charm. At a time when brands are all fighting to get noticed, familiarity shouldn’t be underestimated (Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot wins here too). While some people see the Coca-Cola’s classic ‘Holidays are Coming’ ad as the first sign of Christmas, for me it’s now the Heathrow Bears.

Worst: Cadbury Secret Santa

As a general rule I’m not adverse to being given chocolate. In fact, I’d go as far to say I welcome it. Unless, of course, it’s being delivered by a crafty figure on a covert mission. In Cadbury’s 2018 Christmas ad people can be seen lurking in dark corners and under beds, their faces obscured by a creepy Santa mask ready to surprise their unwitting friends and relatives with chocolate in scenes reminiscent of Scream (but without the stabbing).

Perhaps more terrifying is the fact Cadbury plans to bring the ad to life through experiential activity.

I’m all for giving chocolate “just because” and I do like surprises but if I saw someone hiding in my shed I would freak out.

Thankfully it’s a little more imaginative than many of this year’s muted ads. The sentiment of the ad is also touching and it’s a nice extension of the brand’s new “kindness and generosity” positioning. But anything that features people skulking around wearing masks just leaves me feeling anxious. What’s wrong with leaving presents under the tree?

Ellen Hammett

Best: John Lewis & Partners – The Boy and the Piano

Considering I’ve been up to my eyeballs in Christmas ads over the last three weeks, it took me a surprisingly long time to pick a favourite. I don’t feel especially attached to any of them, nor any more Christmassy or inclined to go buy presents anywhere in particular (apart from some of Asda’s festive vegan salted caramel chocolate pots for myself #NotAnAd).

But this was the only ad to actually bring one of my unmovable arm hairs to attention. And if you can get a slight shiver from this Christmas Scrooge, then you’ve done something right. (Even if I did just type ‘Elton John’ and not ‘John Lewis’ into YouTube to find the video.)

Worst: TK Maxx – The Neverending Stocking

I’m not sure if it was the constant belching (many of which sounded very sicky), the narrator calling presents ‘pressies’, the jolly tropical music, the weird way The Neverending Stocking says ‘bye’ or the fact it looks like it might live in your intestine, but TK Maxx’s Christmas ad is definitely not “the gift that keeps on giving”.

The story of the gift-giving super-sock that comes to life after a customer finds it nestled between the shelves is more Nightmare On Elm Street than Night Before Christmas.

This is also supposedly an experiential campaign so I will be avoiding TK Maxx stores at all costs in case I end up being haunted by a tapeworm dressed as Santa Claus for the rest of the year.

Sarah Vizard

Best: Sainsbury’s – The Big Night

I can’t be the only person that was disappointed when Sainsbury’s dropped the Christmas ad blockbuster last year in favour of a “more consistent brand approach”. Their festive spots had given even John Lewis a run for its money, from Mog’s Christmas Calamity to the true story of the Christmas Day truce during World War 1.

Luckily, this year Sainsbury’s is back with a bang with The Big Night. It is unfortunate the story is a bit similar to John Lewis and Waitrose’s campaign earlier in the year but I feel it’s a bit more realistic and more relatable. School plays (and I should know, I was in a few) are usually awkward affairs where the kids forget their lines and things go wrong. This is a scene that will be recognised up and down the country.

But the main reason I’m picking this ad is for ‘plug boy’, who has been the talk of the office. If you haven’t watched the ‘behind the scenes’ video head on over to YouTube and do so now (particularly from two minutes 10 seconds). I’ll wait here for you…

Here we get back the Sainsbury’s consistency, with subtitles written in the brand’s orange and a heart-warming tale that brought back memories of some of the awful shows I forced my parents to sit through while growing up. Sainsbury’s is back on form.

An honourable mention here to Tesco as well. The tone of its ‘Everyone’s Welcome’ ad is spot on.

Worst: Marks & Spencer – Must-Haves

Should Marks & Spencer be celebrated or criticised for taking an “unashamedly commercial” approach to its Christmas marketing this year? Word on the street is that while campaigns such as Mrs Claus and last year’s Paddington had many fans, they didn’t drive sales, and so here we are with a campaign that is light on emotion and storytelling but heavy on product, product, product.

As one of the great marketers, I can’t help but feel disappointed in M&S for taking this approach. Marketing is just about driving sales? All the evidence suggests not! What brands need is a 60/40 split of long-term brand building and short-term activation. Can’t help but feel M&S has clearly got that ratio wrong here.

It’s not surprising that this is the route it has taken though. M&S is under immense pressure to turn around declining sales and good Christmas trading this year would go some way to alleviating that. And for a company looking to cut costs, this campaign is clearly cheaper to product. But the risk M&S runs is that by focusing too much on the short-term its brand starts to take a hit. And it really can’t afford to have that happen.

Erin Lyons:

Best: Aldi Australia – Santa Crashes Christmas

It’s unlikely you’ve seen the Christmas advert I’ve named as my favourite this year because, for one, it’s not British. And two, it’s set where the relentless sun, barren land, and arid weather keep the human population low.

Call me biased (I’m Australian) but Aldi Australia’s ‘Santa Crashes Christmas’ is a refreshing shift from the usual urbanised, care-free and fun-loving families that often feature in Aussie festive spots where the pavlova is almost always the star of the show.

Aldi’s ad opens with Santa crashing his sleigh right in the heart of Australia’s red centre where the lack of snow is a given to the fact he ain’t in the North Pole anymore. Santa is taken in by the rural community whom he helps complete daily tasks from sheep shearing to building fences. Which of course, are followed by a drink at the local pub.

The community also works together to provide for its foreign guest by putting together a Christmas feast while repairing his sleigh.

It’s a story that is quintessentially Australian and highlights the welcoming nature of its people, minus the strict border control measures (Johnny Depp, I’m talking to you).

Worst: Burberry

If you suffer from motion sickness, Burberry’s Christmas advert is not for you. This spot is wrong on so many levels and not just because I don’t like the brand behind it.

The star-studded affair, featuring Naomi Campbell, Matt Smith, M.I.A and Kristin Scott, presents a surreal and haunting spin on the usual traditional festivities.

‘Close Your Eyes and Think of Christmas’, erratically twists and turns through a number of scenes, including bad weather, a family gathering and delayed trains, while an eerie rendition of Carol of the Bells plays in the background. The mannequin-esque stillness of its stars adds to the uncomfortable eeriness.

It’s utterly spooky to be frank and does not at all make me feel the Christmas cheer. Although the cinematography reminds me of a Wes Anderson (whom I love) film, but associating the two makes me feel uneasy.

It is the first Christmas campaign from Burberry’s new creative officer Ricardo Tisci, and indicates he’s trying to differentiate from his predecessor. Maybe I don’t ‘get it’ because I’m not British? Who knows.