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, acting features editor

Best: Ikea – ‘Silence the Critics’

Hats off Ikea, you’ve smashed it. Bravo for tapping into that sinking feeling that comes around during the festive period. Yes, you’d love to invite your friends and family over, it’s just that there’s a crack in the wall you’ve been meaning to fix since July, your sofa is battered and now even your ornaments are giving you a hard time about it.

The Swedish flatpack giant’s first Christmas ad, created by Mother, sees a family getting brutally dissed over the state of their home by a panda figurine, a rabbit teapot and even some disgruntled snail-shaped salt and pepper pots. Who knew the best way to impress a hyper-critical T-Rex was to treat yourself to a new rug, sofa, kitchen table and some jazzy curtains? Not me, but it does the trick.

And the message? Let Ikea help you defy “home shame” and get your house “party-ready” by sprucing up your furnishings in time for the festive period. Basically, it’s Ikea’s pitch to save Christmas and I, for one, am all for it.

READ MORE: Ikea launches first Christmas ad with ‘irreverent’ take on festive hosting

Worst: Amazon – ‘Holiday 2019’

Saccharine, predictable and commoditised. Amazon brought back its singing boxes for yet another year as it sought to position itself at the beating heart of Christmas.

There is no dose of magic or high concept twist to bring the ad to life. Instead, a relentlessly upbeat tale of the joy Amazon offers when it brings people together through the power of gifts. There are children on tiny pianos, lovestruck commuters, businessmen, reunited couples and of course a cheerful Amazon worker, all singing along to Solomon Burke’s Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.

Admittedly the ad, created by Lucky Generals, does a very good job of brand awareness. This is unmistakably an Amazon ad, with the product and service centrally positioned from start to finish.

But where is the element of surprise? Do people really love the singing boxes? Does doing your shopping on Amazon fill people with a warm and fuzzy festive feeling? I can’t believe it does. Think it might be time the singing boxes were shelved.

Sarah Vizard, news editor

Best: Argos – ‘The Book of Dreams’

Say it quietly, but I really like Argos’s Christmas ad this year. After years of snowboarding yetis and bizarre Christmas goblins, this feels more like what I want to see from Argos and puts it back at the heart of gift giving, rather than just shouting about the fact it sells headphones (we know!).

Putting the focus on its catalogue could have been a bit of a risk given all the work it’s done over the last few years to talk up its digital transformation. But there’s nothing quite like a dose of nostalgia to get people in the Christmas mood.

Admittedly, the ad doesn’t quite work when it gets cut down to its shorter formats, but the full length version is a joy to watch as father and daughter put on a drumming session in their kitchen. That’s a relationship we don’t see on screen too often either, so kudos to Argos and its agency the&Partnership.

READ MORE: Argos harks back to its catalogue days for Christmas campaign

Worst: Iceland – #Magicoffrozen

I’m sure the marketing team at Iceland thought all their Christmases had come at once when they realised Frozen 2 was set for release just as the festive season kicked off. There’s a film called Frozen and Iceland sells frozen food. Genius!

Except it isn’t. This is so lazy the marketing director must have signed it off from the comfort of his bed one Sunday when they were having a lie-in. And no matter that the quality of frozen food might be far better than it was a few years ago, nobody is dreaming of a frozen food Christmas.

At least last year’s strategy to borrow Greenpeace’s ‘Rang-tan’ ad and highlight the issue of palm oil generated some talkability. This year, all anyone will be talking about is Elsa.

READ MORE: Iceland partners with Disney for Frozen-inspired Christmas campaign

Matthew Valentine, features writer

Best: Aldi Australia – ‘The Miracle Ham’

A nod to Debenhams for having the honesty to simply show pure, unabashed consumerism in its ad of happy gift recipients jumping about.

But it is Aldi Australia that brings some welcome light yule relief. A magic ham that rematerialises as it is sliced combines a lighthearted symbolic representation of all the other, never-ending Christmas ads with, well, ham.

And no snow, reindeers, Santas, or cute animals. At some point all of us has surely felt the urge to throw their Christmas dinner off the nearest cliff.

Worst: Apple – ‘The Surprise’

For a confirmed scrooge who dreads the sentimental emissions of the annual John Lewis ad, this year’s effort from the department store was only moderately annoying.

It was eclipsed by this mawkish spot for Apple’s iPad. If there is one thing worse than using a tablet to drug your own children into quiet submission during a long journey, it is surely watching complete strangers do the same thing to theirs. Throw in a dull visit to relatives and it represents all that is worst about Christmas.

Hint: if you need an iPad to engage with your elderly relatives you might as well just give up and put them in a home. And NEVER make civilians (especially me) sit through a video your kids have made.

Molly Fleming – Reporter

Best: Ikea – Silence the critics

John Lewis used to rule the Christmas ads roost but this year there is only one king – Ikea. The retailer has won my heart and – if you listen to social media, newspapers and our office – it’s won the hearts of pretty much everyone else.

It shouldn’t work. On paper grime artist D Double E rapping about the state of a family’s run-down home shown through various kitsch ornaments sounds like an idea that is best left to the drawing board but thank god it wasn’t.

The ad manages to bridge different groups as people relate to the anxiety of hosting while enjoying the imaginative ad. At the very least I predict it will have more people braving Ikea’s labyrinth stores this season.

Worst: Burberry – ‘What is love?’

Burberry’s Christmas campaign asks ‘What is Love?’ but the retailer’s ad generates more questions than answers. Who are these people? Why are they such bad dancers? Why on earth is there a centaur? Also what has any of this got to do with love let alone Christmas? 

You would think Burberry chief creative officer Riccardo Tisci’s comments would leave me a little more in the know but sadly I’m left even more perplexed.

He explains:  “I am connected to the idea of unity, togetherness and challenging the perception of what love is today. This for me is the real spirit of the season. It’s one of my favourite times of the year – when I can stop, reflect and reconnect with those who make me feel happy and at home, no matter where I am in the world.”

The ad, which features different models dancing to music that is best reserved for lifts, might make the fashion set feel “happy and at home” but it certainly doesn’t translate to the average customer.

Admittedly, I am fond of the type of cringe Christmas spirit reserved only for this season but even those who want a break from that won’t be convinced. Instead, Burberry misses the mark by trying to be cooler than Christmas.

READ MORE: Burberry launches festive campaign ‘What Is Love?’

Matt Barker, features writer

Best: Apple – ‘The Surprise’

Apple’s iPad Christmas ad may sound all cutesy corny, but it hits the holiday sweet spot better than anything else I’ve watched this year.

Almost cinematic in production, it features a family travelling across the country to see grandpa, with two kids keeping themselves busy with their tablet. What it does brilliantly is put the product right at the centre of the narrative, but without ever letting it get in the way of the storytelling. And it tugs at your heartstrings beautifully.

Worst: John Lewis and Waitrose – ‘Excitable Edgar’

Probably an easy, obvious target. I wanted to like the John Lewis/Waitrose ad, wanted to get caught up in the giddy hype surrounding it, but found the whole thing a bit too cynical (and a tad smug). Mixing in the two brands was clearly a mistake. Everyone still refers to it as the John Lewis ad and I fear we haven’t seen the end of Edgar the dragon just yet.