The best and worst Christmas ads: Marketing Week picks

With Christmas ad season now firmly underway, Marketing Week shares its take on this year’s Christmas stars and festive flops.

Charlotte Rogers, acting features editor

Best: Tesco – ‘No Naughty List’

Phew! After bad lockdown haircuts, toilet roll stockpiling and dubious home-schooling it’s officially all going to be ok. Tesco has decided to give us a year off Santa’s naughty list to make up for 2020.

That’s right, even if you failed to donate to Captain Tom’s £32m fundraising efforts you’re in the clear. We can enjoy decadent chocolate cakes, juicy mince pies and a big glass of gin without giving it a second thought.

With this ad Tesco has managed to create a Christmas campaign that plays with our uniquely 2020-style transgressions, making light-hearted reference to the shared struggles of the pandemic without resorting to tugging at the heartstrings. The no naughty list concept is also a great way for the supermarket to highlight its products, positioning Tesco as the go-to for festive fare.

The campaign is inclusive in every sense, showing that while our experiences of Covid-19 are diverse, culturally the fallout from the pandemic is something we can all relate to. And after 2020, I reckon we all deserve a treat.

Worst: Walkers – ‘A Sausage CaRoll’

Watching YouTuber LadBaby (of Christmas number one fame) sing on people’s doorsteps about sausage roll crisps is a confusing experience.

First, you really need to know who he is for the joke to work and understand his affinity with sausage rolls. There’s also a fair bit going on with Gary Lineker starring as Scrooge, a full choir, Aled Jones, references to Love Actually and a cameo from East 17’s Tony Mortimer. Watching the ad is a bit like taking a test on Christmas trivia from the past 20 years.

By the end I’d lost track of what the product actually was and the very worthwhile message supporting food poverty charity the Trussell Trust. Sometimes less is definitely more.

Matt Barker, features writer

Best: Gucci – ‘Gift 2020’

There’s the music for starters. Yazoo’s ‘Only You’, and it’s the original recorded version, not one of those generic, wistful acoustic covers that advertisers love so much because it saves them a chunk of copyright fees.

For those of us of a certain age, those bright, bubbling synth notes transport you right back to a time and place, only here the retro stylings are wonderfully jumbled up.

The haircuts are from the 70s, the music’s from the 80s, the tech is from the 90s, while the whole idea of an office party now seems so unlikely to legions of us housebound operatives that you find yourself feeling ruefully nostalgic for things that were happening just 12 months ago.

No point in getting too down about it all though. There’s next year to look forward to, when we can all get firmly back on the good foot at the 2021 work Christmas bash. Plus you get a whole 12 months to save up for a pair of those green mohair flared trousers.

Worst: Lidl – ‘Big on a Christmas you can believe in

I wanted to like this, but can’t help feeling it’s a bit of a cheap shot. Christmas ads typically tend to lean a bit towards the naff and we’ve always been generally happy for them to do so. It’s all part of their charm. And sticking the fork into Kevin the Carrot really isn’t on at all…

Molly Fleming, reporter

Best: Amazon – ‘The Show Must Go On’

I am ashamed to admit the Amazon Christmas ad reduced me to tears. Maybe it’s the pandemic, maybe it’s my soppy Christmas spirit, but the online retailer’s marketing team successfully got me to shed a tear.

The ‘Show Must Go On’ features a young ballerina preparing for her Christmas show. She desperately trains, in bad weather and lockdowns, before the show is eventually cancelled. However, her family pulls together and she puts on a socially distanced performance for her neighbours.

The ad taps into many of the unspoken feelings that Covid-19 has sparked – sadness, frustration and ultimately disappointment – while providing a happy ending. It manages to not be depressing, while reflecting the realities of the pandemic for many of us.

It was a risk from Amazon with the public looking for upbeat ads, especially as the online retailer has hardly been a hero during Covid-19 after firing warehouse staff for speaking up about failed PPE. But, as much as I hate to admit it, it does tug at the heartstrings.

Worst: McDonald’s – ‘Inner Child’

It’s not that the McDonald’s ad is truly terrible, it’s just a bit lacklustre. After the year we’ve had I can’t help but want brands to provide us with a laugh or at the very least that warm comforting feeling of the familiar.

McDonald’s does neither. To be fair to the brand its online Reindeer Ready hub, complete with game and Snapchat filter, does seem fun, but the ad itself just leaves me a bit numb.

Matthew Valentine, features writer

Best: Tesco – ‘No Naughty List’

Tesco seems to have its finger truly on the pulse of the nation with a Christmas spot that sums up the exasperation of a dreadful year – and the tacit agreement that the most British response is to put it all behind us.

There is something about a willingness to address the situation rather than hide in escapism that feels right for the nation’s largest grocer. And it’s hard not to be impressed by writing that finds humour in the situation without apportioning any blame, that excuses us all our trespasses and does a bang-up job of showing the product.

Worst: Aldi – ‘Kevin the Carrot’

An aversion to the anthropomorphism of animals and, in particular, vegetables seems to put me off a growing proportion of Christmas ads every year.

Aldi has brought back a number of its self-proclaimed much-loved characters for the latest instalment of the adventures of the Kevin the Carrot, but the tale is growing cold. Even the music from Home Alone can’t help me shake off the feeling it is somehow all just a bit cynical.

In my Christmas household, the only good carrot is a roast carrot.

Lucy Tesseras, senior editor

Best: Disney – ‘From our family to yours’

It’s hard to believe Disney has never created a Christmas campaign before given it is so synonymous (in my house at least) with the festive season. Every year growing up I would receive a Disney video (on VHS, ahem) and watching them on repeat was a permanent fixture of the Christmas holidays.

It might be just three minutes in length, but Disney has managed to sprinkle its hero ad with the same level of magic as any of these full-length movies.

While a Mickey Mouse toy features throughout, the ad focuses on the relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter and the traditions they celebrate in the run up to Christmas. It may not be littered with Disney characters (although there are a few hidden Easter Eggs for eagle-eyed fans), but there is no mistaking it is Disney, with its happy-sad-happy story arc making me well up immediately.

Pairing the animation with a separate series of commercially-driven ads has allowed Disney the space to do what it does best – tell a beautiful, emotionally-driven story that will be sure to pull at even the tightest of heartstrings.

On a personal note – and another reason the ad wins – my mum recently gave my son a Mickey Mouse toy I had as a child (mine has both ears but no tail), which gives the campaign an extra hit of nostalgia and Christmas magic for me.

Worst: Plenty – ‘Xmess’

Pulling tinsel out of a cat’s bum, being vomited on and watching a man vigorously fist a turkey do not give me the warm, fuzzy feeling I look for from a Christmas ad. But that is the route kitchen roll brand Plenty has taken.

The ad shows a poor guy being subjected to all the worst parts of celebrating Christmas with family, topped off when he gets a bloody nose after being smacked in the face by a drone and having to eat turkey that has been scraped off the floor.

While the ad is fairly sick-inducing, it makes a strong case for the need to have a roll of Plenty to hand at Christmas – if you plan to share the day with a group of messy, disgusting, clumsy, overbearing relatives. But the sheer unpleasantness of it all is enough to put anyone off their Christmas dinner.

Sarah Vizard, managing editor

Best: Supervalu – ‘We Believe’

I must be getting soppy in my old age but this ad has all the emotional pull you’d expect from a Christmas spot with a cute twist at the end. It feels like something John Lewis circa 2011 could have made.

I’m probably biased by my Irish husband and have more of an affinity for SuperValu than most Brits, but this perfectly captures the spirit of Christmas while also showing off some product.

It hits home after a difficult year in which many haven’t been able to see older relatives or visit home as much as they might have liked. But it does so in an uplifting way. Bravo.

Worst: Amazon – ‘The Show Must Go On’

I must admit to feeling torn by this advert and if it were made by almost any other brand it would probably have topped my list.

The storytelling is wonderful, while the tale of a ballerina wanting to star in the annual production resonates with me as someone who spent a large part of their childhood wanting the same. The casting of French dancer Taïs Vinolo in the main role is hugely important in a year when we’ve finally seen brands embrace diversity and inclusion at Christmas.

The problem for me is this is an ad for Amazon and I just don’t think it works for the brand. It feels out of step with its wider brand positioning and I don’t like a behemoth like Amazon trying to pull on the heartstrings. The singing boxes I loved because they encapsulated a brand that doesn’t take itself too seriously or misunderstand its role in people’s lives. This does and it isn’t an approach to advertising I feel Amazon can pull off.

Torera George, digital content producer

Best: Sainsbury’s – ‘Gravy Song’

I almost didn’t pick this as my favourite ad but after being away from home for almost three years, this fed right into my homesickness.

The one-minute ad embodies everything Christmas means to me – family, laughter and my mum’s favourite recipes. What Sainsbury’s has done so beautifully is evoke the feeling the holiday brings, and the icing on the cake is featuring actors that look just like me.

Worst: Hobbycraft – ‘Craft Together This Christmas’

As an avid crafter myself, seeing people craft together isn’t the thing that’s delightful… it’s why we do it.

Shooting its first campaign must have been extremely difficult especially with the added layer of a global pandemic. Perhaps it could have featured a boy knitting a blanket for his ‘shielding’ grandma and counting the days till he could see her again.

This ad doesn’t evoke the emotions you expect from a Christmas ad, and it is quite frankly forgettable.