W+K’s Neil Christie on the best Christmas ads

It’s supermarket superbowl time in the UK, as the big high street names unveil their epic festive campaigns. You may not be roasting chestnuts on an open fire and Jack Frost has yet to nip anyone’s nose in this part of the world, but as far as the big retailers are concerned, it’s Christmas.

Last year W+K was in the thick of it with Tesco; this year I can watch from the sidelines. Here’s a personal view on this year’s offerings so far. There’s a ton of stuff to wade through, so I’ve just focused on the main TV spots in each case.

Tesco

It’s hard for me to comment on this campaign without it sounding like sour grapes, as W+K parted company with Tesco earlier this year. I’d like to be able to say that BBH has done what W+K was unable to do and created a populist, entertaining campaign with some real substance about a new Tesco at its heart. I’d like to be able to say that.

 

Sainsburys

“Beautifully crafted” as we advertising twats say but, my God, this is so…. bloody…long. It’s not just that it feels longer than the Shawshank Redemption. It feels longer than Bela Tarr’s seven hour black and white Hungarian masterpiece ‘Satantango’. (In fact, there are some thematic similarities, as you can see in this clip.

I get that Sainsburys are trying to ‘insert the brand into the culture’ by making a piece of Christmas entertainment, and I do applaud the ambition of the campaign, which is in stark contrast to Tesco, but the Mog ad is like being forced to watch a dull kids’ Christmas TV show. (The nice thing about modern Christmases is that, now families don’t watch TV together, I can spend Christmas afternoon watching Bela Tarr movies while the kids watch endless game walk-throughs on YouTube).

Do cats even eat eggs? Maybe this is an in-joke for Mog fans.

 

John Lewis

What can I add to the discussion around the cultural event that is the annual unveiling of the JL Christmas spot? Their steady progress to the point where they now dominate the season (in marketing terms at least) is a remarkable achievement. I don’t personally think the Man in the Moon is as strong as last year’s classic Monty the Penguin but that hardly matters – they’ve won again in the minds of the public.

 

Asda
Generic Christmas mood film.

 

M&S

M&S uses a theatrical production and its ongoing ‘The art of…’ theme to tie together its series of Christmas vignettes. Much classier than Asda’s mood film and this one does feel like it comes from the brand, but the spot lacks any truly distinctive or memorable moments to stick in the mind.

 

Morrisons

“Hand made” food and what appear to be actual Morrisons employees with authentically regional accents. Does the job it sets out to do and does make it look like they are nice people who care about food. But I’m not getting the connection between hand-made food and making Christmas ‘magical.’

 

Waitrose

Another generic food/mood film. I’ve watched it three times in search of some sort of advertising idea or brand POV but have been able to detect anything beyond ‘nice food at Waitrose for Christmas.’ This would perhaps be enough if executed in a memorable, distinctive way, but this ad seems pretty much designed to fade into the background. I’ve already forgotten everything about it.

 

Argos

In sharp contrast to some of the other ads here, this has some fresh but relevant imagery, which is good. And it’s got a base-jumping Darth Vader. I reckon that qualifies as a memorable moment. They also have a message about speed of delivery, which I’m afraid reminds me of Amazon and their next day delivery. There’s a danger that Argos is raising the issue without successfully dealing with it.

 

Aldi

Aldi has done some highly impressive marketing recently. This unmemorable spot is not up to that high standard.

 

Lidl

The “Lidl school of Christmas” is a nice enough idea and executed well enough to raise a couple of smiles. But this is hardly a festive blockbuster. There’s a vignette in there about how to react to disappointing gifts. That same idea occurred to a few people…

 

Harvey Nichols

… including a team working on Harvey Nicks, who built the whole ad around how to avoid “gift face”. Not as smart as last year’s HN campaign.

 

Currys/PC World

Another variation on the ‘disappointing gifts’ theme but this one is a winner. Jeff Goldblum delivers an absolutely convincing and hilarious performance and there’s a proper LOL moment when Dad gets carried away. It’s hard to do long form content that is genuinely watchable and entertaining but this delivers. Lovely stuff.

 

Warburtons

It’s not strictly speaking a Christmas ad but I’m including the Warburtons Muppets ad in this round-up because it’s joyful, populist and will be loved by young and old – all the things that the retailers should have been aiming for but mostly failed to achieve. It even manages to be unforgettably linked to Warburtons despite having the Muppets in there. I love the bit where the monster eats the little cute Muppet, along with the crumpet. The client is in the ad and it’s still funny! Now all that is cause for celebration – hats off to client and agency.

There is so much marketing noise at this time of year that it will be very hard for any of these campaigns to stand out and be remembered. In my view the ones that have the best chance of doing that are John Lewis, Currys/PC World and Warburtons. I fear that many of the rest will disappear without trace. Happy Christmas!

imagesNeil Christie is managing director of Wieden+Kennedy.

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2 comments

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    Absolutely spot on regarding Warburtons. I wish I’d made it! Such fun.

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    Neil… Neil… Regarding the Tesco campaign, it’s not sour grapes… It’s the truth. As I said in my 2015 review regarding the Johnnie Walker switch of AOR from BBH to Anomaly, as we used to say up North… There’s nowt so queer as folk… (Homage to The Full Monty.) You’ve suffered from this before… And you’ve always come roaring back. Fuck, you owe me a plethora of pints. Cheers/George