Christmas Ads: The Jolly Good And The Turds

Snowman traveling the world with santa hat, sunnies and carrot nose. He even has shells as mouth and buttons

‘Tis the season to be jolly. And eat a lot. And blow your paycheck on a bazillion presents. And also the time when brands push just a little bit more to get customers in-store and buying.

Over the years Christmas ads have been scrutinised, cherished and often eagerly anticipated.

Senior strategy planner at Clemenger BBDO, Graham Alvarez, says a Christmas campaign needs to do two things. “First, the brand is built into the Yuletide story, rather than bolted on,” he says.

“Too many insightful, beautifully crafted spots are let down by having the product as a tangent to the story or as a token pack shot. These are great at selling the emotion around Christmas rather than the brand itself. Which leads me to the next thing they should do: they’re charmingly, rather than shamelessly, commercial. Sure, all Christmas campaigns have one objective – make people buy stuff – but if you’re going to cash in on this time of year, at least do so with a sense of charm.”

Here is a round-up of ads from Christmas past and present brought to you by some of adland’s finest.

1. Sainsbury’s

M&C Saatchi’s creative director Andy Flemming doesn’t beat around the bush. He fucking hates this ad.

He says: “Apparently Christmas in the trenches of World War One was rather lovely, with a light dusting of sugary snow, a cheeky Robin and a whole bunch of attractive ‘Chariots of Fire’ types playing football instead of shoving bayonets into each other. Well, that’s according to the Christmas Sainsbury’s commercial.

“I’m sure slowly dying in the deep, cold mud in a mustard gas attack would have been made infinitely more bearable knowing that it would be used to sell puddings and fags by a big shop on its hundredth anniversary. A great uncle of mine died in the trenches so Sainsbury’s can, you know, go fuck themselves. The Coke and Pepsi vending machine fillers swapping drinks in a snowy truck stop was a great Christmas ad – and they’ve been at war for decades.”

2. John Lewis

“John Lewis has set a tradition in the UK for their Christmas spot,” says David Fox, CEO of Ogilvy. “It has become a cultural icon when it comes to Christmas and people wait for it, share it and discuss it online. It’s what we all hope to do – build anticipation around a brand’s consistent delivery of a magical movie for a magical time.”

This year’s ad with a boy and a penguin, below, saw lots of ‘awws’ resonate around the interwebs.

However Fox’s favourite was last year’s ‘Bear and the hare’.

3. WestJet

“WestJet got it right last year with their ‘Christmas Miracle’,” says DT’s freshly minted executive creative director Jerker Fagerstrom of the airline’s Canadian spot.

ECD of Isobar Australia, David Budge agrees the airline had it bang on in 2013. “I’ve always thought the ad/stunt was pretty great. Giving free presents is, of course, an easy feel good thing and is very Christmassy. But they told a good story while symbolising all the things that an airline should do well; logistics that seem almost magical, the latest technology, and a personalised touch.”

However they haven’t always been executed as well, says Fagerstrom. “The year before it felt slightly awkward…”

“…and this year I fear they are overdoing it. What was honest and straight forward last year is unfortunately coming across as forced in this year’s execution.”

4. Harvey Nichol’s

Clemenger BBDO’s Graham says the best campaign this year for him is Harvey Nichol’s ‘Could I be any clearer?’

“A wonderful insight – we all get presents we’d rather not each year – is delivered with levity. Poor Aunty Val, with the brand presented as a wonderful solution to this predicament. Well executed, and the user experience online where you can create your own card is a bit of fun as well.

“Reading some comments about it, the main criticism seems to be it not quite living up to the standards of last year’s Cannes-winning ‘Sorry, I spent it on myself’ campaign. But I think that’s the equivalent of not liking Django Unchained because it’s not as good as Pulp Fiction. This is really nice work. Well done.”

DT’s Fagerstrom is also a fan of the Harvey Nichol’s work, with the previous year’s being a favourite. He says: “’Sorry I’ve spent it on myself’ is obviously a masterpiece, everything from the human insight to the craft throughout the whole campaign. Benchmark stuff.”

5. Myer’s Christmas Angels

This ad tugged at JWT’s general manager Nick Muncaster’s heartstrings. He says: “I am a self confessed terrible shopper when it comes to Christmas gifts. So in 2011 the Myer Christmas Angels campaign really hit the mark for me. A wonderful insight that spoke to the masses of overwhelmed and best intentioned but clueless buyers.

“It had a number of entertaining executions that made me smile by recognition of my own shortfalls. However more than that it was a creative idea that flowed through to the in store experience. Those incredible angels made the Christmas gifting process easy for me but importantly highly enjoyable for the recipient. Because to a 15 year-old nephew or a best friend’s seven-year-old daughter unfortunately it’s actually not the thought that counts.”

6. Ebay

Ebay’s ‘Give a toy’ campaign is another that creatives give the nod to. DT’s Fagerstrom says: “How they took their store from online to offline and made it so easy for people to give a little something to someone for who it meant the world. And that window display looked really fantastic and great fun.”

7. Zaffari

Growing up Brazil, Huckleberry Agency’s creative director Carmela Soares says she always looked forward to supermarket chain Zaffari’s ads. “Their ads were always beautiful stories – not just about Christmas or presents, but about being good people.”​

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