Who has nailed it and who has failed it? We assembled a panel of advertising experts to give their verdict on some of retail’s biggest Christmas ads this year
Sandie Dilger, chief strategy officer, TBWA\London
Sandie Dilger started her career as a marketer at Cadbury. Since moving into advertising, she has worked at 101, Ogilvy and now TBWA\London. During that time, she has worked on campaigns for brands including Boots, Game, Dunelm, Wagamama and Vodafone.
Gary Pope, co-founder, Kids Industries
With several industry accolades under his belt, Gary Pope has created and executed award-winning marketing campaigns for numerous FMCG brands, hotels, global learning programmes, theme parks, private island destinations and globally recognised, best-in-class digital products. He is the recipient of a Bafta award for the co-creation of the Disney Channel Kids Awards, two Institute of Practitioners in Advertising special awards for strategy (for GSK and Aquafresh) and a Webby award for a campaign with Peppa Pig.
Grant Hunter, global executive creative director, Iris
During his time at Iris, Grant Hunter has led award-winning work for Samsung, Adidas, Cop26 and the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. He is the co-author of Newsjacking: The Urgent Genius of Real-Time Advertising, published by Thames & Hudson, and he sits on the Straight 8 filmmaking challenge advisory board. Hunter is a long-time collaborator of industry collective Purpose Disruptors and is currently exploring the art of being a beekeeper.
Seb Hill, executive creative director, BBD Perfect Storm
Seb Hill has been immersed in the creative industry for more than 25 years. A passionate (but not precious) executive creative director, he has created and overseen high-profile campaigns for many brands and industry sectors. His creative awards this year include a sustainability Cannes Lions, a Clio, a Marketing Week Gold and an Indie Grand Prix. He has a passion for positive change through the power of brands and is proud of the many personal and professional projects that have achieved this.
Aifric Lennon, director of research strategy, MassiveMusic and Songtradr
Aifric Lennon is an expert in how the connection between music and the brain can leverage brands through sound. She has led sonic identity and music strategy projects for many global brands including TikTok, Wikimedia, AccuWeather, Ithra and O2. Lennon now heads up a research strategy department at MassiveMusic and Songtradr, helping brands and agencies tap into and optimise the potential impact of music and sound through objective sound-focused research and strategy. She was awarded a Transform magazine Young Contender of the Year Award 2022, was shortlisted for Creativepool’s Next Gen Talent 2023 and has contributed articles and interviews to the BBC, The Drum, Design Week, Voice and more.
Jack Nunn, senior creative, Ogilvy UK
Now a senior creative at Ogilvy UK, Jack Nunn was previously co-head of Australia’s most prestigious creative ideas course, Award School, as well as creative director at DDB Sydney on the agency’s largest account, McDonald’s. He has worked at several of Australia’s top agencies including Havas, M&C Saatchi and Special Group, creating campaigns that have won awards at Cannes Lions, D&AD, SXSW and more.
The Works’ first-ever Christmas TV ad shows the reaction of children unwrapping Christmas presents, a premise that most of our panel found full of promise. Many liked the sweet nature of the ad, with one noting that “you’d have to be pretty Grinchy to not find something even a little bit charming” about it, but some elements of the execution meant it lost crucial points in this ranking. Several judges noted that the edit was too choppy, limiting how much viewers could see of the children’s joy and expressions, and making it too much about instant gratification rather than “more wholesome emotion”, which could have added depth and made it stand out more.
Sainsbury’s scores all fell middle of the road. Although the ad was praised for some “nice moments” and being “community-centric”, it was let down by being a little bit “cheap” and “low-rent”, according to our panel. The ad, which begins in a Sainsbury’s store with a young girl pondering what Santa would want for his Christmas dinner, won favour for the surprise appearance of singer Rick Astley. Even if the ad was “all about the sell”, the judges generally felt it did a good job of showing off the grocer’s products.
Marks & Spencer
M&S’ star-studded ad was praised for rejecting the traditional heartwarming fare, instead embracing a liberating message of “doing what you want this Christmas” and “standing for something beyond the expected”. However, the ad lost points across the board for “missing the emotional mark”, which some judges suggested may have been improved by a more emotive music choice or pushing the theme further.
Amazon went for another heartstring-tugging ad this Christmas, showing three older ladies reliving their youth by sledging down a hill, aided by the next-day delivery of orthopaedic cushions. Our panel thought this ad was well cast and found the use of older characters refreshing, with several judges praising it for being tender, tasteful and warm despite being made for a global audience. However, some did note that the ad looked “telegraphed” as its international nature meant it was non-verbal, which lost Amazon some points.
This offering from online marketplace Etsy produced a mixed bag of scores from our panel. The ad shows an uncle on the hunt for a unique gift for his young niece, with his internal monologue playing out to the Mission Impossible theme. Several judges felt the ad cut through brilliantly and was a great illustration of the anxieties around gift giving, while positioning Etsy as a thoughtful place to go shopping this season. However, some panel members found the delivery of some lines a “hard watch”, with one preferring “the parts rather than the sum”.
Overwhelmingly, the judges felt that Asda’s ad, starring beloved Christmas crooner Michael Bublé, was a bit too cheesy. It won points for doing a solid job of selling the grocer’s food range and was praised for being silly, but several judges said it fell flat and lacked charm. Some said it was a bit of a let-down after last year’s Elf ad. However, it won praise for the best pun with ‘Pop the Bublé’.
Boots’ ad showing a young girl on a mission to deliver presents to Santa received really strong feedback from our panel of judges. Several felt it “struck the right emotional chord” and praised it for being nostalgic while also feeling “fresh and modern”. Although it managed to cram a lot of product in, our panel felt it was well-integrated and an overall “hard-working” ad. The only criticisms were that the plot was a little “average” and Boots could have chosen some more eco-friendly modes of transport.
Morrisons’ effort this year stars a cast of musical oven gloves, celebrating the hard work that goes into creating the perfect Christmas dinner, complete with plenty of perfectly imperfect meals. Our judges rated this ad very highly, describing it as “memorable” and having an “exciting premise”, which was “well crafted and styled”. However, it was critiqued for not having a particularly engaging plot, meaning that for some judges it fell flat in execution.
The judges rated John Lewis’ story of a Venus flytrap Christmas tree high enough to secure joint second place. The judges agreed there were great expectations for this ad, especially as the John Lewis account has moved from Adam&eveDDB to Saatchi & Saatchi this year, and it gained points for its “accessibility, freshness and warmth”, as well as its sense of fun and light-heartedness. The only criticisms were that some felt the execution was a bit “too expected” and it lost points for the plot being not particularly original, instead being a “retelling of a number of stories”.
Tesco’s story of a moody teenager rediscovering the spirit of Christmas was a huge hit with our panel, securing it the top spot in the ranking of retail’s best ads this year. Our panellists felt this off-beat and out-there take gave a “familiar tale a fresh telling” and felt it should be commended for its “slightly surreal nature”. It also won points for “excellent production” while offering something familiar on one hand but surprising on the other, and for keeping our panel hooked until the end.