Christmas is the only time of year when we really look forward to the TV ads and many brands have thrown big budgets into their festive campaigns. Has it been worth it? Three advertising industry supremos sift the turkeys from the crackers.

Cheil UK executive creative director Russ Schaller and Mother creative directors Susan Hosking and Peter Robertson dissect the Christmas ads. 

John Lewis

 

Susan Hosking and Peter Robertson: This year, the secret got out before the advert did – but it doesn’t really matter. This is the one advert the nation actually makes an appointment to see, and this year’s effort is sure to keep that tradition alive.

It’s big, it’s emotional, and for those of us who feel like Elton’s looks have been suspended in time forever, it’s also an enjoyable romp through his past looks, especially when we see him as a young boy, where there isn’t a sequined cuff or giant jewelled ring in sight and his eyebrows can lift in surprise.

However, the whole ‘going back in time’ thing does feel less original than some of the previous seasonal offerings, though the fact that it’s Elton going back in time most probably overrides this.

And if nothing else, it’s a good trailer for Elton’s upcoming biopic, which might be why they felt the need to put their logo in the bottom corner throughout the whole film!

🎉 VERDICT: Even if it’s not their best ever… it’s still a Christmas cracker!

Tesco

Russ Schaller: At a time when Tesco needs to add some sparkle to a suffering retail sector, they turn up to the party with uninspired, old-fashioned advertising constructs.

Tesco has gone with a predictable approach of chucking as many diverse people in their homes as possible at the camera to push tons of product within 60 seconds. 

🍗 VERDICT: Turkey

Marks & Spencer

Susan Hosking and Peter Robertson: Move over Paddington. Holly Willoughby’s here this year and she’s just as animated about the joy of Christmas as he was (and probably didn’t tie up the creatives in the post-production for as long). However, this year the brand’s traditional seasonal “Magic & Sparkle” feels like it’s been replaced with “Products & More Products”. Which makes it feel a bit less fun than previous years.

Still they’ve managed to squeeze in a few seasonal insights around the products and we do learn a few things along the way: that David Gandy looks good even with marigolds on, that rewatching Bridget Jones again and again puts you firmly in the ‘old fart’ category and that block colours are very in this year… and for sale at M&S in case you didn’t know!!

🎉 VERDICT: For all that education…it’s a cracker!

Iceland

Russ Schaller: Well, it seems Iceland have been very naughty with their ‘Ran Tan’ ad facing a ‘ban’ for being ‘too political’. This is beautifully written, and beautifully crafted with a fantastic purpose at its heart. Sure, you could mark it down for lacking in festive relevance or cynically capitalising on an important issue, but isn’t that what we expect of 21st-century brands? To do more than just sell products.

 🎉 VERDICT: Cracker

Aldi

Russ Schaller: Some sort of imagination has gone into this one but I’m sure the animated tale of ‘Kevin the Carrot and Little Red Riding Hood’ will be quickly forgotten.

Though it’s wrapped differently, this is fairly similar to the Tesco approach – throw a load of product in and hope for the best. This is the only turkey I’ll be getting from Aldi.

🍗 VERDICT: Turkey

Sainsbury’s

Russ Schaller: Sainsbury’s have been very nice this year with a performance to rival the School of Rock.

This is a complete Christmas package – great casting and musicality, with a sprinkle of magic throughout. It reminded me a little of the wonderful 2017 BBC animated short film, ‘The Supporting Act’, directed so brilliantly by Elliot Dear at Blink, but it’s so well written and produced, and it being Christmas and all, I forgave it.

🎉 VERDICT: Cracker

Boots

Susan Hosking and Peter Robertson: Everyone loves Boots and everyone loves Christmas. This year, Boots has aimed straight for those heartstrings by tackling the age-old complex relationship between mothers and daughters.

Instead of cueing the violins, they’ve cued Robbie Williams - though replaced his lyrics with hormone-filled teenage angst directed at poor Mum. The casting is excellent, with the young girl in particular putting in a relatable performance as ‘angry daughter to embarrassing mum’. All good so far.

But the payoff itself feels more than a little heavy handed – especially when you see that in that heavy hand is a gift presented in a Boots-branded box. What a blatant display of teenage rudeness! She could have at least wrapped it – especially as she probably used her mum’s Advantage Card points to buy it!

🎉 VERDICT: But in the spirit of Christmas… it’s a Christmas cracker!