Compelling Christmas ads can make or break a retailer’s festive season. Katie Kilgallen and Saatchi & Saatchi’s Bobby Hui settle in front of the TV to analyse this year’s efforts

The run-up to Christmas is hailed as the golden quarter in retail. And, when the pressure is on, the big-name retailers knuckle down to do battle in living rooms across the country, vying to capture the imaginations of consumers via advertising on their television screens.

A high-impact ad is critical to win a share of the Christmas basket, but at a time when everyone is trying to say the same thing at the same time, it is never more difficult to achieve.

Saatchi & Saatchi international planning director Bobby Hui believes a successful ad comes from a sound understanding of consumers. “We all have this slightly contrived idea that there is the perfect Christmas, where the food is perfect and the gifts are perfect, and that puts an awful lot of pressure on shoppers,” he says.

To appeal to consumers, he says adverts must go down one of two routes – either emphasise the fun and glamour of the season, or focus on how shopping can be simple and painless. “On top of that, you’ve got to consider how well the ad sits with any campaign idea and how well it transmits in terms of tone of voice,” he adds.

Here, Hui gives his expert opinion on whether this year’s festive commercials are a success.

Marks & Spencer: Christmas Belles

Premise: The five familiar faces of M&S recreate classic moments from the golden age of Hollywood glamour

Cast: The five familiar faces of M&S – Noemie Lenoir, Laura Bailey, Lizzy Jagger, Twiggy and Erin O’Connor – recreate classic moments from Hollywood films. Antonio Banderas features as the male love interest

Budget: Undisclosed

Bobby says: “This is a beautifully produced ad. It stays in the brand’s tone of voice and is in keeping with its speciality. It talks about quality, but in a very seasonal way.

“It’s all about the party and glamour. The art direction is beautiful. It’s Cary Grant meets Peter Sellers – a sort of tongue-in-cheek 1960s movie. It works particularly well because it makes you feel Christmassy just as much as it makes you think about the party season. Celebrity is essentially about promoting glamour and quality and the use of Antonio Banderas does that really well here.”

Tesco: Secret Santa

Premise: Unbeknown to each other, The Spice Girls are all at Tesco shopping for presents for one another, but end up spending half their time hiding from each other

Cast: The Spice Girls

Budget:£5 million, with each Spice Girl picking up£200,000 for their part

Bobby says: “It jars, because you’ve got a slightly ill-at-ease use of celebrity. It stretches credibility to suggest that the Spice Girls run around a Tesco store buying each other Christmas gifts.

“The idea is really contrived. It feels like an inappropriate way to use celebrity and is at odds with what is otherwise a very good ad campaign. The use of celebrity is about how you use personality to act as a brand’s spokesperson – how you use it as an inference – and Tesco hasn’t necessarily got that right in the way that Marks & Spencer and Morrisons have.”

John Lewis: Shadows

Premise: Without the use of special effects, a diverse group of people artfully arrange John Lewis merchandise so that the combined shadow casts an outline of the person for whom the gifts are intended

Cast: No celebrities

Budget:£6.2 million for John Lewis’s entire integrated Christmas campaign

Bobby says: “It has a level of sophistication and understatement that is very much on brand. John Lewis clearly plays back the values of its customer really well. It’s a clever idea, too.

“In essence, it doesn’t matter who you’re shopping for: John Lewis has a solution – which is exactly what the consumer wants to hear. There is a simple answer – just walk through the door and it’ll be painless and sophisticated. There is a very strong sense of brand positioning, rendered in the tone of voice and with an emphasis on products.”

Morrisons: Fresh Christmas

Premise: Lulu pushes a shopping trolley through a picturesque town, passing fellow celebrities in various Christmas scenes, as she describes what she wants to eat this Christmas

Cast: Lulu, Gabby Logan, Denise Van Outen, Nick Hancock, Diarmuid Gavin and Alan Hansen

Budget: Undisclosed

Bobby says: “The Morrisons campaign has evolved from just talking about brand quality to using personalities. It does the job reasonably well. Listening to personalities talk about what they want for Christmas in terms of the food is a good idea that makes sense. It makes them seem down to earth, but also puts across the brand’s message that it’s offering quality to its consumers.

“You could argue that with so many celebrities you end up focusing on who’s in the ad, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You’re going to spot different people in different parts of it and that’s going to maintain people’s interest.”

Boots: Here come the girls

Premise: Offices are suddenly deserted when every woman disappears into toilets and meeting rooms to primp and preen for the office Christmas party. At the end, they all emerge from the building transformed into party goddesses

Cast: No celebrities

Budget: Undisclosed

Bobby says: “Boots’ work is really strong. Anyone who has been to an office party will recognise that moment. It’s beautifully observed and beautifully shot. It’s done in a light-hearted way and focuses on the positive aspects for the consumer, which is that Christmas is about having fun and enjoying yourself. It’s leveraging an appropriate role at an appropriate time of year.

“You can argue that the office party is a well-worn creative space for Christmas, but it does this in a very effective way. It’s not necessarily the party itself; it’s the anticipation and the thrill of getting ready that it has focused on.”

Next: Ally and Paul’s romantic first date

Premise: A follow on from when Ally and Paul met in September, the advert follows the couple as they move from bar to restaurant on their first date and Ally effortlessly slips from one outfit to the next

Cast: Brazilian model Alessandra Ambrosio and British model Paul Sculfor

Budget: Undisclosed

Bobby says: “Next has recognised Christmas is about the party season; it’s about socialising. This ad is set in a very social context and it has glamour.

“You can see their target audience is younger and more urban than M&S’s. The Next commercial is much more girl about town. I think both retailers recognise their target audience in terms of who’s going to shop and the context in which they are going to have Christmas fun. However, one criticism with Next would be that the changes in outfit are quite subtle. You have to be really looking to see you’re being told that there is a range of party clothes in store.”

Asda: Asda’s Shining Stars

Premise: Julie Walters helps to prepare for an Asda Christmas party for employees as a reward for outstanding achievement

Cast: Julie Walters and real-life Asda employees

Budget:£1 million

Bobby says: “This ad makes you understand that Asda is ready for Christmas and it stocks everything that you need to be ready for it, so that’s good. It has a certain impact because Julie Walters has a very honest and straightforward delivery. Asda is one of those brands that is about everyday life and everyday people and this ad is a celebration of that, so in that sense casting Walters is effective.

“However, what’s not clear is the point of her working at Asda for Christmas. Why she’s there helping plant and decorate Christmas trees is not obvious. You’re left wondering what her role is.”

Sainsbury’s: Jamie’s Christmas Dinner

Premise: Jamie shares Christmas cooking tips when he is transported inside a giant fantasy food workshop where fairies work to assemble Christmas treats

Cast: Jamie Oliver

Budget: Undisclosed, but Jamie is paid£1 million a year to be the face of the supermarket

Bobby says: “Another strong ad. Like M&S, Sainsbury’s has not veered from its strategy – which is all about using Jamie as a vehicle to help you make the most of your food. It has great suggestions for the party season and Oliver has great delivery. He still appears to be very much the man of the moment and having a strong personality can be a very good way of helping make sure you’re remembered.

“The art direction is very traditional. It almost feels like you’re opening a Christmas card. Using Oliver, a very modern chef, in the context of a very traditional palette works very well.”

The bigger picture

The big-name retailers have raised the bar this year. “They all feel less clich餠than they have in the past,” says Hui. Among the big names, there are no obvious Christmas turkeys. “You can see why they’ve all done what they’ve done. I struggle a bit with Tesco’s and Asda’s ads, but that’s more about how you make the strategy appropriate for the time of year.”

For Hui, M&S is the clear winner. “It stays on strategy; it’s all about the glamour and fun of Christmas – and it uses personality in a way that is engaging. It’s also beautifully shot and made. I’d be more than happy to see it several times.”

Boots stands out as another success. “Again it’s beautifully shot,” he says. “Generally, the sense of anticipation, the feeling of quality and the sense of ‘Is this the right brand for me?’ comes through in the way ads are made and produced. The Boots ad looks good and that makes you feel as if the product will be good too.”