Is it a turkey or a Christmas cracker? Retail Week has assembled an esteemed panel of judges to deliver their verdict on a selection of retail’s biggest Christmas adverts this year

The judges

Amy Rodgers, WARC Creative, head of content

Amy Rodgers leads content for WARC Creative – WARC’s creative effectiveness content, rankings and benchmarking products. She has worked in the marketing industry for more than 10 years and her expertise lies within marketing effectiveness research, currently with a focus on producing content to help clients maximise the impact of their creative work.

Grant Hunter, Iris, chief creative officer

During his time at Iris, Grant Hunter has led the teams on award-winning campaigns for Starbucks, Adidas, Samsung, Formula E, KFC and Johnnie Walker, and led the design team on the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic mascots. He is the co-author of Newsjacking and a regular speaker and judge at creative industry events. 

Sophie Lewis, M&C Saatchi London, chief strategy officer

With 23 years experience in the advertising industry, Sophie Lewis is a multi-award-winning strategist. She has led strategy for major campaigns including Boots’ ‘Here come the girls’ and Sainsbury’s ‘Live well for less’.

Graeme Noble, TMW Unlimited, chief creative officer 

Award-winning creative for over 20 years, Graeme Noble’s agency has handled campaigns for household names like Vodaphone, Diet Coke, Toyota and Kinder Bueno.

Sandie Dilger, TBWA\London, chief strategy officer

Sandie Dilger started her career as a marketer at Cadbury and since moving into advertising, she has worked at 101, Ogilvy and now TBWA\London. During that time, she has worked on brands including Boots, Game, Dunelm, Wagamama and Vodafone.

Gary Pope, Kids Industries, chief executive 

The lead of a family-focused agency, Gary Pope has appeared on The Apprentice for advertising tasks and his team has created and executed award-winning marketing campaigns for numerous FMCG brands, hotels and more.

Each judge gave a score out of five for each advert, combined to give a total score out of 30.


The ads

10. TK Maxx

This quirky ad joins TK Maxx’s Christmas hero Sam as she runs through a festive town receiving congratulations on her gifts with high fives from a cast of colourful characters. 

“Strange”, “odd” and “weird” were the overwhelming takes on TK Maxx’s ad, with one judge concluding that it “may have worked as a script” but not in execution. The quirky ad did gain points for being “joyful” and was praised for not sticking to a traditional formula. Judges also liked the song choice, Supernature by Cerrone, which they say moved it along at pace and they enjoyed the “otherworldly” filming location. Although it did recognise the current economic situation, many felt it was not quite Christmassy enough, which cost it points. 

Score: 14.5/30

9. M&S Food

M&S has brought together the legendary comedy duo French & Saunders. Dawn French reprises her role of the fairy from last year’s Christmas advert, which saw Percy Pig brought to life, and is joined by Jennifer Saunders’ Duckie to explore some of M&S’ Christmas foods laden on a table.

M&S’s ad did not get a particularly warm reaction from the panel, the majority of which found it to be formulaic. The judges were concerned this ad was forgettable, “made by committee” and the appearance of the table full of Christmas food put it in a “sea of same” with similar ads. One judge suggested it could have made better use of customer sentiment by pushing more on its value range than its high-end fare. However, the choice of French & Saunders was praised, with one judge describing the ad as a great balance of fun for the kids with beautiful cinematography. 

Score: 15/30

8. Very

Very’s ad celebrates the different days of Christmas, including ’work Christmas’, ’kids-free Christmas’ and ’Boxing Day Christmas’.

This spot caused division among our judges, with some praising its ability to build on “human truth” and others feeling it went too hard on the sell, particularly with the buy now, pay later parting message. Several judges felt this ad deserved to be acknowledged for its humorous and relatable observations on the festive season, and its “simple, pacey narrative” that placed the retailer “squarely in mind” for shoppers. However, some felt that it was too “blatant” and “flat”, with too much emphasis on the products. What judges did agree on though was that its October debut was too early, which lost it several points.

Score: 16/30

7. Boots

This ad aims to spread a message of “joy for all” amid the cost-of-living crisis. It features a woman named Holly, played by It’s a Sin star Lydia West, who finds a pair of glasses with the power to unveil her family and friends’ joy. 

Boots’ ad produced a polarising result from our judges, with some finding it “joyful” and “full of care and respect” but others found it “messy” and “flat”. Overall, the panel enjoyed the focus on kindness and giving, which they felt captured the mood of the country. There was criticism about how Boots decided to include products in the ad, with several of the panel noting that it could have done more to play on its value credentials and how it could “make joy more affordable”. It did garner praise for how it promoted diversity and inclusion, with one judge describing the scene of gifting a hair dryer for a friend who dreams of becoming a drag queen as “a brilliant example” of representation in advertising with “care and respect”.

Score: 18/30

6. Aldi 

Kevin the Carrot returns for another year, this time he plays the role of Kevin from Home Alone, using all manner of tricks to outsmart two villains who seek to ruin Christmas. 

On the whole, this “silly” spot from Aldi was a crowd-pleaser on our judging panel who felt it was full of “festivity and warmth”. Many were impressed by the staying power of Kevin the Carrot, as this ad marks his seventh outing, with the majority agreeing the character still delivered for Aldi. Judges liked this ad’s nod to purpose and subtle humour, though they agreed that the snowman scene may be polarising. Some felt it “lacked sparkle” and was lazy to rely on the trope of a heaving table of food that crops up in so many Christmas ads. However, several of our panel felt there was a high likelihood that this ad would be very commercially successful for the grocer, thanks to its focus on value. 

Score: 18.5/30

5. Tesco 

Supermarket giant Tesco has touched on the UK’s cost-of-living crisis and political turmoil in its Christmas advert, urging customers to #StandForJoy this festive season.

In the middle of the pack, Tesco’s ad was celebrated by our judges for tackling the irony of the ever-changing political landscape head-on. The panel liked that it was very obviously a Christmas ad and said it stood out for having a different tone and feel to the other grocers, avoiding lavish banquets. However, recurring verdicts were “decent” and “not bad”, suggesting Tesco may not have delivered a particularly memorable creative in the eyes of our judges. But it was praised for aiming to help shoppers get excited for a modest Christmas and offering practical solutions, with an ad that “screams family”.

Score 20.5/30

4. Sports Direct 

The sports retailer has enlisted a roster of football legends for its Christmas advert, which sees them parody a different Christmas theme like gathering around the dinner table and playing new games, all with a football twist.

Judges found this playful ad to be an “unexpected favourite” and its off-beat approach, glittering cast and lighthearted catchphrase earned it a great score. Praised for making the most of the men’s football World Cup’s unusual timing, and how it may play into everyone’s Christmas this year, judges felt this delivered a memorable ad for the retailer. The panel enjoyed the decision to “borrow fame” from the sports stars, described the cameos as “on point” and praised Theirry Henry in particular for “providing some va-va-voom to Christmas”. However, it lost points on account of the three spots “not connecting in any meaningful way”, which some felt was a missed opportunity. 

Score: 21/30

3. Asda

The supermarket has brought Buddy from the classic Christmas film Elf to life as an Asda colleague in this ad, which sees him get stuck into working on the tills, putting up decorations and eating free samples. 

A high-scorer, Asda’s tactic of borrowing fame from a timeless Christmas film was “wizardry” so good that it “almost feels like cheating” to use it in an ad. The superimposition of Will Ferrell in an Asda was well-loved by the majority of our judges, who felt it was a “sweet and effective distraction” from the stress of this particular Christmas, and “totally recallable” as an Asda ad. However, it did draw some criticism for not being quite as seamless as it could be, which some felt made it look low-budget, and the performances of the Asda staff were described as “a bit wooden”, which cost it some points. 

Score: 22.9/30

2. Amazon

Directed by Taika Waititi, Amazon’s ad follows the story of a father who wants to deliver a special Christmas experience for his daughter. 

A very high-scorer, our panel of judges loved this “beautifully shot” ad with a “rich, inspiring story” that has “so much to love”. It gained praise for showing far more borrowing than buying, as it only features one product purchase, and how it used the ad as a clever tool to tackle its perception as a place to buy an “emergency, lacking-in-feeling gift” and instead position itself as an enabler of ”thoughtful doing”. The majority loved how artfully shot it was, how many further questions the storyline presented and the beauty of the ending, even if there was some concern over the father’s energy bill. The only improvements the judges could make were the dad’s performance, which was described as “hammy”, and the music being a bit too melancholy for Christmas.

Score: 23/30

1. John Lewis

This ad follows the story of a couple fostering a child at Christmas, we see Ellie – a young person in care whose new foster father struggles to master skateboarding to connect with her.

This ad was the clear favourite from our panel, who hailed its “sublime storytelling” and “beautiful execution”, taking Jonh Lewis back to the roots of its non-typical Christmas ad delivery, which has developed into part of the brand’s legacy. Judges praised its hints of humour and lightheartedness with a powerful, purposeful punch at the end, reflecting the sentiment of the public going through a cost-of-living crisis. Several panel members also noted the brand’s decision to avoid selling products and instead emphasise kindness. The only criticism was that the performances did not deliver quite as authentically as they could have and that it could stand to be a little more Christmassy. But overall, John Lewis delivered a “genuinely wonderful little film”. 

Score: 26.9/30