Ah, you know this is going to be… something. Don’t you? Christmas adverts now occupy the “showstopper” spot in the eternal advertising Bake Off, and this year *adopts grave and sober voice* more than ever, we need a show.
Lads, we’ve all lived through 2020. Absolute shitshow of a year, and the adverts honestly didn’t help. Fucking Halifax HR managers telling us we mattered to them, Persil co-opting “children playing”, endless echoing faked Zoom calls telling us that yeah times were hard but, I dunno, Werther’s Originals would always be there for us. Awful. Like the real world of actual Zoom calls and genuine restrictions on children’s play and, oh, just, a virus stalking the streets dishing out death and misery like a Netflix executive spotting a beloved show moving into its third season.
When it came to Christmas, I had but one wish. Do something different. Do something fun and exciting, something that pulls us out of this slough of despond. Or, if you must acknowledge the state of the world, do it cleverly. Do it without recourse to videoconferencing or home videos. I know it’s tricky, I know times are hard, but think harder. Shall we see how this panned out?
Right, let’s start with the big one. It’s not Christmas Advert Season before John Lewis drops theirs, although increasingly this seems more like cargo cult behaviour than any serious marker of quality.
Well, they’ve walked the line well enough. The message is clear – we all need each other right now, we should be friendly and open and spread love through kindness wherever we can. TELL THAT TO BORIS AND THE TORIES – RIGHT, KIDS? Haha, just a little humour there. It’s not using the 2020 cliches, good, fine, but it’s also not really acknowledging the state of reality. People sit next to each other on buses. Hairdressers don’t wear PPE. Strangers stand within 2m. It’s aiming for timeless, and I think it just about succeeds without being kind of insultingly otherworldly.
It’s also obviously technically very smart, too, mixing animation techniques and film-making styles, possibly hinting that production was spread across small, diverse teams. In a year where adverts have either looked like they were beamed in from space (like, perfume ads, have you even noticed??) or like they were made by your mates on a £50 laptop, even if it’s not portraying our world, it’s obviously built within it.
This fella’s been on Asda adverts for months now, I’m unmoved by him and his ordinary man of the people bullshit. Usually my favourite genre of Christmas advert is “Bit grey, filmed on an estate of some sort, loads of tinsel in the house to make it look cheerful”, but honestly this did nothing for me. Zero. Whatever mate, you need to up your game. It’s Christmas, make a fucking effort. This is just your regular campaign with a paper crown on. Is this your king??
Walkers Crisps Apparently
I don’t know. Why are Walkers doing a Christmas advert?
I mainly felt a bit bewildered through this. Am I meant to know who everyone is? I feel I am. But I don’t, because I’m some fucking advert Grinch who lives in a cave and hates the Hoo dickheads down in Hoo dickhead town, so it was mostly lost on me. I recognised Carol Smillie, because she literally said she was Carol, and Aled Jones and maybe that old man was Tony Mortimer but beyond that? Well, whatever, oh yeah, Gary Lineker obviously, sorry, anyway, whatever this was basically the whole of Children In Need compressed into 2 minutes, wasn’t it? Celebrity larking about, but with a serious charity message. Trussell Trust are worthy benefactors, no shade there. BUT.
No, you don’t spoof the Coca Cola trucks. Sorry. Not on my watch.
Speaking of which. Holidaysarecomingholidaysarecomingholi-
Guyyyyys, come on.
Ok, fine, you can’t do literally the same ad every year simply because I love it, I guess. I can just watch old ones on YouTube I guess. I’ll judge this on its own merits I GUESS.
Directed by Taika Waititi, don’t you know? Yes, bit of class in our adverts this year thankyouverymuch. And to give him credit, it looks great and the story is cleanly, clearly told – without dialogue, so it’s universal. I’m pretty sure the writing is edited round in such a way that localisation would be a cinch. It tells a solid story of longing, homesickness and of wanting to be near one’s family at Christmas, which is again letting the real world provide the subtext without actually being about the real world. I found it fairly moving, especially the bits involving the truck, and I just generally enjoyed spending the time with it. Can’t argue with that, can you?
Here we go. Fronting up to it, looking 2020 square in the eye and saying “This was bullshit, wasn’t it?”. Bogrolls and handwashing, haircuts and Captain Tom, they’re going for it. Tesco may not be my favourite supermarket, but they’ve won me over a bit here. Making your message “Fucking chill, have some cake” is a nifty move right now. Again, I think the visuals walk a good line, too. They’re just professional enough to not look like they’re passing the responsibility on to amateur videographers but just slightly rough round the edges to suggest “Actually, it was a pain in the arse to make this with social distancing and bubbles and shit”.
Hear that? That’s the sound of a ball being dropped.
Clonk. I’ve really enjoyed Sainsbury’s adverts in the recent past. The Mog one? Beautiful, art. The WWI one? Not my thing, but a high-quality bit of film making. The batshit Artful Dodger Steampunk one from last year? Yeah, fun in its own way. This? Crap. Let me break it down.
So they’re leaning in to the home video thing. Calls to family. Fine, everyone’s fucking sick of it but knock yourself out. However – if you are doing that I want it to feel authentic. This simply does not. When the dialogue on the phone matches the dialogue in the video, either the call is staged, or the video. Or, most likely, both. A cute idea undermines the whole conceit. I spend the rest of the time looking for tells. Modern tech imitating old glitches. Haircuts out of time. Too many shots of food prep. Nahh. Like, we know none of it’s real but don’t show us. This is clumsy shit. You could have done something with this concept, but this is no good.
I’ve waited for the third part, just to make sure it’s not going to do something amazing (like, I dunno, it’s an alien civilisation reconstructing humanity in 2020 via video and voice files, or the two narrators are watching it back on their death beds in a future that has been saved by discount hams) but it seems unlikely and if I wait any longer before hitting publish I’ll look hilariously out of date instead of simply slow as I do now.
This hit me like a truck. Sorry, this felt personal. By the end of this I was crying, great hitching sobs. I needed a few minutes to compose myself. You maybe won’t feel that way if you DON’T have a child at exactly this stage of their life but I do and fuck, an advert for MACCY Ds burned itself into my soul. I’m not watching it again just to write this. Sorry.
Palate cleanser. They’re going to give me Kevin the Carrot, this will bring me back down.
Jesus. Stop trying to make Kevin happen. Anyway, this is basically the Coke advert isn’t it? Imagine hiring a big-name director, creating epic spectacle that also knowingly nods at your company’s place in the fabric of modern ideas of Christmas and then some fucking carrot comes along and does the same story on the back of a hedgehog. Yeah, yeah, the longing want of a family for a distant parent, blah blah, here’s Santa again, but honestly I just hate that carrot.
If you’re wondering why the carrot is falling out of the sky to start with, well
Last year’s advert made a small star of Nandi Bushell, who now has regular drum battles with Dave bleedin’ Grohl, and quite rightly. I loved it at the time, and I stand by that I think. So are they going to try the same trick this year?
Pretty much! Are these two small girls really masters of the art of prestidigitation? They could be! Turned out that last year’s tiny drummer really was a drummer. There are a few moments of sleight of hand that could be faked, could be real. I could maybe do some research, but am I going to? We all know I’m not.
OK, I did and there’s no info, just newspapers publishing the press release. Boring. So it’s fine in that the girls are perfectly charming, the pile-up of effects to transform the show into one in a giant theatre work well, everything ticks along entertainingly enough. If you’re keeping track, this is one that does NOT acknowledge Covid-19 in any way shape or form. Fair enough.
So what’s wrong with it? RIght. Two things. One – we’ve had that magic set and it was rubbish. This VERY MUCH oversells it. Two – Gary Barlow on the soundtrack. Nope.
Genuinely have a lot of time for Lidl’s Christmas adverts. They’ve been doing quietly funny work for the last few years and don’t get nearly enough recognition. This is no exception; a brutally gentle skewing of Christmas ads in general – plinky plonky music, breathless singing, that characterless faux-stop motion CG animation (that turns up in the John Lewis ad this year), heartwarming family stuff (“emotional gravy”.. wait, did they see the Sainsbury’s ad early?) and, of course, that fucking carrot gets four prongs in the gut first chance. Take that, Aldi.