Tag Archives: adverts

Christmas Adverts 2020

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?

John Lewis

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.

ASDA

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.

Coca-Cola

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?

Tesco

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”.

Sainsbury’s

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.

McDonald’s

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.

Aldi

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

WAHT.

Argos

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.

Lidl

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.

Christmas Adverts 2019

Ahh, the season of goodwill is upon us again, and that very specifically means CHRISTMAS ADVERTS are back. I used to enjoy writing about them over on MostlyFilm (god rest it) and, well. I guess I missed the gig.

Me, rolling into town

John Lewis

The big boys of the Christmas Ad game are back, every year trying to outdo themselves while keeping the basic formula present and correct (elaborately high production values, heartwarming twist involving the giving of a gift available at John Lewis, old song covered in a drippy way by contemporary artist). You already know that this year it’s about a dragon so let’s examine those elements.

Clearly it looks a treat. Like Game of Thrones rebooted by the production team behind Wooly and Tig rather than those two goofuses who did the actual show. It’s beautifully filmed, the performances are good-for-an-advert, the production design is top-notch (special mention to costumes, which I assume are only partially available in-store). Great, well played. But that’s everyone now. This looks as good as the Sainsbury’s advert, or the ASDA or the M&S one, you know? They’re all expensive looking now because Christmas adverts are a fucking huge deal.

Is there a heartwarming twist? YOU KNOW THERE IS, BABEY, though this would involve explaining the full plot of the advert which is basically – dragon just keeps burning shit cause it loves Christmas so much. Small child who is the dragon’s friend tries to help. Eventually, heartwarmingly, the dragon learns control and burns only… the brandy-soaked Christmas pudding he has brought for the feast! It’s like the Grinch carving the Roast Beast, if the Grinch had actually loved Christmas all along. It’s so prosaic it almost dares you to try doing A Bit about it. Lol, imagine if the dragon burned the city down. Yeah, I mean, that was built in. That’s literally the joke. Lol, the dragon has been created to sell toys. Yes. Again. It’s an advert.

I don’t know. It’s just not got the batshit energy of Sainsbury’s. It’s not even fun to poke holes in. The song is Bastille covering REO Speedwagon. Sorry, I’m out.

Aldi

I juuuuust still don’t give a fuck about Colin the Carrot or whatever. I double don’t care about whatever Peaky Blinders rubbish you’re trying with the concept this year. It was mildly amusing the first year, when it was a parody of John Lewis. Now you’re taking it seriously it’s just sad. I don’t tune in every year for the continuing adventures of your moderately well-animated root vegetable

Lidl

This is much more like it. I have to say, I’m somewhat of a sucker for Christmas adverts that look like Christmas really does. OK, this is even pointing that out “A Christmas you can believe in”, indeed, but that doesn’t matter. Much. It’s a little cynical I suppose. I just dig grey skies, and patches of slush. Cheap looking wrapping paper and tired decorations. It’s a sweet spot.

The “Real British Christmas” bit was, ehhh, off the mark. Maybe they put it together in anticipation of Brexit happening in October so we all might have needed a bit of solidarity in the cold and dark winter months. Or maybe they’re just emphasising that actually, despite being very clearly European they are part of the fabric of the nation now. Which, I guess, yeah?

Sainsbury’s

This is, oh boy, this is a lot. First of all, it answers the eternal question – how come Santa has such affinity with chimneys? Turns out he was a child labourer in… somewhere? This is a whole big question the advert doesn’t give a satisfactory answer to. In fact, it raises more questions during its running time.

So. It begins with a caption saying the year is 1869. And there’s Sainsbury’s, so you might reasonably think “Ah, I see, this is about the very first Sainsbury’s store, which opened in 1869 in Holborn. That, there, must be that exact shop.” Reasonable. Why give so specific a date if you don’t want to make that association? Along, then, comes a gang of child chimney sweeps, bustled along by a Fagin character who is most definitely not actually, you know, Jewish.

I had a quick look, did you know the use of children as chimney sweeps was actually outlawed as long ago as the late 1700s, and the Factory Act of 1833 prohibited the employment of children under nine, and limited the extent to which children under 13 could be put to work. So this fella is dodgy, never mind that he’s not running a gang of pickpockets like what you might have expected. And he steals… I can’t tell. They look like big tomatoes, but everyone’s munching them like apples. Persimmon, maybe? But oh no, our young protagonist is caught trying to put back one that fell! The kindly shopkeeper (not clear if she is owner or employee) is about to tell him it’s fine but oh no! Some weird steampunk cop then drags him through the street while comedy bystanders boo and yell. And then they banish him! Into the snowy mountains with him!

Now I know London now and London 1869 are very different places, but they share a few common factors. For a start, lack of mountains. Banishment a rarity. Both quite large places, lacking a door to the wilderness within dragging distance of Holborn. I mean, I’m starting to think this is NOT set in Victorian London, in which case why the 1869 caption? Just so we can say “Heh. Nice”?

Anyway. The kindly shopkeeper turns up with a persimmon for him to munch. Then he goes and gives his sweep pals ALL the persimmon, and the ABSOLUTELY 100% GENTILE gangleader gets a lump of coal and general public humiliation – it’s not clear how this ends his reign of terror, but it’s implied that it does – and there’s festive cheer all round. Then it gets super weird, because the kindly shopkeeper stands outside the town walls and… looks at contemporary London in the distance? How long did this advert take? 150 years?? WHY DID YOU PUT THAT CAPTION UP??? And then the small boy puts on a Santa hat and walks off to his reindeer. So… was he Father Christmas all along? Is this his origin story? If it is, where did the reindeer come from? If it isn’t, why did he have to go through all the business with being a sweep and then getting banished?

Honestly, what the fuck, Sainsbury’s?

Amazon

First time I ever wrote about Christmas adverts I started with an elegy to the Mars Celebrations advert. Maybe you know the one, it ran for about 60 years and was a bunch of people dancing about in an indefinably odd, definitely not British, city centre. People at the hairdressers, people mopping the floor, all very blue collar. The song they were dancing to was Everybody Needs Somebody To Love, you know, off of Blues Brothers. And look! Look what’s the soundtrack to this advert with everyone singing along, in an indefinably odd, definitely not British city. Following a blue collar worker. Ahhhh, some traditions never go away.

Find this quite unrelatable, mainly because Amazon delivery workers just turn up at your door dressed normally. They have a uniform in the States? Ok, well, that’s probably coming soon here. Can’t… quite shake the feeling that this delivery driver is working a hugely long day for below minimum wage, but hey that’s capitalism, folks! The very meaning of Christmas, indeed. But come on, Jeff. Let her get home to see her kid with the tiny Charlie Brown piano (I forget the name of the little boy who played the piano in Peanuts but you know what I mean). That’s a very American thing, too, isn’t it? We don’t have those tiny grand pianos for children. They get a shit Casio keyboard that plays public domain tunes that the child pretends to play along with. Forgotten by new year. Sad.

ASDA

Speaking of capitalism, it’s current hate-figures ASDA. Why do we hate ASDA right now? Because they forced their workers, on threat of losing their jobs, to sign new, shittier contracts. Just before Christmas!

So how dare they come out with an oddly moving advert that I still hate? Because wow, this is HORRIFYING. That magic aurora borealis jizz is power beyond imagining and it’s fucking evil. It turns humans into snowman-headed chimeras, or living gingerbread. What happens to those people? Do they live like that forever, or what? What if someone BITES A LEG OFF? When the magic wears off do they just have to live with the ragged stump?

And then at the end it turns on a sixpence and, for reasons I can’t understand, brings tears to my eyes. A moment of genuine sweetness right at the finish. Damn.

Argos

Oh no I like this one a lot. I don’t know about you, but I’ve only seen the very short version on telly so please take a couple of minutes to watch the whole thing.

Simple, focused, bursting with heart. The father and daughter chemistry is adorable, the use of a generational anthem is a smart move, the build is nicely sustained, it just makes me happy. It doesn’t have to construct an elaborate narrative, it doesn’t transport you to a fantasy world, it just leans heavily on joy, on loving relationships, on banging drum fills. I’ll regret writing this in a year’s time. I don’t right now.

Marks & Spencer

Two distinct campaigns here, the M&S Food is this year’s Celebrities Trapped In Winter Market staple (Emma Willis and Paddy McGuinness, who both feel a bit B-team, you know?) and a bizarre series of ads based around demonic sweaters forcing their wearers to dance to early-90s hip hop. They’re not quite brave enough to rip off the legendary “Jumper hound” tweet, but it’s clear that they’re intending to, and the final shot of a dog in a jumper is an obvious allusion [edit: They actually have ripped it off on Twitter, but not in the TV advert]. The choreography is quite clever, I grudgingly allow, moving as it does from the arms and giving the dancers an unwilling, dragged-along jerky motion. But that’s also kind of sinister?

 

It’s very one-note, and I’m hard pressed to say much about it. I just wanted it to stop after about twenty seconds, but it didn’t.

Well. There we are. There are others – many others – that I simply don’t have the energy to cover, especially after Marks went ahead with two. Turns out this is a huge industry! There’s just too many of them now! McDonald’s are trailing their Christmas advert, as if we care! And we probably do! After all, as we see year after year, usually someone gets it right. Some corporation hires the right agency, spends HBO levels of money, and it hits home. I don’t mind. It’s Christmas.