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.
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.
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
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.