In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s nearly Christmas. Yes, it crept up on me too. Here, sadly, with one or two notable exceptions, on TV it’s mainly just the usual retail noise about deals with little investment in making us feel anything except weary of noisy ads.
So, to get us all in the Christmas spirit, here are my top five UK Christmas ads, a place where they save up for Christmas ads. I can promise you snow, singing, dancing and celebrities helping various retail brands entice you to choose them this Christmas.
Many know that they are picking people up after a pretty terrible time where families and friends have been separated, and may still be. Reminding us what it’s like to connect with loved ones after so long apart, to celebrate being together. So heavy doses of seratonin all round.
My top five in reverse order are:
5. Amazon – 'Kindness. The greatest gift'
Although a little derivative of one of my all-time classic favourite ads for Tennents Lager (you can watch it here if you are interested), this is a beautifully shot observation on the loneliness and mental health aspects of Covid isolation.
Our heroine is not connecting well with the real world, but the simple act of kindness of a neighbour brings a smile to her face. And because it’s an ad for Amazon, they can afford an Adele soundtrack too.
4. Tesco – 'Nothing's stopping us'
With the most obvious nod to how Covid has stopped so much, and powered by Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, this is all on good times powered by Tesco. Fast cuts, lots of talent, lashings of great looking food, Santa nearly not getting past quarantine and a plane facing travel/no travel lights on the runway, the star is a scootering granny determined not to be stopped. All good times and who doesn’t love a Queen soundtrack?
3. Waitrose & Partners – 'Best bit of Christmas'
Near the end of this wonderfully confident, knowing, breaking the fourth wall TVC, Ashley Jensen utters the line “The best bit of Christmas is the food”. Coming from an unknown actor, that’s a nice line. Coming from Ashley, it has power and impact – effectively “you will love this food, it’s from Waitrose after al”.
This is a modern Christmas ad and celebrates what’s great about Waitrose which is at the top end of Britain’s supermarkets, much as this year’s New World ad celebrates what you can get for the table, without all that preparation nonsense. And it’s got a nice cameo from Heston Blumenthal.
2. M&S Food – 'Percy's first Christmas'
This could have been first. 3D animated fun as Dawn French’s fairy accidentally brings to life Percy Pig inside an M&S Food store. Cue the chance for a few good gags, and also some really nice retail tie-ins celebrating their Christmas foods. Favourite line “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful in all my 23 seconds of life!”. Along with Colin the Caterpillar (surely the star of next year’s sequel?), Percy Pigs are a massive icon that anyone who loves M&S is going to smile at.
1. Boots – 'Bags of joy'
Watch this and in three minutes you will feel Christmassy. What’s not to love about one time Dr Who companion Jenna Coleman bringing her star power to the magical tale of a bottomless “bag of joy” with everything to make a Christmas fabulous, thanks to Boots.
From a bed covered in cosmetics poured from the bag, through a Polaroid camera at the perfect time, to the thoughtful perfume for her Nan, Jenna is stunning and the pacing and art around it all simply magical and oh so Christmassy. A perfect retail Christmas ad.
So, that was my top five. Sadly, this year, John Lewis didn’t make it for me. Their ET-derivative “Unexpected Guest” advert is of course beautifully made, but just feels very predictable and unmagical. The best bit is the track, a reworking of Philip Oakey and Giorgio Moroder’s Together in Electric Dreams by Lola Young, which is sensational, a bit like when Lilly Allen covered Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know a few years back.
As this I’m sure is my last opinion piece of 2021, a very merry Christmas from me to you and your family.
• Ben Goodale is CEO of advertising agency Quantum Jump, and no stranger to a great Christmas ad.
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