The Good, The Bad and the Ugly of Christmas

While Christmas ads have been gracing our screens for a number of weeks now, I believed it would be remiss to write a G|B|U until December was officially upon us. Now that I’ve cracked open my advent calendar and am in a perpetual Christmas Eve mindset, it’s time for me to bring poison pen onto that most hallowed of advertising periods: Christmas

It’s my favourite holiday and it doesn’t take a lot to impress me over this period. Make me smile, laugh or just be adorable, and you get a gold star from me. But how do this year’s holiday ads measure up?

Ahead of the Pack

An honourable mention must, in my opinion, go to John Lewis. From around the 15th of November, you cannot get through a day without the inevitable question arising: “has the John Lewis ad aired yet?”. They have sparked nostalgia, made us gasp in awe, and brought many a tear to even the hardiest of souls. As such, it feels unfair to consider it amongst the Good, Bad or Ugly: they exist in a class of their own.

With that said, this year’s ad is not up to snuff. Don’t get me wrong: I have a soft spot for Elton John, and “Your Song” is one of my favourite songs. But Elton John alone does not a good Christmas ad make.

Think back to 2011 and “The Long Wait”, all about a little boy who was so excited for Christmas, just so he could give a gift to his mum and dad. A look back at Elton’s life cannot possibly provoke these kinds of emotion. However, a much more successful ad series comes from John Lewis’ partner in crime: Waitrose. The theme “Too good to wait” allows for a much more lighthearted ad: be it through skipping the Christmas lights countdown or fast-forwarding through the John Lewis ad (we’ve all done it), these snappy placements are much more engaging and refreshing than Elton’s story. Plus, the dad saying “Stollen?” gets me every time.

On the upside, even the worst John Lewis ad is still better than some of the Bad and Ugly of Christmas advertising. More on that later.

The Good

With that out of the way, let’s turn our attention to the Good of Christmas advertising. There’s a lot of them and this is by no means an exhaustive list, but just a few of my favourites.

Claiming my top spot this year is the Sainsbury’s ad: a wholesome depiction of a Christmas play that makes me die of cuteness in exactly 25 seconds, and makes me cry in 33. These kids are adorable: from their giggles to the little waves to their parents in the audience, they’re funny (big fan of the one playing the Queen), and I am rooting for Plug Boy – who I believe should be our new national hero. I love it, and I want 10 more of these ads throughout the year.

I’m also a big fan of Spotify’s Wrapped campaign, which is a great example of effective personalisation and a very literal interpretation of data-driven marketing. It’s really fun, and something I look forward to every year.

Final mention goes to the Heathrow Bears. Funny and emotional in equal measures, my poor heart simply cannot handle the tiny bear reaching out to cuddle his grandmother. As someone who lives really far away from their family, this one hit me right in the feels and serves as a reminder that the season is really all about family.

The Bad

There is one thing I truly, truly hate in Christmas ads, and it’s ads which merely show a stream of products. As we’ve seen above, there are ways for retailers to showcase their brands without a running list of products and prices. In a season fueled by imagination, laziness cannot be tolerated.

The Ugly

If Good is the Nice List and Bad is the Naughty List, then Ugly isn’t on any list.

The worst ad of the year, and I do not use this term lightly, comes from a brand which is much more high end. I will preface this with an observation: I am not Burberry’s target audience. but, good Lord that does not excuse the 1 minute and 47 seconds of drivel that they pushed out this year. This spot would be more befitting of Halloween: a creepy rendition of “Carol of the Bells” plays over some frankly dizzying camera-work. A cast of famous faces stays frozen in a number of “typical” holiday scenes – stuck on a delayed train, having Christmas dinner, watching TV – showing off the latest fashions and jewellery from the brand. The poses themselves look like something out of a horror film, something made even worse by the background music.

Burberry has produced something that is boring, a little bit scary, and thoroughly uncompelling. Not ideal for a Christmas ad.

I think that there is one key takeaway for Yuletide ads, and that’s simply to make people happy. People love the spreading and receiving Christmas joy, so make sure your spots give them that feeling too. It really is as simple as that in my book.

An aside: if you read this series intently, you’ll know I have a soft spot for KFC ads. Their Holiday ad also does not disappoint.