Christmas is coming. The first of the ads were released at the beginning of the week with some pulling at the heartstrings and others attempting to make us laugh. So what does adland think?
Campaign asked Clare Hutchinson, executive strategy director at Havas London, and Loriley Sessions, creative at New Commercial Arts, for their thoughts on: Argos "Drum at home" by The & Partnership; Amazon "The show must go on" by Lucky Generals; TK Maxx "The 'lil goat" by Wieden & Kennedy; Pepsi Max "Christmas refreshed" by Truant London; and Very.co.uk "Christmas is this Very moment" by Grey London.
We all know that Christmas comes early – sometime between April and July – if you work in advertising. Historically, brands have been vilified for bringing Christmas earlier and earlier – yet this year, it feels like Christmas can't come early enough.
So, for the first time in a long time, our industry has the opportunity to do what it does best.
To bring us all together. To lift the spirit of the nation. To manifest a collective cultural moment.
Sadly, this is where I become a bit humbug.
As I unwrapped this batch of Christmas cheer, I hoped for something fresh, something exciting, something I'd never seen before... yet a bit like any dad unwrapping a pair of festive socks, I felt a bit underwhelmed by this year's initial spread.
Tactic #1: Get emotional.
Argos has teamed up with Gary Barlow and a sausage dog for a fantastical magic show that escalates from two little girls flicking through the "Book of Dreams" in their sitting room to a West End Theatre full of chandeliers. This feels a bit like eating too many Celebrations after your Christmas lunch – too much sparkle and glitter and too disconnected from our current cultural context.
Amazon has delivered a heartwarming Nutcrackeresque story of a ballerina (no, it's not Fatima) in a battle between Covid and her dream of starring in a Christmas show. It's beautifully shot, and the strategic thought of "the show must go on" is a strong one, but with all the soft focus, lilting piano music, product placement and predictability, it left me a bit nauseous.
Tactic #2: Be alternative.
TK Maxx had a good go at breaking with convention with a pimped-up Christmas goat, but ultimately it just feels a bit like John Lewis on acid.
Pepsi Max has partnered a couple of grime artists to "refresh" Christmas. A bold and admirable ambition, but replacing Christmas trees with palm trees and Christmas jumpers with hoodies all ends up feeling a bit "disco dad".
Tactic #3: Keep it real.
That leaves me with Very – a retailer in a very sorry business state. While the ad isn't super fresh (the usual buying a Christmas tree that's too big for your room, Christmas light power cuts and... another sausage dog?), the performance from Jodie the mum is strong and feels relatable – and it's the one I like best.
This Christmas, being present and empathetic to the here and now and making the most of the moment feels like the right vibe. That said, in a year when many people will struggle to have a Christmas, I hope that someone is planning to actually make a meaningful difference with their advertising budget. Because giving is what Christmas should really be about.
I'm not sure what I was expecting to see this Christmas. Memes, as ever, predict all kinds of hilarious scenarios for what a 2020 Christmas ad might contain. Seeing as it's a year like no other, it probably deserves such a send off, with something a bit different. Whether that's acknowledging the times or not.
The piece that stood out from this bunch for me, for various reasons, was Amazon. As a feeling, I love it. The creative industries have been put to the test this year – what with venue closures and snarky comments about retraining (thank god Fatima didn't take up a job in cyber) – so its message couldn't be more timely.
It makes me feel warm about Christmas for the first time this year, boosts morale and leaves me hopeful that, as an industry, we can still produce and craft beautiful work, even when we are as restricted as we have been. And, for that, the team should be very proud.
From a craft and storytelling perspective, as a creative, it's one of those "wish I'd made that" spots. Even the music makes me feel emotional (I'm a huge fan of anything big and instrumental). It's a great move for Amazon but, because it's so lovely, I can't help but worry for my small indie shops that were hoping so much for all our support this Christmas.
As for the other spots, the TKMaxx goat made me laugh a lot, and god knows we need more of that. It keeps coming back to me. Which is always a good sign for an ad. It's the type of spot I know I'll look forward to seeing again and again, as I watch yet another ITV drama. Nice insight, too. Dressing well does make you feel better at the moment. A day out of trackies is rarely seen, but christ it's a mood booster when you actually make the effort. On a side note, I wonder whether the goat's stylist was the same as Emily in Paris?
Argos is super fun and upbeat. I'm glad the "Book of Dreams" lives on in some way. It was always a highlight for me as a kid.
Pepsi Max – I hate to say it, but doesn't grime in an ad feel a bit clichéd? It's just been done a lot.
Very – I like the line, but I'm not sure the ad will particularly stand out too much.
That being said, I have sheer admiration for anyone who has actually managed to produce a big, show-stopping Christmas ad in this shocker of a year. I haven't (yet). So I'll get back in my box.