Christmas ads 2021: adland reviews M&S, Boots, John Lewis and more

Clockwise from top left: M&S Clothes and Home, Disney, John Lewis and Boots
Clockwise from top left: M&S Clothes and Home, Disney, John Lewis and Boots

Creatives get into the Christmas spirit and cast their eyes over the latest festive ad offerings from brands.

The Christmas ads are coming thick and fast, with big brands revealing their festive wares over the past week.

Campaign asked Jules Chalkley, chief executive creative director at Ogilvy London, and Melody Sylvester, head of film at Engine, to review John Lewis “Unexpected Guest” by Adam & Eve/DDB; Marks and Spencer "Percy’s first Christmas" by Grey London; Marks and Spencer “Make the season anything but ordinary” by Odd; Boots “Bags of joy” by The Pharm; and Disney “Stepdad”, which was created in-house.

Jules Chalkley

Advertising, they say, makes for a great history textbook.

It reflects society at any point in time in all its dimensions. So, given the state of the nation and the fact that Covid still isn’t quite in our rear-view mirror, what will the crucible that is the industry’s annual moment to shine say about how we're all feeling?

It’s fair to say that normal service seems to have resumed. Big tracks, big production and big budgets have returned with relish.

In the John Lewis film this year we’ve got an extra-terrestrial visiting to see what the fuck’s been going on. I have to say I really like the oddness. I enjoyed the touches of wit, the quirky love story and simple message of kindness. For me, the music is killer, and it lifts the piece up. High enough to be a classic? Maybe not, but for that I think the formula needs to change. 

Boots has gone the biggest with its Oscar-winning line-up. Jenna Coleman is inspired casting and she certainly delivers warmth and love with a surprising range of emotions. There are some lovely touches of wit as well, which I think would be fun to push further. I can see the platform working very hard from a retail stance and being a hit for the fabric of the nation brand. The only tasteless moment is the gluttony of the opening bed sequence. It feels way too consumerist. 

Before there were big John Lewis Christmas ads, there were big M&S Christmas ads. And in an attempt at a return to form, here we have a mixed bag. The M&S Food ad brings to life the edible national treasure that is Percy Pig. I think this is genius. I can genuinely see a great future in the character. Watch out, the Gruffalo. Today, the well-crafted and cheeky tour of M&S’s gorgeous food offering, tomorrow the Hollywood movie trilogy. On the other hand, sadly, the M&S Clothes and Home piece doesn’t live up to the idea of “Anything but ordinary”. It has all the ingredients, it’s just missing an idea, because they come together to feel like a mishmash of different film references that don’t do the products any justice. 

Disney has gone “total Christmas” with its epic animation. It’s a beautifully crafted story of the trials and tribulations of life at Christmas and the cementing power of Disney’s world-famous cast to bring families together. Gregory Porter nails the emotion with his beautiful voice. I think families all over the UK will love it. Because after last year I think it’s what we all want.

We haven’t seen a true belter and we haven’t seen a stinker. I think what we have seen is a triumph of production and a lack of creative bravery. And I think that sums it up. We want to feel good but right now we don’t want to take the risk. And that’s OK, for now, after tough times just feeling normal can be a wonderful thing. 

Melody Sylvester

John Lewis: this film feels cosily familiar and I’m sure that was intentional. It’s warm and inclusive in its casting including the “unexpected guest”, who makes friends with our hero lad. There are many things to like about this, all the hard work that has gone into it for sure. It feels like a nod to Stranger Things to me, even in the use of an updated cover version of the big 1980s track Electric Dreams. Overall, though, the film didn’t stir my emotions and I really wanted it too.

M&S Food: a talking animated pig, a Dawn French voiced fairy…what’s not to like? Lovely bit of CGI work, lots of festive vibe to it, for sure. M&S has really gone hard on the Percy Pig thing hasn't it?  Bringing him to life will have taken time and investment with a VO by Tom Holland, too. It certainly is a popular product for it. Hope putting the piggy in the middle pays off. Kids will love it.

M&S Clothes and Home: there is a definite whiff of Umbrellas of Cherbourg with a helping of The Sound of Music about this film. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Does it matter that this lands like a well-used format? It just feels like maybe M&S or someone else may have made this film before? I bet these big musical numbers are a lot of fun to create though.

Boots: intriguing, cinematic and clearly full of festive delight. Jenna Coleman is a popular choice and who knew she had such a diverse family at home (wink). This is a real example of go hard or go home: the super-deluxe, edit-length version has everything you could ask for in a Christmas ad, thanks to Tom Hooper. It’s beautifully crafted for sure. I’m just relieved they didn’t break into song. Musicals do my head in.

Disney: emotional storytelling is definitely Disney’s wheel house and this new offering “Stepdad” is no slouch. If you like your ads fuzzy and warm with a big powerful narrative and an emotive ballad delivered by Gregory Porter, then you will love this jam. This is a real world blended family.

Many of the films in this selection, including Disney’s, certainly deliver a level of inclusive casting. It is good to see this improvement, of course. So although I am acknowledging that the dial has certainly moved since I reviewed this time last year, it is important to note that "in front of the camera’’ is improving a lot faster than “behind the camera” on that score.

Here’s hoping that if Campaign asks me back in 2022, I review a selection that includes a raft of films that were conceived, written or directed by underrepresented talent. Now that would be something to behold. Happy Christmas one and all. Peace and love.

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