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The Good, Bad And Ugly Of The 2016 Christmas Ad Season

Not sure when John Lewis's Christmas adverts took on the eager anticipation aura of Budweiser's US Clydesdale commercials, but Aldi's 'Kevin the Carrot watches John Lewis' spot spoofs this phenomenon beautifully.

This year's John Lewis advert dropped a week later than expected. 'Buster the Boxer' features bouncing foxes, badgers, hedgehogs, squirrels and, of course, Buster on a trampoline intended for a very cute little girl, ending with the tagline, 'Gifts that everyone will love'. A full 360o surround sound campaign (in store, online, social media) goes with it, including behind the scenes explanations, and a percentage of related plush toy sales will go to The Wildlife Trusts.

Perhaps I'm just a Grinch, but this year's Christmas adverts are, for the most part, far from impressive with respect to their primary purpose - driving purchase. Most seem to have lost track of trying to drive business for the sake of brand image building or entertainment. Many are jumping on the 'buy our featured character' plush toy bandwagon, with little regard for whether the ad will drive further purchase from their broader assortment.

So for better or for worse, here is a rundown of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly to date.


NotontheHighStreet with its 'Magic is Real' focuses on selling the contribution its 5,000 partners elves can make to anyone's gift giving. Featuring a number of partners elves and their products in the making, it has subtle humour in all the right places (look for the delivery van's registration plate, the reindeer out the window, and some of the ears). Beautifully shot, it is a joy to watch and very likely to drive custom. Well done!

M&S's 'Christmas with love from Mrs Claus' is terrific. In a major departure from the strutting models of yesteryear (adopted by House of Fraser this year), the advert uses subtle humour (check out the chopper's tail number), discreet product placement (bet the glittery red trainers and red coat dress sell out in a flash), sibling rivalry and wives 'managing' husbands to insightfully remind us that Christmas and gifting are about thoughtfulness and sharing with the ones we love this time of year. Lovely to watch again and again, and very likely to drive business.


Harrod's animation short, A Very British Bear, on the other hand, is all Christmas with a cute bear (Hugh), Santa Claus, elves, Rudolf and the sleigh. After a nasty elf casts a freezing spell on Harrod's, Hugh climbs to the rooftop so he can call on Santa at the North Pole to save them. The film is a cute, complete story and likely to appeal to children. Of course a Hugh the Bear plush toy will be available for sale and there is to be a Very British Bear Tale storybook as well. Perhaps Harrod's is hoping to replicate John Lewis' sell out of Monty the Penguin within hours of its 2014 Christmas ad launch. It is questionable whether this advert appeals to Harrod's normal target audience and whether it will drive footfall, despite its entertainment value.

Perhaps considered traitorous, but this year's John Lewis advert could be classed among the Bad, from a driving sales perspective. It is cute to watch, but is the trampoline an example of 'gifts that everyone will love' (ie., buy)? On the entertainment front, A-level student Nick Jablonka's 'The Snow Globe' 'fake' John Lewis Christmas advert is far better, in terms of repeat watchability, and its 'appreciate the moments' sentiment is so much more in tune with the season.


TK Maxx's 'The Sing-Song' is puzzling. With a tag line of 'surprising gifts at surprising prices', it is not clear what they are advertising. The clothes? The fairy lights? If I wasn't familiar with TK Maxx, I wouldn't know why to shop there.

Sainsbury's departs from prior years' popular 'Mog', to bring us a tedious, repetitive 3D printing enamoured spot in 'The Greatest Gift' which tries to tell us 'the greatest gift I can give is me' - okay, then, not shopping at Sainsbury's for gifts or food.


For the most part, the winners this year are the production houses. But regardless of whether Christmas adverts are loved or hated, whether they drive sales or merely attempt to build the brand, what they do accomplish is getting us talking about them. And we will be talking about them, beyond this week and even again next year when the next batch drops and start our analysis all over again.

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