It’s no secret the ad world had a unique challenge ahead of them with this year’s Christmas ads roadshow. So much to consider and grapple with - how do you appeal to all when division and dissent have somewhat defined the year in more ways than one? Having said that, the spotlight has also been on more positive things like unity, community, the importance of friends, family and the simpler things which provides an abundance of creative potential. So…beyond the ‘spot the facemask’ or counting whether more than 6 people are gathered, many were eager to see what would be done this year.
Ignoring the elephant in the room never feels productive, so I was keen to see how Covid and its effects would colour this year’s ads. Social commentary does not suit everyone, but being in touch with what is happening around your audience seems like a basic requirement. How far brands and organisations ‘read the room’ plays a huge role in how they are received by consumers.
During times of upheaval there is something truly comforting about tradition. The expected and common tropes of the letter to Santa, leaving milk and cookies out, having children at the centre, were reassuringly present in some of this year’s ads.
Each brought something different to the table - McDonalds had the music, Amazon had the performance and TKMaxx had the humour with a tearjerker from Supervalu. One theme we noticed was the prevalence of reality vs fantasy. And perhaps this year we all needed that extra dose of fantasy.
Burberry’s ‘Singing in the Rain’ was a personal favourite of mine. It’s cool, modern, quirky feel gives it a high watchability factor. It retains quality and sleekness whilst delivering something that is rather cinematic and stand out. Choreography centred around hitting ice blocks – why not? Behind the scenes Burberry have also gained favour partnering with Marcus Rashford MBE on this initiative to support the UK’s youth. They also developed a Tik Tok initiative dubbed #DanceAndDonate where they challenge people to recreate a section of choreography from the ad and donate to their chosen charities.
Perhaps this is the perfect balance, extravaganza on screen but contributing to reality off screen. I can’t fault it. Other players like McDonalds have committed to funding FareShare to redistribute over 5 million meals by 2021. John Lewis & Partners are also matching donations for FareShare and family support charity Home Start.
There were undoubtedly big names behind some of the ads this year. Melina Matsoukas, who has worked with Beyonce and Rhianna, directed Amazon’s ad and Thor director, Taika Waititi, directed the Coco-Cola ad. The Sainsbury’s ad caught my eye for a different reason. Opting not for the cinematic, large scale production route, but instead filming on things like old iPhones and disposable cameras, they delivered something special. Just when we thought they couldn’t top the legend that was #plugboy from their 2018 Christmas ad, Sainsbury’s have brought us another goodie.
The three parter featuring Gravy Song, Perfect Portions and Big Sarnie brings a focus to personal traditions. Too often Christmas is played back to us as a one size fits all, formulaic series of events that is presumed to be everyone’s experience. What Sainsbury’s have beautifully captured here is that sense of the hyper personal and intimate traditions that exist within the umbrella of food, family and fun. Everyone has their unique Christmas traditions - intentional or not, logical or not - and Sainsbury’s have delivered a visually captivating ode to that. The home video style really brings those themes of nostalgia and memories to the forefront. It’s warm, relatable and authentic in style and message.
In a similar vein, McDonalds get extra brownie points from me for relevance and being relevant whilst not touching on Covid which is extra impressive. Pandemic aside, the usual bugbears of life remain, time is still passing, kids are still growing. I’m not a parent yet myself but I know it struck a deep chord of truth with many who are. A strong, simple, yet resonant narrative that taps into a fear but ultimately provides hope, a hope that is very on brand for Christmas – the time of connection.
Variety is the spice of life and this year’s Christmas ads have certainly given us that. Whether you’re holding down vomit from the Plenty ad or holding back laughter from the Very ad – there is certainly some great work to be enjoyed.
Senior Research Executive
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