Christmas 2021 wrapped: What we found out about some of the most discussed festive ads this year

And so this is Christmas..

Advertising is hard all year round, but then you add in Christmas and the time, money, effort and graft that goes into advertising is too frequently ignored by many in our industry let alone the people we speak to.

Surely for agencies and brand owners alike, the challenge of Christmas 2021 was even more magnified? How do you plan a Christmas ad when you really can’t know what kind of Christmas we’d be having? And we’ve seen how quickly plans can change…

So, against this backdrop we pulled on our Christmas jumpers, opened the mince pies and cast our eyes across a selection of 2021 Christmas ads … we focused our attention on five ads that had attracted (spontaneous) comment from ‘real people’ in our recent group discussions.

But first, a Nursery Nod (NN) to JD Sports and Sports Direct who chose to fill their ads with some celebs, a few more celebs and then some additional celebs. A veritable who’s who of sport, music and culture as these great survivors of the high street strive for fame through fame, and the time-honoured and trusted technique of lots of talented, popular people. We had to watch and watch again just to check we spotted everyone (nothing says Christmas like Big Narstie in a snowball fight). And a further NN to Tesco as they went for it with confidence, courage and a foot-tapping, mood-capturing tune. Record setting complaint numbers apparently; we desperately hope that the teams in WGC and Kingly Street are wearing that badge with pride.

Right, on to what our friendly (online and in-person) group participants have been picking out:

Lonely this Christmas

It was all about tone for Amazon as they chose to focus on the pandemic of mental health problems faced in the last year. The discreet portrayal of living life in a form that can easily be eschewed at this time of year was appreciated; nice story, real, beautiful, and a reminder to give gifts and smiles to those who need it. But just a bit weird for one or two of our panel – and the inevitable cries of “give some tax money first, Jeff” from others.

A spaceman came travelling

From global monolith to the monolith of expectation … John Lewis did what John Lewis does, with what is now customary (taken for granted?) delicacy and charm; a tale of a young boy coming across a stranded alien and giving it its first Christmas complete with modern-nostalgic tunes. Worth saying – lots of people still love this: it has depth, beauty and nuance, and as the ‘was it better than last year’ debate raged, we acknowledged that it was the only one where we could recall intimate detail of ads from previous years – highlighting the distinctive different-but-consistent virtues that makes the whole series of ads the envy of all. Like a puppy, it’s not just for Christmas (or lockdown).  

Not Driving Home for Christmas

Is it a coincidence that McDonald’s is up next? Cute kids, cuter monster, Cindy Lauper + Mabel, we love it. Persistence with the carrots (sorry, Reindeer Sticks) is admirable and its a genuinely lovely film. Push backs? Asset lovers amongst us were hoping for a few more golden arches and some (Dads of a certain age by the look) missed the winning combination of journey and pop-in-for-burger family treat. But a Big McWinner nonetheless.

Step into Christmas

So when is a film a film and an ad an ad? Disney’s offering was nearly ruled out of our review on grounds of length but context is everything and we suspect the media buy is heavy on cinema and what a pre-film treat it can be. It would be easy to over-rationalise this one – what was it selling - but we suspect that misses the point so we’ll just enjoy the movie. Those hard to please nesters raised eyes to the heavens and were left with a slightly queasy feeling inside … but it’s Disney, and we all need a bit of it in our lives.

In Dulci Jubilo

A more traditional tale was called upon by Aldi, ‘A Christmas Carol’ (sorry Carrot) providing the backdrop for the annual adventures of Kevin (seemingly becoming one of advertising’s most easily identifiable characters). Filled with numerous references and wee jokes (Cuthbert in handcuffs ho ho, Marcus Radishford wink-wink) … to boot, well-branded and likely to have kept the product team happy too with a quick sweep across a loaded Christmas table. What’s not to like? Aldi, bravo.

So where does this leave us? Who won? Who lost? Well, for sheer numbers of positive recalls and smiles, Aldi likely takes the Gold. But in a briefless world, that’s not our purpose nor our place … we should just sit back and appreciate some really good work.

Merry Christmas!