It’s the time of year when retailers clutch at the heartstrings, make us laugh or leave us flatly indifferent with their Christmas ads. Our experts decide who has managed which this festive season

Our experts

Bryan Roberts, global insights director at TCC Global, Rob Metcalfe, chairman, Richmond & Towers, Jemima Bird, CEO & Founder of Hello Finch, and Neil Godber, joint head of planning, Wunderman Thompson

Iceland

Total score: 19/40

BR: I get it – it’s an insanely popular movie franchise. And yeah: Frozen. Frozen food. I see what you did there. But there’s just a fleeting glimpse of a generic Christmas dinner that could be from anywhere. Where is the focus on Iceland’s amazing private label? Their brilliant party food? Their trailblazing NPD? Nowhere to be seen. This feels like Disney using Iceland to sell Frozen rather than Iceland using Disney to sell frozen. 5/10

RM: Perhaps wisely, Iceland has ditched its environmental creds in this year’s ad (last year’s palm oil con saw it removing its brand from some own-label products, rather than the oil) and leapt upon the fortuitous link with the film Frozen. It’s a not entirely happy mash-up that smacks of creative desperation. For anyone who hasn’t seen the film it’s meaningless. For anyone who hates the film and its horrible Disney schmaltz, it’s much easier to hate Iceland now too. 4/10

JB: Sure, why not? Discounted frozen looks pretty good when you wrap it in Disney and sprinkle some pixel dust. Assuming the Frozen movie tie-up was a barter deal of sorts, you’d think there’d be budget left over to invest something into diversity. Nonetheless, I’m sure it’ll inspire many kids to do thy bidding and deliver the Magic of Frozen message to their middle class parents. It’s fine if a bit naff … give me Rang-tan. 6/10

NG: While I like the idea of doing something Christmassy with the Frozen cast such as playing charades, beyond the play on language, it has little to do with Iceland. It’s a real shame it hasn’t gone further with the idea beyond association and salience. 4/10

Asda

Total score: 23/40

BR: This is a lovely little film with a sweet story, some pleasing visual humour and a heartstring-plucking subplot. So far so good. In all honesty though, it wasn’t until the Asda logo appeared at the end that I realised it was an Asda commercial. There is very little, if any, call to action here: why am I going to cross the road to go to Asda on the back of that? 6/10

RM: The presence of a (recently?) dead grandpa lends this phantasmagorical epic a rather sombre tone. Perhaps more fundamentally, there is nothing, absolutely nothing in this ad which would make anyone want to go anywhere near Asda this Christmas. ‘Let’s make Christmas extra special’ is about as lame a tagline as you can get. A perfect demonstration of an ad with no purpose. 4/10

JB: At two minutes long, one’s first instinct is that it’ll drag - but Asda’s ad delivers all the multi-emotional dimensions of Christmas via a pretty simple story. OK, there’s magic, lights, nonsense and heartstrings, but the conclusion will put a lump in the throat of even the most cynical advertising veteran. It’s a bit kitchen sink with all the themes, special effects and gimmicks but if we can’t indulge a bit at Christmas… 7/10

NG: The ad ticks the box of every festive distinctive asset, with sibling tensions and loved grandparents, fantastical make-believe, mishaps and magic, Northern England Lights and the contagious nature of the season. I’d like to see more of Asda, though. 6/10

Aldi 

Total score: 29/40

BR: Another instalment in the Kevin the Carrot saga, this time with a new nemesis in the shape of the Leafy Blinders led by Russell Sprout. As per usual, there are manifold pleasing visual gags, some highlighting of Aldi’s food, a hint of aspirational quality and not a mention of pricing. No doubt to be accompanied by some sprout and carrot-related merchandising, this once again hits the mark. Although Kevin’s been upstaged by the peas, in my humble opinion. 7/10

RM: The loathsome Kevin refuses to die in this ad where the joins between the disparate ideas are a bit too obvious. Either the sprout thing or the Let Me Entertain You thing would have worked better alone. Together they are clumsy. And goodness knows what Robbie Williams was doing letting his song be bastardised. It’s not funny (apart from the “smother me in cranberries” line) and it’s not clever. 6/10

JB: I like Aldi. Their advertising is usually pretty bob-on. They do sponsorship and partnerships well and are often very progressive. That said, Kevin the Carrot’s not for everyone and if Asda’s ad is kitchen sink, this is fridge, freezer, crockery and several JML appliances too. Some dismissed last year’s Kevin the Carrot ads as too safe. Really. So this year we’ve turned it up to Nigel Tufnell’s 11 with a side serving of meth amphetamine. As the winter draws in and Brexit turns into an election before it turns back into Brexit, escapist technicolour ridiculousness is fine by me. 8/10

NG: Aldi’s unlikely hero goes from strength to strength in this colourful romp packing in a variety performance of pop culture references, from Peaky Blinders to Robbie Williams to the Greatest Showman. It is hugely confident, wonderful in execution, loaded with neat touches and sure to entertain and engage. 8/10

Lidl

Total score: 29/40

BR: This is good stuff: combining affordability, food and drink quality and a well-observed narrative over the foibles of a typical British family Christmas (I especially like the improvised deckchair seating at the dining table). However, the ad is centred on believability, a theme that is slightly undone by the beautifully orderly and faced-up middle aisle; a stark contrast to real life where it looks like it has been bombed. 7/10

RM: It’s a mark of just how badly formulaic Christmas advertising has become that this Lidl contender seems so thrillingly different. A well-delivered knee in the baubles to its competitors, it does what ads are supposed to do: differentiates the Lidl proposition and delivers key messages (price, quality, range – who knew Lidl had keyboards?) This is the only ad I’ve seen so far that may actually sell something. 9/10

JB: Simple, light, bouncy - typical and traditional. Lidl has dusted off and recycled a tried and tested storyboard to signpost their shelves, offers and inventory with proof points throughout. It’s textbook. Entitled A Christmas you can believe in, the ad does deliver something real and relatable - even down to the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment with the buffering internet. It’s not exactly inspired but it doesn’t try to submerge us in tears, quirks, complexity or metaphors. Playing it safe is sometimes A-OK. 7/10

NG: Lidl is encouraging viewers to see through idealised festive depictions of Christmas in favour of the real lives and real fun we can all believe in. The film is packed with well-observed nods to the real rituals and moments throughout the festive period. However, I’m not sure Lidl shoppers need Lidl advocating for less make-believe, especially at Christmas. 6/10

M&S

Total score: 18/40

BR: Sadly overshadowed by M&S’s own excellent Jumpers ad, where knitwear-sporting folk convulse to House of Pain, the food offering is decent enough but I’m still slightly baffled by the retailer’s decision to fall back on celebrities rather than being a bit more imaginative. That said, this ad does a fine job of showing off several hero products amidst the forced banter and schmaltzy backdrop. Salted caramel cream remains a crime against humanity though. 5/10

RM: This is not just a heart attack, it’s an M&S Christmas food-induced heart attack. Paddy McGuinness and Emma Willis play their parts well in a paean to processing, but it’s difficult to escape just how unhealthily indulgent an M&S menu looks. And why is the choir humming ‘Albatross’? Maybe it’s a subtle comment on the need for Christmas advertising. 7/10

JB: Big-contract talents Paddy McGuinness and Emma Willis are front-and-centre to revive and poke at the food porn schtick that defined Marks’ naughties. The intention’s clear: harking back to a theme that, for all its absurdity, was at least memorable but with relatable personalities inviting us into the joke. Unfortunately, however, it’s neither one thing nor the other. It’s not food porn, it’s not inviting. The best moment’s an off-the-cuff Paddy line which gets swallowed up in the dross. If Marks was uber-confident in what Paddy and co are there to do, they should be given more rope to do it. Sadly, no dice - the ad does little, says little, delivers little. A missed opportunity. 2/10

NG: The setting is a fitting surrogate store, displaying the range of special extras to which people might treat themselves and their guests. As expected, the food looks delicious, rich and as we’ve been taught over years, ‘this is not just food’. However, the ad is let down by the script and interplay between Willis and McGuinness, which feels stilted and forced. 4/10

Sainsbury’s

Total score: 24/40

BR: Utterly mystifying to be honest. Perhaps I’m being thick, but I found the narrative confusing, the London/North Pole adjacency disconcerting and the overall impact more than slightly hollow. Although we get a fleeting glimpse of Plug Boy, this only serves to remind us of previous triumphs and puts this current effort in a rather unflattering light. Might just be me, but this leaves me cold. 5/10

RM: It’s not at all clear how viewers are supposed to react to Sainsbury’s expensive-looking ad. Be amazed by the company’s endurance? Be impressed by an improbable act of charity? Be amused by the historical mickey-taking? Or just feel good about a long-lived grocer? It’s a good illustration of the delusions of marketeers who think people care (or can be made to care) that much about a retail brand. In the real world, Sainsbury’s is just a shop, and this ad is over the top. 7/10

JB: As a standalone piece, this reskinning of Dickens’ Fagin story gets big ticks for colours, effects and production. But is it just me - isn’t this utterly devastating for a Christmas ad? Sure, the orphans enjoy one over their evil guardian - cool. But isn’t tomorrow again about starvation and sweeping chimneys? That’s not a festive story I want to watch. Merry bloody Christmas. 4/10

NG: Sainsbury’s has treated us to a Santa origin story in this beautifully produced fantastical tale. The story neatly uses our archetypal Dickensian Christmas to tie in the origins of Sainsbury’s with a backstory of how Nicholas became Santa. Sainsbury’s has found a way to avoid blending anonymously into the wider noise, capitalising on the wider trend in culture towards looking beyond the heroic persona, to humanise and pull us closer into their lives and motives. 8/10

Waitrose/JLP

Total score: 30/40

BR: The key moment that heralds the official launch of Yuletide, John Lewis has this year joined forces with supermarket sibling Waitrose for a combined effort. Perhaps I’m a bit jaded, but this feels far too formulaic. Snow? Tick. Cute CGI creature? Tick. Whimsical cover version? Tick. It’s a nice film, a nice story and all that but it feels like a safe bet that sits entirely within the comfort zone. Still; a million times better than last year’s. 6/10

JB: Ah shucks, I’ve only gone and fallen for the damn dragon. Edgar is delightful, different, ditzy. He’s brilliant. At two-and-a-half minutes it’s almost dragging but then comes the switcheroo, the fabulous feast and the flaming finale. It’s cute, it’s Christmas, it’s John Lewis (oh and Waitrose). 9/10

NG: This year is a return to the delightful Christmas fables from John Lewis, losing the celebrity endorsements in favour of an enchanting friendship tale of a girl and her young dragon friend. The film is beautifully shot and anyone with children is sure to be moved to remember that children act for the best intentions, even if it goes wrong. It’s a wonderful tale. 9/10

RM: Each year John Lewis releases a short Christmas film with its name at the end. There’s a feeble attempt to link the two with the ‘show them how much you care’ tagline, but even that now feels like an afterthought. It’s a nice film. But it has nothing to do with John Lewis and even less with Waitrose. 6/10

Tesco

Total score: 20/40

JB: This is such a great concept but the execution’s a shocker. Tesco tries to pack 100 years of Christmas into 90 seconds. When someone says Christmas, I automatically think 1990s raves, Churchill on the sauce and Jim Bowen. Said no one ever. This was begging for time, thought and consideration; instead we get gags, puns and silliness. 2/10

NG: A time travelling delivery van is hit by falling Christmas lights and goes on a tour through the ages via Winston Churchill, the Queen, and Jim Bowen. This seems a little caught between random programmes and celebrities (a theme that has worked in Tesco’s year-round campaign), and traditional themes from royalty to Dickens. 6/10

RM: Weird, and not funny weird. It all bowls along inoffensively (though the history is a bit iffy) until we burst onto the set of 1980s quiz Bullseye to be greeted by the long-dead Jim Bowen. Technically inept and narratively incoherent, this smacks of a meeting where everyone chucked ideas in and they forgot to cross out the bad ones. 5/10

BR: Deftly tied into the Tesco centenary, this Back to the Future homage manages to be a likeable tour through history while at the same time showcasing some key festive products. It feels like a nice conclusion to the retailer’s 100 Years of Value campaign and finishes up with a cheery family theme. 7/10

Amazon

Total score: 17/40

JB: Not only has that Blues Brothers soundtrack been done to death, it feels like the song came first and they built the rest around it. I know exactly how the brief went too: I want Amazon at the centre of Christmas! I also want families, diversity, same-sex couples and the local shopkeepers we care so deeply about. 1/10

NG: It’s good to see some of the principles of brand-building followed: stacks of feelgood emotion; repeated distinctive assets in their now increasingly ownable boxes; TV as a mass reach engaging medium; sing-a-long song recycling popular culture; leaving viewers on a positive. All good stuff. But what would have made this work better is more of the MAYA principle: most advanced yet acceptable, a bit like Christmas. 6/10

RM: Amazon can’t be short of a bob or two. And I believe they do sell some stuff in the UK. So why not make a Christmas ad for this market rather than delivering something so obviously American? 4/10

BR: A copy & paste global ad. That aside, not a bad effort. Singing boxes, family moments and a solid production that won’t perhaps convert many non-Amazon shoppers but will land well with Prime loyalists. 6/10

Argos

Total score: 35/40

JB: Love everything about it. From the casting to the set, the music to the story. Calling the Christmas catalogue the ‘Book of Dreams’ is a perfect full stop on a story arc that begins with a cute Christmas wish and ends with child-like visions of stage and stardom. 9/10

NG: Argos has produced an excellent ad, transforming the paper doorstep catalogue into the Book of Dreams. The real magic happens as dad considers his daughter’s choice of present. It’s sure to get people shopping. 9/10

RM: In one fell swoop, the arse-end of retailing – the catalogue – has become aspirational. You need something wildly over the top in order to get an idea as counterintuitive as that across, and this ad certainly delivers. 8/10

BR: This is great. The film reminds us all of childhood sessions poring over the catalogue hoping for gifts. Nice nostalgic music, great interplay between father and daughter, and all in all a lovely production. 9/10

M&S jumpers

Total score: 28.5/40

JB: It’s better than their food ad. And maybe M&S will shift more novelty jumpers. If that’s the aim, cool. Though I suspect it’s not. I don’t know if anyone smartened up brand chiefs that the song used in the ad (House of Pain’s Jump Around) later includes the lyric: “I’ll serve your ass like John McEnroe. If your girl steps up, I’m smacking the ho”. I’ll let that percolate for a minute or two. 5/10

NG: The second outing from M&S gets the celebrities out of the way and allows its products to do the talking, in the form of possessed woolly jumpers that bring life to their wearers. The ad is confident, fun, simple and slightly weird, showing the involuntary effects of their knitwear from house parties to office workers and drivers. Even the overly serious performances and ‘Go jumpers for Christmas!’ bring a sense of absurdity to the work. 7.5/10

RM: If only M&S could bring some of this infectious energy to its lame old food ads. This is a very good idea, very well executed and with enough visual gags to bear much repeat viewing. In fact it is so good that you almost don’t notice how horrible some of the jumpers are. There’s retro and there’s wretched. 8/10

BR: Inexplicably enjoyable. The ad highlights products, raises a smirk and bears repeat viewing. Not sure that you can ask for more than that. 8/10

Visa

Total score: 24/40

JB: Visa’s ad builds a message via the many faces that comprise the Great British high street. Queen’s Somebody to Love couldn’t be a finer song choice, and with it Visa extends a challenge through the voices of real people. Four points off though: one for making me feel guilty shopping online. One because it’s a bit try-hard. And two more because it’s not like Visa’s hands are clean regarding the death of the high street. 6/10

NG: It remains a distinctive and laudable approach to stack the corporate heft of the Visa brand behind our beloved, yet increasingly fragile local shops. This feels especially relevant during the vital Christmas period; while we want unique special local items, we often wind up opting for convenience. 7/10

RM: I’m not sure Visa intended to film a requiem for high street shopping. But with a bunch of miserable and defeated-looking retailers whinging on in song about how hard it is to make a living and pleading for customers – somebody, somebody – it looks like the end is nigh for all of these businesses. 3/10

BR: If your local high street is not already full of vape shops and pawnbrokers, Visa is exhorting you to show some love to your nearby independent traders. This is a great message, a charming ad and will hopefully encourage some shoppers to get off the internet and down their local shops. Good work. 8/10

Walkers

Total score: 28.5/40

JB: We don’t believe Mariah would withstand one nanosecond of confrontation without a major meltdown. But Walkers sidesteps the fact Ms Carey’s no national treasure by instead playing to her rep for throwing tantrums. It’s a pretty shrewd – and no doubt expensive – bit of casting. Even beyond the song, it looks and feels very Love Actually. So I’m in: bowl of Walkers, Richard Curtis schmaltz. That’s all I want for Christmas. 7/10

NG: The Walkers advertising recipe is tried and tested, demonstrating the levels of bad behaviour that irresistibility can lead to, this time with Christmas diva Mariah Carey. The ad plays into the kitsch nostalgia of festive music, before a fun denouement of Carey using her famous high pitch to secure the last bag. 7.5/10

RM: How much better Walkers’ advertising is without Gary Lineker. This is a cracker, not least because it suggests Mariah Carey is a diva with a sense of humour. Good performances from the supporting cast (apart from the crisps which look dull and sound unpleasant) and a lack of the gloopy sentimentality on show in so many other ads, may make this my festive fave. 9/10

BR: The ad does a good job of highlighting the limited-edition seasonal flavours and has some moments that nearly summon a smile but the use of Mariah Carey and her ludicrous crisp-biting technique does little to generate brand warmth. 5/10