Which of the supermarket Christmas ads is our favourite in 2018 and which have us gazing in bewilderment? The Grocer’s expert panel delivers its verdict
Meet our panel
Bryan Roberts, global insights director at TCC Global, Neil Godber, head of planning, J Walter Thompson London, Rob Metcalfe, chief executive, Richmond & Towers, Trefor Thomas, global chief creative officer, Tug
Total score: 23/40
The ad: Kevin the Carrot is back, tackling villainous vegetables in a fairytale-themed series. It follows a teaser in which he drove a Coke-inspired lorry.
BR: Aldi, which has perfected paying homage to brands through private label, went further with a thinly veiled borrowing of the Coca-Cola truck in the prelude ad. Kevin the Carrot makes a welcome return. It’s impressive how quickly Aldi has created a durable franchise. Good to see the carroty wife and kids again too. 7/10
NG: I was eager to see how Aldi could use Kevin as an entertainment property. However, the brand feels to be playing it too safe, returning to their now recognisable format narrated by Jim Broadbent. The work is high on production values, layered with amusing details and charm, but now borders on being overly familiar without enough novelty. 6/10
RM: Another ad featuring the hateful little vegetable in the mistaken belief they have created an endearing and campaignable character. They haven’t. It was a thin idea in the first place and stretched to year three it makes even less sense. What has this to do with Aldi? Nothing. Pass the grater. 2/10
TT: Finally Kevin gets the creative treatment he deserves - a well-written, beautifully crafted spot. Kev saves the day, and at the same time shows a mouth-watering table of food. 8/10
Total score: 26/40
The ad: Santa fires a cannon that unleashes Christmas, including revellers, sleighs, yetis and motorbikes.
BR: This is not without its charm and does well in showcasing the breadth of Asda’s festive offering, featuring food, fashion, decorations and toys, without banging the usual price drum. I’m surprised it didn’t hammer the toy aspect a bit harder given the market share up for grabs following the demise of Toys R Us. Engaging and warm, even though it could work just as well with any supermarket’s logo slapped on it. 6/10
NG: Asda has ignited Christmas with a juggernaut of an ad. Having previously tried multiple short-length ads acting as a ‘to-do’ list, Asda has planted itself within the frenzy of Christmas, summed up with the line ‘Everything you need to bring Christmas home’. It’s a neat line, referencing the literal home I suspect Asda wants to be associated with. 5/10
RM: You are going to like this ad whether you like it or not and we’ll keep chucking things in until you do. Like a rogue state run by Santa, it shells us into submission with rocket-propelled Christmas missiles that explode unmitigated Yuletide all over us until we give in. It’s epic, silly and rather fun. 8/10
TT: I do love a big theatrical production at Christmas. This is my favourite so far this year. Entertaining, engaging and with a clear message. Basically, you can get everything from Asda. For many, Christmas is chaos incarnate, which is brought to life here. 7/10
Total score: 17/40
The ad: Nigel ‘upgrades Christmas’ with Lidl party food but goes too far with imported snow that washes him away. One of a series sharing the ‘upgrade’ theme.
BR: A solid job of showcasing some of the premium products on offer as well as communicating sharp pricing. The theme of ‘upgrading’ Christmas with Lidl is testament to the excellent way the chain has repositioned itself from a cheap German discounter into a mainstream quality-led destination. A nice bit of British slapstick humour rounds things off. 8/10
NG: Unlike its competition, the campaign feels quiet and observed rather than festive and excited, which I’m not sure is right for the brand. This feels like a brand with a chip on its shoulder, still observing those who foolishly go too far and waste their money. ‘Upgrading’ Christmas sounds cold and functional. 3/10
RM: Nigel is a fully-fledged arse/elbow ‘surely snow doesn’t melt’ idiot. Buy your party time chicken breast skewers from us and you can be an idiot too! Poor Nigel, He doesn’t look like a bad bloke and his friends seem to be having fun. But he shops at Lidl and he’s an idiot, the ad seems to say. 4/10
TT: Where’s the charm gone? The ad is basically Christmas going wrong. The essence is that Nigel bought from Lidl. Next scene: Nigel is an idiot. Ipso facto: idiots buy from Lidl. If that wasn’t bad enough, the poorly shot food looks less than appetising, a crime given what the ad is trying to achieve. 2/10
Total score: 22/40
The ad: Real customers and staff discuss their favourite M&S Christmas foods in the supermarket’s first unscripted ad, with 11 versions to follow across social media and TV.
BR: The use of real punters and staff makes a nice change from previous showbiz efforts and it is effective to home in on a few products rather than blitzkrieg an entire range. In line with the old ‘this is not just’ food porn campaigns, the food styling and filming are exemplary. Unlike the Paddington campaign last year, this has a call to action and could crowbar M&S back into consideration. 8/10
NG: We are used to M&S creating worlds of magic and sparkle. This year, it has turned to a vox pops-esque creative. One of the issues premium brands wrestle with is managing to let their consumers in, to get closer, while retaining a premium feel. This work just about pulls it off, building an M&S version of reality. It’s a shame they have omitted the great endline ‘Spend it Well’, though. 6/10
RM: This is narcissism driven by the delusion that anyone outside the imagination of M&S marketers might have seasonal ‘M&S favourites’ and be so excited they want to go on telly and share. All of which has the undesired effect of making M&S shoppers look a bit weird. 4/10
TT: This ad talks to over-stylised customers who remarkably all have their favourites. But will it evolve into anything other than an unbelievable social conversation? Hopefully the remaining executions in the series will be more rewarding. 4/10
Total score: 26/40
The ad: A string of clips shows us how Christmas is a little different for everyone.
BR: Building on last year’s ‘Everyone’s Welcome at Tesco’ message, this gives us a diverse and vibrant portrait of the UK and the different ways Christmas is celebrated. As well as no doubt infuriating less enlightened keyboard warriors, the campaign enables Tesco to showcase its products across the pricing spectrum and reminds us it has rediscovered the knack of being all things to all people. 7/10
NG: The work is elegantly observed and feels real, breaking the fourth wall. It confirms rather than challenges or questions, so if I had a niggle, it would be to ask whether in an uncertain world of Brexit worries and divisions, could the UK’s biggest supermarket have done more? 7/10
RM: Apparently some people like sprouts and some don’t. In fact, it turns out not everybody in the UK eats at Christmas in exactly the same way. This singularly lame insight is the feeble creative idea behind this ad. Which is a shame, because it is well made and acted and has some nice moments - not least the selfie angst visual gag. But it’s built on a tedious premise and is quickly forgettable. 6/10
TT: Good production and casting and a charming narrative. It promotes the Tesco range well. But it will likely soon be forgotten. It’s better than many Christmas ads but it would have been great if the vignettes featured were more memorable, to lift the story. 6/10
Total score: 28/40
The ad: A rebranded Greenpeace animation featuring a baby orangutan who tells a little girl his home has been destroyed by deforestation caused by palm oil production. Iceland said it wanted to offer consumers a palm oil-free Christmas.
BR: Another PR masterstroke from Iceland. A cynic would suggest it knew full well the ad would get ‘banned’ and therefore become a million times more impactful. Either way, a charming film raising awareness of an important issue. 9/10
NG: Iceland has landed a PR bomb. While government is responsible for environmental policy, corporates can and do step up to take on the fight for the planet and Iceland is the first retailer trying to offer a palm oil-free Christmas. Do I think it’s brave? Absolutely. They have taken a stance and should be applauded. 9/10
RM: Well, we’re a million miles from Peter Andre’s party platters. In fact so far, it’s not a Christmas ad at all. More a short NGO propaganda film with an Iceland message tacked on. The animation is sub-Disney schlock but the message is powerful enough. But do Iceland shoppers really care about palm oil? 2/10 (for not being festive)
TT: Iceland is up to some good, again. OK, so it hasn’t got any reference to Christmas and it’s spinning the PR machine out of control, but I’d say this is genuine support to raise awareness of their ethical approach and share a great message. 8/10
Total score: 27/40
The ad: A backward journey in clips through Elton John’s life to the moment he received a piano as a small boy for Christmas. ‘Your Song’ plays throughout.
BR: Regardless of its predecessors, this year’s ad is an open goal spooned over the bar. When the whole focus this year has been dwindling profits and Partners, to cast a multimillionaire is jarring and tone deaf. The creative is pleasant, but you could stick any logo at the end and no one would be any the wiser. 3/10
NG: Pure mesmeric emotional storytelling from John Lewis in an environment where everyone feels to have gone short and played safe. Even though you know where it’s going, you can’t help being entranced by this amazing cinematic tour through Elton John’s life as we see how important a gift can be. Chapeau. 10/10
RM: Differentiating your Christmas ad by not making a Christmas ad is clearly the future. John Lewis is promoting next year’s Rocketman biopic. Because they both have ‘John’ in their names? Not a good reason. It’s expensive and out of kilter. How many people will be handing out pianos? 5/10
TT: I’ve got to hand it to John Lewis and their creative agency, as they have done themselves proud again. Who doesn’t love a bit of Elton John at Christmas? The ad is beautifully and seamlessly produced with a simple, poignant moment at the end. The message of “some gifts are more than just a gift” aligns very well with the John Lewis brand. 9/10
Total score: 25/40
The ad: A school show raises the roof. Tagline: ‘We give all we’ve got for the ones we love’.
BR: A touch of déjà vu, on the heels of the JLP Bohemian Rhapsody extravaganza, shouldn’t detract from this lovely production with a heart-warming sentiment. 8/10
NG: A joyous blockbuster. The creative features wonderful performances from the children, packed with entertaining details. While there are some similarities with the Waitrose/John Lewis ad, this has a wonderful reality all of its own. 7/10
RM: Sainsbury’s ploughs on despite the similar but better John Lewis ad of three months earlier. There are many nice moments but it’s not as inventive or fun as JLP’s and it doesn’t really say anything about Sainsbury’s. 6/10
TT: The advert depicts an extravagant seasonal school play which, for most of us who live in the real world and know the constraints on school budgets, is less believable than Father Christmas. There is minimal product placement here, and no obvious storyline. While it’s heart-warming, how will it deliver a sales uplift? 4/10
Total score: 26/40
The ad: A choir performs an extremely fast rendition of Jingle Bells on learning that chocolate and cherry mince pies are to be served. The first of six ads in Waitrose’s ‘Too good to wait’ campaign.
BR: I can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed. The ‘Too Good to Wait’ theme is fine, but the ad itself comes across like a Vicar of Dibley out-take, with tepid humour and a focus on a product that actually sounds pretty unpleasant. The Heston franchise has reached the end of the road, I fear. 5/10
NG: Waitrose have ringed the changes, turning their back on long-form black-and-white storytelling in favour of a fun series of ads using Christmas rituals cut short by the offer of food. It’s an interesting approach, especially given this is the first Christmas for the Partners rebrand. While it brings some festive fun, it’s a long way from the serene shopping experience people love Waitrose for. 7/10
RM: Pinpoint accurate in its humour - who wouldn’t rather have a posh mince pie than listen to an amateur seasonal choir? - this nicely delivers festive fun alongside a hero product. And unlike the undifferentiated sprouts and turkey of other retailers, it’s a product unique to Waitrose. A Christmas ad that might even sell something. 8/10
TT: As a prolific mince pie eater, I can vouch for the Waitrose ones being good. The ad has timing, pace, humour and it’s well executed. I look forward to the next one. 6/10
Favourite: Iceland with 28/40
Least favourite: Lidl with 17/40