This year’s batch of festive ads has been rolling out the celebs aplenty, but a winning formula needs more than a famous face.
Instead, it’s storytelling that has won the day for Boots, in first place, and helped Tesco run it a close second.
Each ad has been given a score out of five by five judges, making the maximum total 25.
Jemima Bird: CEO and founder, Hello Finch
Neil Godber: executive strategy director, Wunderman Thompson
Rob Sellers: founder, Rob Sellers Consulting
Sue Higgs: executive creative director, Dentsu Creative UK
Rob Metcalfe: chairman, Richmond & Towers
Nick Woods: strategy & creative director, Sunny Side Up
Total score: 18
Kevin the Carrot returns, along with his rhyming veg friends, at a Willy Wonka-style festive food factory.
Jemima Bird: Surely Wonka’s been flogged and sold for parts enough? Nope. It’s Aldi’s turn to shine it up and work it anew. And do you know what? It’s great. As much it borrows, Aldi builds: trademark wit, fun, and who else but Kevin for another starring role? 4/5
Neil Godber: Aldi has wisely continued the runaway success of Kevin the Carrot. The care dedicated to the production contributes to building Aldi as a genuine destination for your Christmas food. 4/5
Sue Higgs: Beautifully animated, as ever, great story, great script and epically Christmassy. They’ve managed to make everything look wonderful and indulgent and exciting, yet really driven home the message that being good and caring for one another is what counts. 4/5
Rob Metcalfe: A fart joke, a bum joke, a knob joke. Oh, how we didn’t laugh. Aldi tries too hard to keep the Kevin tradition going and lobs the kitchen sink into this over-produced, over-complicated Roald Dahl homage. 2/5
Nick Woods: Aldi has real momentum, and this ad will keep it going. Kevin, puns galore, mickey-taking Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and gags for the adults all help make this ad feel alive. Supporting Neighbourly adds a little heart too. 4/5
Total score: 18
Three elderly friends recapture their childhood by sledging, with the help of some padding for their bums from Amazon.
Jemima Bird: You can’t help but admire creativity when it’s this well-judged, well-shot and ubiquitous. There’s nothing not to love in three lifelong friends rekindling youthful joy in their granny years. And the classic Beatles tune is a nice tie to their latest release. 5/5
Neil Godber: While it looks simple, this is testament to hard choices to portray an emotive story and take advantage of the highly emotional sentiment of Christmas to warm up the Amazon brand, and focus on just one narrative versus the endless range shots we’re subjected to from other brands. 4/5
Sue Higgs: Nothing says Christmas like a nanna with piles. Or that’s what I thought. Instead, we got joy-riding grannies…phew! The nostalgia piece and nod to the next gen is sweet, but it’s a little bit one-dimensional for me. 3/5
Rob Metcalfe: The older you get, the more patronising advertising becomes. Three American pensioners are the target here (the ad certainly isn’t filmed in Britain, anyway), reliving their collective tobogganing youths thanks to one of the nichest niche products in the Amazon catalogue – the foam sledge seat infill. Because coccyx comfort is the only thing holding them back. 2/5
Nick Woods: Suspending my built-in cynicism towards Amazon, this is lovely, gooey stuff. Isn’t it nice to see older faces in a Christmas ad, and not in some lazy, negative, old-person stereotype, but enjoying friends and being active? Great song choice too. 4/5
Total score: 15
Trevor the toy T-rex films as Connie the doll dances to Chic’s disco hit Le Freak, showcasing Argos tech along the way.
Jemima Bird: Argos has carved out a nice rep for Chrimbo ads, often besting the big-hitters in wit and creative nous. A realistically-shaped, glitzy female doll on centre stage is an apt and grounding move in the year Barbie broke the lexicon. It’s progressive, perfunctory and pink. Points for all three. 4/5
Neil Godber: The production and performance of the toy cast is great, along with the soundtrack. But for this ad to go beyond attention and products, I wanted it to give me more about why people should visit Argos versus Amazon or Tesco. 3/5
Sue Higgs: A good mascot’s always a retail winner and people love Connie and Trev. It’s populist and a little quirky. And though I much preferred ‘Book of Dreams’, with drummer Nandi Bushell, this has decent animation and a relatable scene. It’s also a solid way to showcase products. 3/5
Rob Metcalfe: Some nice visual gags as, once again, Argos tries to address the creative challenge of selling a shop full of random stuff. But does anyone else find Connie a bit creepy? Dolls that come to life are a staple of horror films for a reason. The product sightings are too brief and the important question – why buy something from Argos? – is completely avoided. 2/5
Nick Woods: This pretty much works, without rocking anyone’s world: established, popular characters, sequin dress and disco track, cute script, clear product cues, nods to Barbie and the world’s selfie obsession.3/5
Total score: 19
Michael Bublé approves Asda’s Christmas range as the supermarket’s new ‘chief quality officer’.
Jemima Bird: With brand Bublé deployed, Asda is essentially asking that shoppers trust their local green and white superstore for affordable Christmas sparkle. So, does the Bublé have the fizz? Time will tell. The ad kinda sucks but the campaign could be good 3/5
Neil Godber: After the incredible success of Buddy the Elf, Asda was always going to have to go big. Bublé is the perfect character to let Asda make a virtue of the often frustratingly early kick-off of Christmas ads. Fingers crossed for where this goes. 4/5
Sue Higgs: What’s more Christmassy than Elf? Mr Christmas himself, Michael Bublé, of course! Signing him up as Asda’s chief quality officer is a neat trick, but getting him to rattle off the product range in a way that’s memorable is down to a sharply comedic script and a good performance from Bublé. Unlike other celebrity turns this season (take note, Sainsbury’s), he’s at the heart of this idea, not just an add-on, or throwaway gag. 4/5
Rob Metcalfe: The script isn’t quite good enough to make the most of this and Bublé is in danger of looking like an indulged diva, rather than the epitome of festive spirit. A little more self-awareness and a dash of irony would be useful, but maybe that comes later in the series. 3/5
Nick Woods: Sometimes retailers bring emotional depth to their Christmas ad. Other times a simple pun will do. Well, a pun, great script, lead actor with good comic timing and Taika Waititi’s direction. Pop the Bublé will win Christmas. 5/5
Total score: 21
A girl asks “Who gives presents to Santa?” and embarks on a mission with her mum to the North Pole.
Jemima Bird: It’s an effective way to demonstrate product, range, affordability and the smile-inducing abilities of Boots swag. Funky tunes, girl power, and doesn’t the UK look splendid? The filmography is captivating and the story nods at the cost of living crisis. 4/5
Neil Godber: The question facing many brands is how much you go with the flow of Christmas to drive relevancy versus being distinctive. I think this work manages the balance, and hope it pays off for Boots. 5/5
Sue Higgs: This has great pace and lightness of touch. Carefree and nicely crafted, it knows what it’s trying to do and lands it perfectly. Thoughtful gifting and community spirit, without being sad. Bringing the joy strangely lacking from most of the others this year.3/5
Rob Metcalfe: What a clever ad. Nice creative, good performances, jolly but not clichéd music and an absurdly disparate bundle of Boots products, cleverly woven into the story, as naturally as can be. The result, unlike most of this year’s festive crop, is that it bears repeat viewing. Which means, also unlike most of the rest, it might actually prompt people to buy some things from Boots. 5/5
Nick Woods: It’s good to turn the traditional story on its head and then go large with an epic tale. It’s also good to have mother and daughter characters, and good casting, and good acting, and good soundtrack, and good use of products and a good, simple, memorable message. 4/5
Total score: 12
Deliveroo reminds us we order a mince pie for breakfast or Cantonese on Christmas Eve, because “anything goes at Christmas”.
Jemima Bird: My best guess is the briefing went like this: (1) everyone hates sprouts so hit that hard; (2) write jokes too bad for even Christmas crackers; (3) think of 19 things to do with gravy, we’ll include the best 10; (4) don’t use one style, use everything. More is more, see; (5) deadline: end of play today. 1/5
Neil Godber: Deliveroo is never (for now) going to be the destination for your Christmas dinner, but this ad could have worked harder to [tackle] the relationship people actually have with food at Christmas: I feel Deliveroo could have played a much bigger role this Christmas than the work suggests. 2/5
Sue Higgs: This delivers exactly what it needs to: range, speed, personalisation – what you want, when you want it. The mix of film and animation broadens its appeal and ensures it stands out. There’s method to this gravy madness. 4/5
Rob Metcalfe: There’s a refreshingly contrarian tone to the message: eat what you want and stuff Christmas tradition. But this is one time of year it’s least likely to work. Part of the joy/obligation is joining in, not being the weirdo who demands sprouts on their pizza. 3/5
Nick Woods: Delivery brands have a clear and obvious saviour role to play across Christmas, but this ad chooses to ignore it. The cartoon/live action combo has feels for a youthful audience, but it creates no talkability. And the script – “Cantonese your Christmas Eve” – is weak. 2/5
Total score: 19
A boy plants a ‘Christmas tree’ that in fact grows into a sprawling venus flytrap, which consumes gift-wrapped presents – and spews the gifts within.
Jemima Bird: Playful pacing makes this ad captivating. Though it is a venus flytrap with acromegaly and a humanish soul, it tells a timeless story of chaos and adjusting. That said, the gift-vomit at the end? Is it a metaphor? 4/5
Neil Godber: John Lewis has launched a wonderful addition to their epic Christmas repertoire. Gone are wistful longings, in are humour, fun, silliness and all-round exuberance. 4/5
Sue Higgs: Small boy, heartwarming narrative, someone’s out in the cold, then welcomed back. The formula has evolved and less sadvertising is a good thing. But the music is a lot, product is conspicuously placed (Little Shop of Horrors spews sparkly gifts). The craft isn’t quite there but it raises a smile. 3/5
Rob Metcalfe: In which child solves family’s festive bluebottle problem. Amusing hokum and of course, beautifully made. But apart from cuddly flytraps which will no doubt be snapped up in their dozens, it’s not going to sell anything at John Lewis. 3/5
Nick Woods: This is a riot. A lot of familiarity (little boy, rogue ‘animal’ that creates havoc and gets forgiven), but also lively and fresh. The central thought is around the evolution of traditions, and how that’s ok. We have an emotionally-charged Andrea Bocelli repeatedly reminding us that life is a celebration if we love who (or what) ever we want, if we accept ‘different’… and if we wear John Lewis’ fabulous pyjamas all day. It’s perfect. 5/5
Total score: 10
A raccoon makes sure a lost gift gets to the child it’s intended for, as Lidl encourages us to donate to its in-store toy banks.
Jemima Bird: After decades leading on price, Lidl’s now flexing more charity credentials. Cue cute animals, cherubic children, melancholic music. A worthy enough landing. But it should say more. I don’t really get it. 2/5
Neil Godber: This forfeits Lidl’s value to promote Lidl’s toy bank. It’s ambitious and a worthy approach during the cost of living crisis, but it will struggle on connecting the cause and creative to the brand. There’s little of Lidl in this work. 3/5
Sue Higgs: I had to watch this a couple of times to get the story, which is never a great sign. Racoon saves Christmas by saving a monkey, cheering up the sad kid, which a dog takes credit for, who’s then kind to the racoon? It’s a bit like asking AI to write a Christmas ad. 2/5
Rob Metcalfe: Lidl has lost the plot this year. It looks like it has foisted its Canadian Christmas ad on to UK audiences – there aren’t any racoons in Basingstoke, after all – and the Ottawa skyline soon moves jarringly into view. Because all the visual references are slightly culturally wrong for UK audiences, it is alienating and wholly unrelatable. And the song is ghastly. 1/5
Nick Woods: Some will definitely warm to the syrupy, tear-jerking nature, but it felt confused to me. I love the return of the toy bank, the whole ethos behind it. But the weird American-British hybrid setting is weird and a raccoon is an unusual choice given their vermin-like reputation. Ignoring the food seems beyond bold. Confused. 2/5
Total score: 16
If the festive season is getting on your nerves, raise your eyebrows and head to McDonald’s.
Jemima Bird: Maccy Ds continues its slightly irritating eyebrow-raise campaign. It’s facile but fun. 3/5
Sue Higgs: I like its energy. Van Halen’s Jump drives it and it achieves what M&S’s Scrooge of an ad failed to, as it’s actually fun. 4/5
Rob Metcalfe: Pleasingly, the now familiar eyebrow gestures are there but not overused, which suggests creative confidence. 3/5
Rob Sellers: In the absence of one great story, the execution is spread too thinly to really engage, and even Van Halen can’t save it. 2/5
Nick Woods: The whole idea of ‘owning’ a knowing look is so well observed and exploited it’s difficult to do anything other than love this, even if it’s just the tinselled version of the original. 4/5
Total score: 12
Celebs Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Zawe Ashton, Hannah Waddingham and Tan France make a point of doing the things they love as Ray BLK sings I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).
Jemima Bird: Rebecca from Ted Lasso [Waddingham] is a genius pick so I figured we were in for a treat. What we get is a dystopian free-for-all and a contender for best anti-Christmas ad of the decade. Too dark. 3/5
Neil Godber: The work has sparkly star status and the reworked Meat Loaf track. But it’s an interesting approach for a brand that has catered for those who feel the pressure to make Christmas perfect, to now empower their customers to say sod it.3/5
Sue Higgs: It’s mean-spirited. Sure, there are things about Christmas some people don’t like doing. But how does being a dick about it make anyone feel good about your brand, especially when you sell some of the things you’re destroying? 1/5
Rob Metcalfe: It’s meant to be tongue in cheek, but the tone is all wrong. It makes the celebs look unpleasant, and not in a self-deprecating “aren’t I awful?” way. If you’re going to try to pull off the near-impossible job of brand reinforcement by association (ie without saying anything about the brand) at least make the ad likeable. This isn’t. 2/5
Nick Woods: Accidental controversies aside, ‘do Christmas your way’ and screw the Monopoly/Elf on a Shelf/charades etc if you like, is a fitting message in a world which (seemingly) champions being your true self. The celebrities all have their fans and the song fits the story brilliantly. And yet… 3/5
Total score: 12
Actors Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds are the voices of a child’s lost mittens as Dawn French reprises her Christmas fairy role for another year.
Jemima Bird: It should work. I love each cast member and I’m open for business whenever a kitschy animated something makes a beeline for my heart. But this is discombobulating. It’s talent first, concept second. I’m a huge fan of Rob and Ryan, but will they (as comedy mittens) connect to the consciousnesses of M&S shoppers? 2/5
Neil Godber: M&S has created a fun ad. The script plays to the pair’s strengths, and production quality is first rate, but I wanted more of M&S in the work beyond sparkle and range. 3/5
Sue Higgs: Rob and Ryan. Newly adopted national treasures as discarded mittens brought back to life by another national treasure, Dawn French, for another outing as the Christmas fairy. Comedy in spades, right? Well, not really. It starts well, then quick cut to some product and we’re left thinking what was that all about? Another wasted celeb opportunity. 3/5
Rob Metcalfe: Was there a time when Dawn French’s M&S Christmas ads were engaging? No. But at least, with Jennifer Saunders in tow, they were slightly better than this. Feeble creative, badly scripted.1/5
Nick Woods: M&S is getting a little of the Ryan Reynolds action by opening a store in Wrexham and becoming a Wrexham FC sponsor. So RR has leant his voice to a character in this year’s M&S Food ad. Yes, he brings significant star power but the link between the story and the food is tenuous in this.3/5
Total score: 18
Oven gloves sing Starship’s 1987 Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now in scenes of Christmas dinner preparation.
Jemima Bird: This is ridiculously, stupidly fun. One initially wonders if the song can carry the load, but somehow, even with lip-syncing oven gloves, the ad delivers an understated message of hope and magic for dreary times. 4/5
Neil Godber: Well done, Morrisons! This is a wonderfully funny ad. The glove puppets are a brilliant way to drive fun and memorability into the backroom food preparation scenes that can go unnoticed (rather than focusing on the parties), coupled with a nostalgic soundtrack to drive home [how] we’re going to have to get over all the bad news in the world to enjoy Christmas. 5/5
Sue Higgs: The formula goes hand in hand (sorry) with M&S’s talking mittens but is done better. Full marks for the track choice. This is fun and ownable – I don’t think I’ve seen the humble oven glove take centre stage before. And you can guarantee it will get re-enacted across the country in people’s homes. And it’s a handy (ahem) way to show the product range.3/5
Rob Metcalfe: Oven gloves. Aren’t they adorable? Lovely festive, cuddly oven gloves. Everybody loves them. They’re so much fun. They just shout “Christmas!” don’t they? A feeble idea made worse by repetition.2/5
Nick Woods: While ‘Farmer Christmas’ always felt like a good idea in need of better execution, this ad is wonderfully, deliciously mad. The song choice is bonkers but somehow works. And singing oven-glove puppets are a fantastically creative vehicle for showing all sorts of food. 4/5
Total score: 15
A girl uses a store PA system to ask what Santa has for Christmas dinner, and Sainsbury’s workers ponder the answer. Rick Astley offeRob Sellers: “How about some cheese?”
Jemima Bird: Great stitching job. Thread one is the farm to factory deal; giving growers, food snaps and dodgy accents a moment in the sun. Thread two weaves in a cute and naughty subplot which gifts us a sweet hook and puns so bad they double the impact of two genuine lol moments. 4/5
Neil Godber: Sometimes the brief for Christmas clearly feels that the brand has a set number of products they want to show off to the viewer, and the creative job is to find a Christmassy way of doing it. Sainsbury’s pulls off this perennial brief well. But where this ad really delivers is in the engaging performances and interactions with Santa.3/5
Sue Higgs: Ski Sunday. Rick Astley. Santa’s Christmas dinner. It’s a nice set-up, but then it descends into pastiche. Crafted traditional Christmas ad on the one hand, hardworking retail ad on the other. But there’s not enough of either and they don’t meet in the middle. What a waste of Rick Astley, too.2/5
Rob Metcalfe: All is going well – the charcuter-tree is a lovely idea and will sell by the sled-load – there’s a plot, of sorts, Santa speaks like a budget Brian Blessed, as he should, and then to spoil the mood Rick Astley pops up. 3/5
Nick Woods: This year has seen Rick Astley approach national treasure status and rumours of his being in this Christmas ad have been rife, but he doesn’t ‘star’ and feels somewhat forced into the story.3/5
Total score: 20
A grumpy teenager finally gets into the Christmas spirit with coaxing from his family and Tesco.
Jemima Bird: Bloody love it and wouldn’t have expected it from Tesco. Great tune, characters, goodies and story. As the run-time rolls on, the smile-o-meter moves towards max; where lies solo-bobbing, laughter, and the realisation that this is Tesco’s best-ever. Top marks. 5/5
Sue Higgs: Just lovely. It’s a simple message, beautifully landed with levity, emotion and a healthy dollop of product. The casting is spot on and the choice of music is great. Just weird enough to stand out, but had me smiling throughout, it gets better with multiple viewings as you pick up extra details like the excited little jiggle the dad and delivery driver do on the doorstep. Saving the best till last (smart move Tesco), I finally feel a bit Christmassy. 5/5
Rob Metcalfe: In which Tesco presents Christmas on bad drugs. This is an extraordinary representation of seasonal psychosis presumably produced by Tesco as a public information film designed to terrify children into avoiding the festivities for as long as possible. As such it’s commendable. Obviously you will succumb to Christmas in the end, but try to resist the madness seems to be the message. Some Tesco products get a mention, but these are entirely overshadowed by the weirdness. It’s, er, different, but not necessarily good different. 3/5
Rob Sellers: The core insight of little moments when our Christmas spirit pops out is lovely. But I can’t help feel that this is a bit category generic – why does Tesco do this more than anyone else? They just about get away with it because of market leadership, and the storytelling is charming. 3/5
Nick Woods: This works. So many Tesco families will be able to identify with the once-cute-now-sullen teen who thinks they’ve grown out of Christmas, parents and everything. And while Coke thinks Santa is a feeling, Tesco think Christmas is a feeling, and one powerful enough to win over even the grumpiest 16-year-old. 4/5
Total score: 13
Everything goes wrong at a party, but Graham Norton reminds us “when the food’s good, everything’s good”, to a soundtrack of Depeche Mode’s Just Can’t Get Enough.
Jemima Bird: Fun, music and party time isn’t typical Waitrose, and the punchline doesn’t ever land. The food shots are so horrifically set up I now imagine Florentine Inspired Panettone tastes like bad acting and inconceivable friendships. Oh, and how does the music stay on when the power goes out? 2/5
Neil Godber: The work carries a feel-good vibe we can all subscribe to, name checks the range, plays a nostalgic Depeche Mode tune and squeezes in Graham Norton to add sparkle. So far, so good. But where it potentially falls short is in solely depicting a recognisable house party scene viewers should like, rather than directing people with anything that might change their views about the brand. 2/5
Sue Higgs: It’s fine. A first outing for its new agency. The food sounds and looks nice. Graham Norton does a decent job. It’s a decent track. It didn’t hit all the comedy notes, though. Solid but not particularly exciting. 2/5
Rob Metcalfe: There’s the germ of a nice creative idea here: the Christmas that goes wrong. But it could be much funnier and more memorable. It’s naturally engaging and the action is well-paced, but Graham Norton seems out of place, as if he’s wandered into the wrong ad. 4/5
Nick Woods: The quality of Waitrose’s food is so good it fixes everything… no arguments here. But everyone I watched this with was left a little cold by the story, acting and script. 3/5
Total score: 17
Everyone is Santa – literally – in an ad encouraging us all to be more caring and sharing.
Jemima Bird: The world needs more kindness and joy, and Santa is as good a conduit as any for that message – so might as well roll with the intellectual property. Solid, standard, self-serving but ho ho ho, this is advertising. 2/5
Sue Higgs: Santa’s a hot fave with this season’s creatives and Coke, who invented the fella, has gone all in. I applaud the sentiment, and even if this is a little saccharine, it’s charming. 3/5
Rob Metcalfe: Short-termist marketers might reflect that 92 years of investment and promotion have gone into building the Santa connection, though serving Coke with the Christmas dinner is still a culinary crime. 4/5
Rob Sellers: Smart. Coca-Cola has some amazing Christmas brand equities, including this version of Santa and the Coca-Cola truck – which also appears. 4/5
Nick Woods: In a world beset by war, enmity and aggression this feels like a recognisable, universal truth and the kind of big global ad that only a brand like Coke can pull off. 4/5
Total score: 14
The Duracell bunny saves Christmas by changing the batteries in Rudolph’s nose.
Jemima Bird: Every household, every Christmas, will cry “where’s the batteries?”, so it’s good to take a cute pre-emptive strike. 4/5
Sue Higgs: It’s as predictable as decking the halls and I can’t help thinking battery advertising should have moved on. 1/5
Rob Metcalfe: A highly effective reminder to get the batteries in, and that they must be Duracell. Succeeds in making something mundane front of mind. 4/5
Rob Sellers: Every element of the execution has been built to land a single-minded message: don’t forget. Short, sharp, effective. 4/5
Nick Woods: They could show a pack-shot with ‘don’t forget’ underneath and sales would probably be the same. 1/5
Total score: 8
Sharing some things is annoying, but Walkers crisps are made for it, we’re told.
Jemima Bird: A play on the Gary Lineker ‘not for sharing’ ads, but it’s a bit meh. Looks like it cost as much as a tube of Pringles. 2/5
Sue Higgs: As someone once said, your strategy is poking out. Gone is the style and the wit of Lineker and all we’re left with is ‘share your crisps’. 1/5
Rob Metcalfe: A low-rent effort in which people share crisps at Christmas – who would have imagined that? It’s almost as though they couldn’t think of anything at all to say but said it anyway. 2/5
Rob Sellers: The message doesn’t land. Has anyone ever actually grappled a handsome stranger for the last Christmas tree? And despite launching a range of Christmas flavours, none of those are in the ad. 1/5
Nick Woods: Relative to some of the brilliant ads around at this time of year, this feels pretty thin, like the kind of ad only an in-house team could make, I’m afraid. 2/5
Watch: All the retailers’ Christmas adverts 2023
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