Forget Strictly and The X Factor, it’s that time of year when all we are talking about on the sofa are the retailers’ Christmas ads. So which campaigns are melting hearts and which ones have gone down like a bowl of cold Brussels sprouts? The Grocer’s expert panel delivers its verdict
Meet our panel
Bryan Roberts, global insights director at TCC global Rob Metcalfe, chief executive, Richmond & Towers Neil Godber, head of planning, J Walter Thompson London
Total score: 18/30
BR: This is superb. While it might have been tempting to start all over again to avoid accusations of merely recycling 2016’s effort, the popular Kevin the Carrot returns in triumph. With a dinner table as the backdrop, the food theme is never far away and the ad provides plenty of humour (9 ½ Leeks being a particular favourite). This light-hearted treat reminds us that Aldi is a credible Christmas destination, as it proved last year with a stellar performance. The sale of plush Kevins, with proceeds going to charity, is icing on the cake. Good work. 9/10
RM: Kevin the dislikeable carrot makes an unwelcome return in Aldi’s 2017 offering. The so-called plot is just as specious as last year - why is a fully laden dinner table speeding through the night on a train with no passengers? - and Kevin is even more unpleasant. One vegetable/urine joke later (“I think I just pea-d/peed myself” - ho ho ho) and no one is any the wiser as to whether or why Aldi deserves any of our festive custom. OK, I liked the 9½ Leeks joke, but that doesn’t excuse the rest of this confused mess.2/10
NG: Aldi has continued its march towards becoming a fully-fledged part of the festive feelgoods by giving us chapter two of its super-cute Christmas hero Kevin the Carrot.
As before, the work employs the magical British heritage of Jim Broadbent to narrate the journey of Kevin, this time embarking on a perilous journey to find Santa in a setting echoing the new Murder on the Orient Express remake. However, the fearless hero becomes distracted by an attractive carrot engrossed in reading 9½ Leeks, only to save her from a potentially deadly barrage of flying peas with the line ‘I think I just pea-d myself’.
In an advertising climate obsessed with reinvention, I like the fact that Aldi is confident in bringing back its previous character. The work has just the right level of levity, packed full of fun and puns with rewarding details that will give more on repeated viewing.
However, for all the charm and entertainment, wit and wonder, I wonder what of the brand will be left once the ad finishes. The work helps to legitimise Aldi’s place at the Christmas table through communications as behaviour, as a way of signalling it is a real player, but less so for any explicit messaging, which for a brand that wears its value mission so explicitly on its sleeve feels like a missed goal.7/10
Total score: 17/30
BR: Asda faces a two-fold problem at Christmas: existing shoppers often ‘trade up’ to other retailers and Asda itself is not renowned as being a foodie destination. But Asda’s food ranges and seasonal NPD are actually very good indeed - so I’m pleased to see it is focusing on both in this ad. The ‘Best Christmas Ever’ strapline hints at aspiration and quality and the film is visually stimulating - though the narrative is fairly loose. Notable by its absence is any mention of price, suggesting Asda is easing up on relentlessly nailing its colours to that particular mast. 6/10
RM: I think this is trying to tell us that you can get good drugs at Asda. Surely that’s the only way any of this becomes intelligible? Asda-land at Christmas is clearly a peculiar place, staffed by strange people, and producing largely unpleasant-looking food. Maybe they have spent too much money on production and not enough on the script/story. There are one or two nice touches - I like the reindeer powering the Christmas pudding machine - but overall it feels like a concept that’s short of substance. 5/10
NG: This year, Asda has reversed its approach, moving away from diligently making Christmas better with multiple useful nudges, to embodying a light-hearted fantastical world of Christmas magic.
The new campaign is wonderfully shot as a girl and her grandfather explore a Wonka-esque factory where all the festive foods you could imagine are made by a variety of weird and wonderful machines. It’s full of quirky touches to delight viewers on repeated viewing.
While last year’s campaign worked to position Asda’s as helpfully there for all the little things needed in the run-up to Christmas, the beautiful production values and quality of this new work should elevate Asda as a wonderful supplier of magic for Christmas. 6/10
Total score: 18/30
NG: At Christmas, sticking to your principles can sometimes leave you feeling true but cold, or compromised and in need of purification. For brands built on principles, they face similar questions. Do they try to sell though their principles potentially leaving people feeling cold, or take a month off to enjoy the good work done throughout the year?
This year, the Co-op feels to have pitched themselves just right with their ‘Christmas is coming together’ campaign.The work manages to celebrate their position within the community, bringing people together to take part in a common cause, done so in a wonderfully rallying way without any proselytizing or preaching. The ad uses the infectious medium of music to bring everyone together singing and dancing to Blur’s Tender. The treatment is peppered with nice touches, from a boy with a bicycle reminiscent of Hovis to the cracking of the pudding. Good work. 7/10
BR: Firmly back in recovery mode, and with much improved credentials in terms of stores, pricing and product, the Co-op continues to push on with this campaign. I
like the ‘Christmas is coming together’ play on words and the fabric of the ad itself is both sincere and heart-warming. With themes of community and inclusivity and an effective reconstruction of Blur’s ‘Tender’, the ad still allows space for a fleeting spotlight to be shone on products. The Co-op has seriously impressed me in 2017 and this ad does little to alter my stance. Lovely stuff. 7/10
RM: This is a mess. ‘Christmas is coming together’ according to the strapline. Except that I can’t conceive any reason at all for this bizarrely mismatched collection of people to be in the same place unless they were being corralled into a duff Christmas TV ad under threat of having their divi cancelled.
The fact that they are all singing/playing a pleasant enough Blur song is largely irrelevant. Some seasonal products are haphazardly featured (without looking particularly appealing – OK, the smoked salmon is nice, but nobody eats it) but the main fault is that this ad, in the real world as opposed to marketing fantasy land, seems devoid of any connection to the Co-op. Because the Co-op doesn’t actually bring people together, unless they happen to be in front of the TV when this appears, in which case they may be united in derision. 4/10
Total score: 22/30
NG: Comms must be a more difficult conscious choice for brands who are not the obvious choice in the world of traded-up Christmas food. For Iceland, I guess they will have debated whether should they play off the typically sentimental icy theme of winter or claim usefulness in the manic festivity of Christmas and the inevitable forgetfulness that frozen food can help out with.
In contract to the more obvious routes, Iceland have tried something different in their ‘Tis the s/reason to be jolly idea, using the now commonplace culture of unboxing videos with remixed voices to make the brand distinctive, fun and a little bit special. Whilst I like the ambition, it doesn’t quite work. It’s true that the approach has no obvious link to Iceland, but that’s something one could level at other brands. My bigger concern is the way the creative doesn’t quite pull off an online phenomenon in what is aired on an offline medium: TV. I haven’t seen the full media approach, so this jarring could be the snapshot of the media I saw, but I hope this creative is part of wider media behaviour approach to exploit the conventions of the online world. 5/10
BR: Quirky and enjoyable, much like a trip to Iceland’s stores, this series of ads deploys the ‘reverse Haribo’ manoeuvre, with a bunch of kids speaking in adult voices in order to laud their receipt of Iceland products.
These ads build on the more serious marketing endeavours that Iceland has put out there this year, efforts that have helped continue to reposition Iceland as a more credible grocery destination for a wider range of shoppers. Throw in some cracking store refurbishments and initiatives like the Christmas discount for NHS and emergency services workers, and these distinctive TV spots cap a great year for the Iceland team. 7/10
RM: Iceland has rather wonderfully subverted vlogging royalty the Ingham Family’s phenomenally successful (and fairly ghastly) 2016 Christmas special (41 million views and counting) with this very funny ad for its ‘Gilded Turkey’. The fact that said turkey looks about as natural as David Dickinson after a fortnight on the sunbed is neither here nor there.
I shall spend the rest of the festive season saying Gilded Turkey whenever anyone hands me a present and inwardly thanking Iceland for having a sense of humour. I’m assuming there are more ad variants to come along the same lines. If they maintain the same deliberately terrible production values and feature improbable products with daft names, Iceland is on to a winner. 10/10
Total score: 19/30
NG: While the ad is beautifully shot, filled with charming touches and tender moments in a tale of a child and his imaginary monster to a mesmeric Beatles track, the public has not been gushing over it as in recent years. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a turkey.
John Lewis Christmas campaigns always feel to work harder and connect more deeply by gently pushing on a relevant issue the public is feeling, and this one illustrates the feeling of irrational, unknown fears and the value of being open and curious. 7/10
BR: Troubling holes in the storyline (Is the boy happy the monster goes? Sad? Does he exist? Do we care? Why does the boy lose his two front teeth during the ad?) among other things mean this is the weakest offering from John Lewis for quite some time.
I usually shed a tear at the first John Lewis viewing, but this year I’m totally unmoved, partially baffled and slightly exasperated. John Lewis is a wonderful retailer, a fact not reflected in this year’s campaign. 5/10
RM: You have to be a hard-hearted misanthrope not to go a bit gooey over this latest Christmas excursion, but for all the high production values, great soundtrack and good acting, it does feel like the whole annual John Lewis ad fest has run out of steam. This is actually a fairly thin creative idea that feels overstretched. I don’t think it will do them any harm, but I’m not sure it will do much for their festive sales either. 7/10
Total score: 17/30
BR: Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by Lidl’s previous efforts, but this is a bit of a let-down. The only messages I really recall are about price and British turkeys, while the attempt at introducing ‘eater archetypes’ just feels a bit clunky. True, the ads manage to showcase a fairly extensive array of Lidl’s products and prices, but the overall effort lacks some of the warmth and wit communicated by Lidl in previous years. 5/10
RM: There’s nothing particularly good about the Lidl series of ads, but at least they are trying to sell some Christmas products, rather than make us feel all warm and fuzzy about our brutally hard-nosed retailers.
It comes to something when the one memorable message from any of the ads so far is that Lidl will be stocking fresh turkeys from 19 December, but I suspect that simple statement may have more of an effect on sales than anything else on show this season. Meanwhile, all the main characters are a bit weird. The Mince Pie Maverick? Cavalier Carver? They conjure up a message like one of those old office signs - you don’t have to be mad to shop here, but it helps. As for the Double Dipper, I think she needs professional counselling. 6/10
NG: Lidl has launched its run into Christmas with a series of gentle celebrations of socially frowned-upon food habits the middle class all know and love to disapprove of.
The ads revel in slow-mo depictions of the Finger-food Obsessives and Cavalier Carvers that we’ve all slyly commented on at some point. However, the twist here is that all this behaviour is made acceptable thanks to the value of Lidl.
It works well to combat any lingering social stigma in buying and serving Lidl food for Christmas, legitimising it for the middle classes with elegant airings of the conventions and why they don’t apply for Lidl shoppers. I also like Lidl’s dogged pursuit, even at Christmas, of changing the way we feel about shopping, value and conventional behaviour. 6/10
Marks & Spencer
Total score: 18/30
BR: Paddington Bear unwittingly rescues Christmas and provides redemption for a baddie. Initial social media reaction expressed a degree of confusion regarding the Santa/burglar character, though eagle-eyed observers would spot Santa and his reindeers flying through the sky in the background.
There is plenty of physical comedy, plus the heart-warming sight of the villain seeing the error of his ways. With a strong in-store tie-in and a charity angle through Paddington Bear books on sale, M&S looks set to benefit from the Paddington 2 film release. 8/10
RM: What’s that whirring sound? Oh, it’s Michael Bond spinning in his grave as his character, Paddington Bear, is prostituted, albeit rather feebly, for the benefit of Marks & Spencer. Plot-wise this is all over the shop. Are we in the 1950s (old lorry), 1970s (Angela Rippon - God help us!) or 2017 (iPhone)? Why is the burglar on the roof in the first place? And though Paddington is notoriously thick, surely even he can tell the difference between a petty criminal and Father Christmas?
Now look what they’ve gone and done - they’ve made me take their whimsical and witless tripe seriously. It doesn’t deserve it, and M&S doesn’t deserve advertising like this. Disappointing. 4/10
NG: The work is deliberately populist and feels destined to become an entertainment favourite in homes across Britain, as it echoes the previous successes of Sainsbury’s Mog and John Lewis’s Monty.
The lead ad is a beautifully produced mini-movie that engages and charms throughout as Paddington redeems a burglar by returning the presents he has stolen, illuminating what really matters.
It’s a confident move for M&S given the hard act of following last year’s highly successful Mrs Claus, which coolly and glamorously portrayed women as responsible for the real magic of Christmas. In contrast, this campaign focuses squarely on warmth and nostalgia, using the loveable character to tie in creative, products and a charity link with the NSPCC.
I love the thought ‘Spend it Well’. But while I respect harnessing the Christmas warmth and family fame of Paddington, I have a nagging feeling that on balance the work feels more about M&S borrowing from Paddington than M&S building its philosophy around what ‘spending it well’ at Christmas could really mean.6/10
Total score: 21/30
BR: A cynic might accuse Morrisons of playing it safe, but this is actually quite a nice case of a retailer playing to its strengths. Nods are given to the chain’s in-house craft skills, the Market Street proposition, local sourcing and Morrisons’ often overlooked floral credentials, all wrapped up in a thoroughly pleasant depiction of seasonal togetherness. The Cannes Lions will be untroubled by this offering, but for me it serves as a timely reminder of the reasons why Morrisons is one of the better-performing grocers. 7/10
RM: This looks like a very trad ad at first, if only because all the other retailers have tried to do something different this year (and largely failed). The highlighted product selection is a bit odd - bouquets, desserts, fish, turkey - but the freshly prepared in store message comes through. Naturalistic acting and a tug at the heartstrings at the end contribute to the slightly quaint charm. Adland might hate it, but the Morrisons revival should benefit.8/10
NG: Morrisons continues its long-running ‘Morrisons Makes It’ theme here. The first ad in the campaign picks up on the fact that while Christmas is a highly social time of the year, for some it can also be an exclusionary time, full of opportunities for awkward evasion and sitting on the sidelines. However, Morrisons’ expanded free-from range ensures everyone here is welcome to join in.
The ad elegantly captures the warmth and sentiment of various festive activities, as the lead girl needs a little encouragement from her older brother to go forth and take part in enjoying what Christmas has to offer, from feeding a reindeer to the Nativity play.
Over the years Morrisons has stuck to its guns, building emotion into its good honest food and craft ‘Makes It’ theme - which should pay off.6/10
Total score: 20/30
NG: Sainsbury’s has continued its year-round approach of putting the fun back into food with another sing-as-you-simmer ad.
It is truly anthemic, helping Sainsbury’s capture the populist spirit of Christmas in a tour through salt-of-the-earth UK diversity enjoying the Christmas season.
However, a wider sense of mission is missing. It feels like step one in a bigger move to make people fall back in love with food, before using that love to engage in a bigger purpose. 5/10
BR: Sainsbury’s has eschewed a spendy blockbuster and opted instead for continuity of brand, execution and message - a brave decision. The ad has a relatively catchy soundtrack, and the use of real punters and colleagues brings authenticity and credibility. But the use of a former celebrity and a recently-used-by-Warburtons amphibian puppet are puzzling: was there not enough faith in the core premise? 6/10
RM: There’s enough cheesiness (not only from Ricky Tomlinson) to surely make anyone smile. If the dodgy rhyming doesn’t get you, the elongated sprouts should. And it’s all executed with a kind of infectious jollity that covers both the good and less good bits of the festive season with a positive glow of recognition. There’s so much going on I suspect it will bear a fair bit of repeat viewing too. 9/10
Total score: 18/30
BR: Mercifully free of celebrities this year, Tesco’s tale is one of inclusivity, family and realism. By depicting many different scenarios, families and ethnicities, the ad presents an accurate depiction of both the UK and Christmas.
Underlying tensions in the kitchen are laid bare and the deployment of some Christmas archetypes (dozy teenager, annoying relatives, snoozing gran etc) creates situations many of us will be able to strongly identify with.
The ‘Everyone’s Welcome’ message is an uplifting one and is carried through incredibly well in store, where the PoS team have played a blinder. 7/10
RM: Tesco wins the PC Christmas award, and not because of all those visits from the Fraud Squad. ‘Everyone’s welcome’ is the Tesco theme and they’ve crammed as many social stereotypes as possible into a 60-second ad. It almost collapses under the weight of its own inclusivity. To be fair, it doesn’t actually say “yes, even Muslims and same-sex parents are welcome”, but that seems to be the patronising point. There are a couple of moments of humour, but when the voiceover announces “we’ve got a turkey for you”, you can almost hear the nation’s TV viewers shout “we know, we’ve just been watching it!”.
Meanwhile, even an à la mode drippy female vocal can’t revive the musical corpse that is Shakin’ Stevens’ Merry Christmas Everyone. 5/10
NG: While Tesco has always been a functionally excellent retailer, almost machine-like in its approach, it has sometimes been hard to like or love. That mantle now seems to be passing to Amazon.
Tesco has appealed to British hearts, capturing the quirks and passions of everyday Brits and their love of food though the Food Love Stories campaign.
The new Christmas push deftly illustrates the varieties of British families with their methods and madness of how they try to make the all-important Christmas meal a success. The film is beautifully observed with plenty of ‘that’s me, that is’ moments, sure to make everyone feel they are welcome this Christmas.6/10.
Total score: 21/30
NG: This year, Waitrose has made a bold attempt to creatively breakthrough in their atmospheric black and white ad telling the story of a group of people snowed in at a pub, saved by their stores of Waitrose food. It’s a brave move and should be respected.
While some brands strive to represent and embody what we most value at Christmas, their role in this can get lost. This work makes sure that criticism will never be levelled at Waitrose, but the way the product line-up is integrated into the narrative makes the conceit look so unlikely as to undermine the jeopardy and escape. 7/10
BR: Pretty solid stuff from Waitrose: well shot film, decent narrative and a relatively good punchline as the folk trapped in the pub demonstrate horror at the thought of being rescued. There’s a reasonable amount of attention lavished on the Waitrose brand and the products themselves, but I’m not sure how many repeat viewings I’m going to be able to withstand. And I’m still not clear why a power cut at 2.30 in the afternoon plunges the place into total darkness. 6/10
RM: Cooking up a storm in the snowbound, electricty-less Tan Hill Inn promotes a perhaps unlikely degree of bonding over the Waitrose Essentials remnants in the store cupboard, but this is beautifully acted in an understatedly British way and, for a Christmas ad, bravely and humourously downbeat at its conclusion. 8/10