From a singing Furby to heroine mums and a cavernous empty studio, which supermarket is catching the national mood?
Love them or loathe them, Christmas television ads are as much a part of the annual festivities as turkey, tinsel and tears.
And every year it becomes harder for an advertiser to gain cut-through as smartphones, tablets and laptops vie for the attention of consumers. Marketeers have to find ever more arresting ways to grab - and hold - the attention.
Asda has certainly done that: sparking controversy and ASA complaints with its approach (‘sexist’ or ‘realistic’ depending on your age, gender or politics) but Waitrose has also taken a gritty approach, with Heston and Delia in an empty warehouse. Meanwhile, Tesco has ensured Lionel Richie’s royalty cheques keep coming in and M&S reminded 40-somethings of the guilty pleasure of INXS.
We have asked three advertising and marketing experts (see panel right) to give their views on the first five supermarket ads to break this year. Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Iceland were yet to unwrap their festive efforts as we went to press, so we’ll look at those and Aldi’s campaign next week - only Lidl is relying on press and online activity to carry its Christmas message.
SR: Depending on your point of view, this is either a) a reflection of the hard work mothers all over the country put in to make all our Christmases so special or b) a cynical and patronising bit of sexist nonsense that leads us all back to the time of Terry and June. Actually, it’s neither. It’s a neatly observed slice of life that shows what hard work Christmas is for the domestic goddess in an average family - and how Asda helps make it a bit easier for everyone.7/10
RM: For me, this ad is a bit more human and funny. It does a great job of reassuring mum that Asda is the right decision for her. And it’s a good move away from the bum-patting ads of before, helping connect mums to the Christmas experience (and the chores it brings), with the focus on home, the family and the quick trips out to pick up this and that. It really hits home the idea of being a partner to mum at the time of year when she needs it.8.5/10
CN: We see mum working tirelessly throughout the ad making sure her family enjoys the perfect Christmas. This is a well-observed film that has some nice little moments that everyone can relate to, especially mums (and lazy dads). The ‘punky’ version of Silent Night used as a soundtrack also adds to the fast-paced feeling of our heroine’s busy festive season. All-in-all a nice warm ad sure to resonate with mums.7/10
SR: Goes down as smoothly as a glass of Baileys. The brief: what if we could get people to spend their Clubcard vouchers on Christmas presents? The idea: wouldn’t it be fun if we got a Furby to sing a cheesy ballad? The execution: keep it simple, make it look real, shoot the storyboards, do without a celeb voiceover, make ‘Every Little Helps’ mean something to people again.8/10
RM: For effectiveness, I think this one hits the bullseye. It concentrates on the power of voucher exchange and shopper mentality at this time of year - can I get that toy my child really, really wants for a bargain price? It’s simple, gives some ideas for the exchange, but hits the mark on what you’d really exchange and spend your voucher on. Most importantly, in every frame you know it’s a Tesco ad, no mistake. 7/10
CN: Tesco wants us to turn our £5 vouchers into £10 tokens this Christmas. How are they going to do this? By using a Furby that sounds just like Lionel Richie of course! The non-traditional nature of this ad helps it stand out among the clichés. It’s good to see a bit of humour at Christmas time, and it brought a smile to my face. 7/10
Marks & Spencer
SR: Sadly, no one loves a greatest hits compilation the way they love their favourite song, and I fear that’ll be the way for this offering from M&S. I bet the strategy worked perfectly as a PowerPoint deck the playlist will be the soundtrack to a million unwise snogs at the office party and the craft and performances are perfect, especially without celebs. But because it tries to talk to everyone, it can’t connect emotionally with anyone. And that’s the whole problem for M&S at the moment. 5/10
RM: Now this is where TV gets quite exciting. Not just visually engaging with a strong selection of music to grab the audience, but a connected experience online too. If you go to the M&S website, you’ll see the ad coupled with a series of visual buttons that link to each scene and allow you to explore the clothes, making a quick purchase opportunity. Nicely done, stepping beyond just a pretty ad. The only shame in the TV ad itself is that it’s missing a call to action to do this online. 8.5 /10
CN: It’s Christmas hits all the way for M&S this year, as we see beautiful models strutting their stuff in a giant festive music video mash-up. The ad is well produced with no production budget spared, and is sure to have the armchair X-factor aficionados tapping their feet to the beat. I think this ad is a safe bet, and includes everything you’ve come to expect with M&S TV spots. It’s not the party piece of the year, but it’s no turkey either. 7/10
SR: Waitrose deserves a round of festive applause for their generosity in committing their advertising budget to charity. The ad looks and feels genuine, and makes the most of the fact that Heston and Delia are a celebrity chef and a famous cook rather than actors. It doesn’t make me feel hungry, though, which I’ve always felt Waitrose ads should.6/10
RM: This idea, I believe, will resonate really well with its audience. They’re talking to existing Waitrose shoppers and creating a nice drive to go in-store with an easy-to-use mechanic: simply making me feel good. Creatively, I question whether people believe the money’s been saved. It’s trying too hard to seem like a low-budget ad. From the echo to the overly lit and over art-directed ‘empty studio’, it feels like more money has been spent, not less.6/10
CN: No snow. No Santa. Just Delia and Heston talking directly to the viewer and asking them to give more to charity. This ad is simple, and refreshingly free of the usual tinsel and jingle bells razzmatazz you normally see on screen at this time of year. I like it and feel this spot will really resonate with the more affluent Waitrose customer.8/10
The Co-operative Group
SR: Ads that are written entirely in rhyme/are taking up too much airtime./It’s beginning to feel like we’re in Rupert the Bear,/with rhyming couplets everywhere./Now I’ve actually forgotten the brand/this Christmas ad’s made for sadly, and/I recall only pictures of winsome kids,/tipsy grannies and mince pie lids./And forgive me if I’m sounding rude,/but whatever happened to ‘good with food’?/’Good with Christmas’ would have done/And it would have been more fun.5/10
RM: I have mixed feelings about this ad. It’s trying to be reassuring and human, insightful and entertaining. But I feel it doesn’t quite deliver. In places it feels forced. And while it gives a positive ‘relax about Christmas’ feeling to the big day, I can’t help feeling - so what?5/10
CN: Whether you’re throwing a party for the whole family or in need of a hearty fry-up to help you recover from too many sherries the night before, this little spot shows the Co-op as the go-to place for all your Christmas needs. Although nicely filmed, this ad fails to break the mould, however, and feels like the sort of thing you get every Christmas.5/10
Simon Robinson (SR)is a freelance and MAP Awards judge
Richard Morgan (RM)is senior creative at brand activation agency G2 Joshua
Clive Norris (CN) is creative director at advertising and PR agency Mercieca