The Xmas ad season is upon us again. Who will hit the right note? Read our complete review of all the retailers’ Christmas ads…

Our experts

Sarah Green, Dialogue

Sarah Green (SG) is MD of WPP’s retail activation and shopper marketing agency Dialogue


Andrew Marsden

Former Britvic marketing and category director Andrew Marsden (AM) runs a brand consultancy


Louis Loizou

Louis Loizou (LL) is creative director of OgilvyAction, and chair of the MAP Awards judges panel


The Co-op Group:

Total score: 13/30

SG: With the convenience sector on the up, The Co-op is well placed, as the advert insists, to capitalise on the impulse, singles, and last-minute Christmas visit purchases. However the TV ad betrays the ‘last-minute impulse panic’ we could associate with the sector. Here’s mum, strolling calmly through a Dickensian-style street scene in ‘nowhere-where-I-know-land’. She breezes into her home, and transforms into the hostess with the most-est (double cream anyone?!) at a dreary party to an Ellie-Goulding soundalike track. Undoubtedly the Co-op can be a shopper’s Christmas saviour, but this bland offering doesn’t do it justice. 5/10.

AM: A valiant attempt. However, an otherwise solid core concept (‘relax we have everything’) is spoiled by a cack-handed and too literal execution in which a woman carrying two plastic carrier bags moves from a store though a frenetic crowd while apparently remaining calm and then moving seamlessly into a party in a massive house. Poor production values an unbelievable visualisation, together with an irrelevant claim of ‘More stores across the UK than any other supermarket,’ suggest an appalling lack of clarity and empathy with the target market. 4/10

LL: Because they have more stores around the country, The Co-op claims shopping at its stores this year will be a relaxing affair. That’s a very brave promise. Easier, yes. Relaxing? Hmm… The mum in this ad actually looks fed up as she drudgingly carves her way through partying hordes and snowball fights. Fed up of Christmas shopping. Fed up of missing a better party and having a dull one to host. Fed up nobody has noticed her new red party dress. Unfortunately, it just reminds us of what a pain and a chore shopping for Christmas really can be. 4/10


Total score: 19/30

SG: Let’s try and change people’s perceptions about Iceland. Nice try. Boy meets girl tale, Michael Bublé’s dulcet tones, close-up food shots, and not a king prawn ring in sight. What more could warm the cockles of our Christmas hearts and have us rushing into Iceland for our prawn parcels? Hardly a seismic shift from Kerry Katona and Jason Donovan, but it’s tried to change people’s perceptions, and if all Iceland van drivers looked like the nice man in the ad, online sales would surely fly. 7/10

AM: A really interesting ad. Iceland have this year avoided the problem of ‘borrowed interest’ (and cost) of using famous people, and produced a series of ads featuring an unknown but ‘nice’ couple. In the 40-second ad they are seen arriving via a sled at a big party in a winter wonderland all set to a catchy Jingle Bells backing. On the positive side the execution is very festive, beautifully shot with very high production values and some great people shots. It is one of the few ads this year that features products actually being cut into, shared and eaten with gusto… and with prices! On the negative side the rather bizarre setting of a party in some Swedish wood is contrived and the bonhomie too twee. I suspect the apparent food quality is also an over-promise from frozen products, and the people a bit too perfect but this is a huge improvement on the usual Iceland output. 7/10

LL: This looks like the best Christmas party ever. A communal barn. Frolics in the snow outside. Christmas lights. Laughter and merriment. Iceland’s best fare. A jolly band playing. Oh… and lipsyncing… badly to, er… Michael Bublé. The important element is the food, which is presented simply and clearly with the aid of nice typography. So a big plus point there.In many ways, this Christmas ad contains everything you need for a good time, though delivered in a very clichéd style. Not necessarily a bad thing. Iceland pretty much deliver what they say on the tin! But I was left hungry for a more cohesive ad where all the party elements gel to become the best Christmas party ever. 5/10


Total score: 18/30

SG: As Aldi has done such a good job trumping others in the TV ad stakes, I was really looking forward to Lidl’s first Christmas effort. What a disappointment. OK, it conveys the fact the packaging is plain, but it could have shown off the ‘what’s inside’ a bit more. M&S set the bar with its food porn ads - but, hey, if you can’t do that, why not copy other big retailers and add the Ellie Goulding soundalike backing track? Lidl may want to lure cash-strapped shoppers but this bland effort doesn’t cut the mustard. 5/10

AM: ‘Unwrap your perfect Christmas at Lidl’ is a beautifully shot and literal execution with children seen unwrapping Christmas foods - turkey, bacon-wrapped sausages, Christmas pud, sprout leaves with bacon lardons… Quite! The impression of luxury and quality is, frankly, unbelievable. There seems no evident connection between the brand and its real consumers. It seems to be like an ad produced made by a retailer for itself. 6/10

LL: Quite a surprise, this one. Lidl’s first venture into TV advertising hits us with its Deluxe range (including whole-cooked lobster, no less!) as gifts are unwrapped to an Ellie Goulding-inspired cover version of a One Direction song (pronounced ‘all these Lidl things’). Harry Enfield, doing his best Sean Pertwee impersonation, then tells us to “unwrap our perfect Christmas with Lidl”. A very simple, honest ad by a brand that doesn’t claim to be Waitrose or M&S, but is a cost-effective alternative. 7/10

Marks & Spencer:

Total score: 21/30

SG: Lots of magic but will sales sparkle for M&S this Christmas? ‘Believe in Magic & Sparkle’ has Hollywood production values, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, David Gandy and Helena Bonham-Carter, a fairytale theme and the obligatory ‘model in her undies’. But will it persuade shoppers to buy more than just food from M&S this Christmas? Looking at the two-and-a-half minute version I struggled to single out one piece of clothing I fancied (and I’m a sucker for high-heeled red shiny shoes). As food is the big footfall driver for M&S, why doesn’t the film give it more airtime? M&S knows how to deliver the food money shot, though. It looks beautiful, it probably deserves to be seen on a big screen and is completely what you’d expect from M&S. Safe, solid, dependable. 6/10

AM: A star-studded spectacular with high production values, this ad is a visual smorgasbord of well-known magical tales that move almost, but not quite, seamlessly from one to another - Alice in Wonderland, Aladdin, the Wizard of Oz, all seasoned with a touch of Red Riding Hood and Harry Potter. Clever - but too self-indulgent and pseudo-intellectual. Doesn’t seem connected with the brand and the earlier outstandingly successful food porn ads. 7/10.

LL: Big names. Big production. Big launch - during Coronation Street. Did it work? Of course it did. M&S always manages to capture the magic of Christmas - the Christmas we all dreamed of as children - and package it up with extra doses of brandy butter. Even the inclusion of the odd Helena B-K one-liner helps maintain the entertainment value. Classic Christmas TV was always about Morecambe & Wise or Generation Game specials. Now M&S Christmas TV ads are beginning to be considered the classics. 8/10


Total score: 25/30

SG: Take a cute child. Mix in cheery old folk. Add to last year’s successful ‘charity’ recipe. Slowly see sales rise. It was thought Waitrose took a risk last year with its pared-back Delia and Heston ads. But shoppers reacted positively and sales in the run-up to Christmas rose over 4%. This year’s effort should have a similar effect. A simple film packed with emotion that’s not schmaltzy, and not a female backing vocal in ear shot. The £1m donation seems paltry but give me this vs Ant n Dec any day. 8/10

AM: A straightforward execution tells the story of how Waitrose helps local charities ‘all year round’, moving from the little green tokens to an old person’s Christmas lunch attended by Waitrose staff with a supplier partner thanks thrown in. Very adult, clever and on-brand. The Spirit of Christmas personified. Rather good. 9/10

LL: Waitrose has captured the true essence of the season by highlighting its charity initiative in this very simple, low-budget ad. Yes, there’s a sprinkling of snow bookending the 30 seconds, but with only three necessary references to the word ‘Christmas’ in the title and VO, but all festive clichés are ignored in favour of a worthy reminder of what is really important at this time of year. Even the pseudo-M&S “take one green token” recipe sentiment works well alongside the sharp, close-up filming, giving this viewer an engaging and true sense of what the ad sets out to do. 8/10


Total score: 17/30

SG: You’ve got to love Aldi. This TV ad comes hot off the heels of being voted the world’s top ‘simple’ brand (in the fourth annual Global Brand Simplicity Index) and Which? Best Supermarket 2013. Not only is it stealing shoppers from the big four (most notably Tesco), it has stolen a march with its Christmas TV ad. Continuing the ‘Like brands. Only cheaper’ campaign, this simple 30-second film effectively communicates that Aldi can offer quality at affordable prices. You don’t need supermodels, celebrities, high production values, or big-name music. You stay true to your brand promise. You do it with humour. I like other Christmas ads. But I love this one. 9/10

AM: A rather rapid romp through vignettes recalling the main ongoing I Like campaign. Each segment is shot with a locked-off camera with some nice characterisations, ending with Father Christmas concluding he would like a holiday in Barbados. Somehow all a bit low key with nothing said about the products. Some judicious editing would increase the comprehension. 4/10

LL: I love Aldi ads. Witty, funny, entertaining, memorable. I loved the way different characters irreverently compared two similar but differently priced products with a little punchline.

What makes them successful is the juxtaposition between the protagonist role of the main character and the RTB ‘Reasons to Believe’ effect of silent sidekicks - the products themselves. And so to the Christmas version. We now see a series of characters talking about Christmas food and drinks that they/their mothers-in-law/ friends like. The difference is that they are not comparing the products. It’s just a shopping list of products. Not even the rooftop Santa announcing he would like a holiday in Barbados raises a snigger. I like Aldi ads. I don’t like this though. 4/10


Total score: 15/30

SG: “We need creative communications that break through the clutter” was a recent edict by Asda CMO Steve Smith. Does Asda’s Christmas campaign do that? Unfortunately/fortunately, I’ve not viewed all 20 executions, but the lead film shows Asda personified as the biggest, happiest snowman in the land (hang on a minute, didn’t John Lewis do snowmen last year?). Those poor other ‘price-matching’ snowmen (Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury as denoted by cleverly colour coded scarves) don’t look happy; they’re even ignored by the happy father/daughter combo giving the Asda snowman with his guaranteed 10% Better Off a reassuring pat. Here’s yet another campaign being launched during The X Factor (just how much air time is there during X-Factor and why can’t we vote off the worst Christmas TV ad?). After all the fuss around last year’s ‘sexist’ campaign, I feel this might slip by without a whimper. Hardly breakthrough. 6/10

AM: Asda has produced a range of commercials for the festive season. ‘Wine lovers are better off at Asda’ extols the virtue of an award-winning £5 range against the background of a rather confused scenario of party interspersed with house move. As for the snowmen execution, with its rather prosaic line-up of three non-smiling rivals’ snowmen and a beaming larger Asda, the 10% Better Off claim is substantiated, in the small print, by ‘Min. 8 different grocery items’, only one of which is comparable. Unconvincing. 6/10

LL: From showcasing award-winning wines through a seamless scene-transition 30 seconds to a single pan-out revealing snowmen to highlight their price promise, Asda has created 20 ads this Christmas. That’s a lot of treats. However, the problem with 20 small gifts is choosing a favourite. Which one will you get the most use out of? In my day, all I wanted for Christmas was Scalextric. Not socks, felt tips, a calendar and a Toblerone. I wanted the big single-minded gift. Ads work like that, too. One powerful and engaging ad is far more memorable and successful than a campaign swarm. It feels like Asda had too much it wanted to say and decided to throw it all into a Now That’s What I Call Christmas Shopping LP. The two current ads are the socks and felt tips. Both are functional in their own right but leave you uninterested after a while. 3/10

John Lewis

Total score: 25.5/30

SG: Trying to trump the efforts of the last few Christmas seasons is tough, but looking at initial public reaction, it has hit the bullseye. Traditional Disney old-style animation, cutesy animals, a tale of friendship, conducted to Lily Allen’s cover of Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know, there’s not a dry eye in the house. Never knowingly under-emoting, I’m sure this effort will see shoppers spending in their droves. But personally it leaves me cold. It could be Lily Allen’s voice, though.8/10

AM: ‘Give someone a Christmas they’ll never forget’ is a beautifully animated story of a bear who had never seen Christmas. Thanks to a caring hare the onset of winter sees the bear hibernate whilst the other forest animals all gather around a fir tree which they decorate as a Christmas tree and then share presents. A caring hare leaves the bear a gift of an alarm clock and he finally joins the animals to celebrate the season.It’s a warm, well constructed ad, but although expressing similar insight to Waitrose’s old folks dinner ad, is somehow less thought-provoking. 8/10

LL: Take a hare. Add a bear. Throw in Watership Down. Sprinkle a bit of Bambi, a spoonful of Jungle Book and a dash of Winnie-the-Pooh. Stir over with a beautiful version of Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know by Lily Allen. Mix thoroughly with a heart-warming storyline. Finally finish off with a topping of sugar. The result? Probably the soon-to-be-most-talked-about Christmas ad in a while - more so than M&S. With beautiful 2D animation integrated into a 3D set with a total campaign budget of £7m and big marketing spin-offs, it’s easy to see where the money was spent. Truly memorable. 9.5/10


Total score: 21/30

SG: What’s happened to Morrisons this year? Its lacklustre sales performance has been attributed to its speed (or lack thereof) in embracing online and convenience shopping, but is there more to it than that?Will its Christmas TV ad give it a much-needed seasonal lift? It will keep loyalists happy for sure (as will its Big Bonus promotion) but I can’t see a raft of new shoppers rushing through the doors of Morrisons as a result of this. To the backing of Be Our Guest from Disney’s Beauty & the Beast, the ad uses an animated singing gingerbread man to celebrate the vast array of food Morrisons has on offer. Of course it has, it’s a supermarket. And boy, there’s loads of food - all for Ant & Dec (I feel a January Ant & Dec Workout DVD could be on the cards). While food takes its rightful place in the centre of this film, we’re also hit with ‘value’ and ‘home-made’ messages. With a very light dusting of humour, it’s all very perfunctory. 6/10

AM: This feelgood ad shows Ant and Dec sitting around a festive table heaving with Christmas fare and interplaying with a Shrek-like gingerbread man extols the virtues of how ‘with a little dough you can put on a show’ in a vocal rendition redolent of a 1950s musical. At one point Ginger sings of ‘crackling turkey’ - an intriguing new product! Overall a rather jolly and ‘blingy’ romp. 7/10

LL: Morrisons’ ongoing partnership with Ant & Dec evolves into a magical Christmas ad mixing live footage with well-produced CGI creating a fairly memorable clip. The interaction between the Geordie duo and the singing gingerbread man is seamless. The food displayed looks delicious. Even the use of Be Our Guest is an inspired choice as the corniness of Ant & Dec’s previous outings is put to one side in favour of a higher-value part-CGI production (the interaction between the duo and the gingerbread man is seamless) that entertains and inspires. Not the greatest Christmas ad ever, but it’s safe to say that Morrisons has demonstrated its desire to raise the kudos and reputation of its brand in the Christmas market. 8/10


Total score: 29/30

SG: Christmas in a Day from Sainsbury’s. What a week they’re are having. Not only are they now the best performing major supermarket in Britain, but their Christmas ad is also the best by far. The 3:31-minute teaser trailer for the full 50-minute film ticks all the boxes, showcasing British families in all their idiosyncratic glory. It’s funny (Christmas spreadsheet), cute (kids) and multicultural (without being tokenistic). 9/10

AM: Sainsbury’s have made a brave leadership play this year by employing employed Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald to edit 360 hours of apparently real-life home videos of ordinary people preparing to celebrate Christmas. It’s gritty, funny, often emotional, brilliantly lit and shot and altogether, almost unbelievably,harmoniously edited with a sophisticated documentary skill. Poignant and wonderful. The communications strategy itself is also daringly led by a three-and-a-half-minute internet taster together with, in a move akin to the American Super Bowl advertisers, the promise of seeing the full film on Christmas Day. It feels more like a Tesco ad. But an astonishingly brave strategic move in branded content rather than straightforward advertising. I like. 10/10

LL: There was a time when great British movie directors like Ridley Scott and Alan Parker cut their teeth in creating seminal and iconic 30-second TV ads. In this case, Oscar-winning Kevin Macdonald reprises his documentary Life In A Day to create a 45-minute film for Sainsbury’s that wholly comprises real clips of real people filming themselves on Christmas Day. There is a similarity with this year’s Tesco offering in terms of the home movie feel, but that’s where the similarity stops. They are cut from extremely different cloths. The Sainsbury’s version touches your emotions - from the middle-aged man cooking just for himself to the children receiving the surprise gift of their military father back from duties abroad. The three-and-a-half-minute trailer works beautifully as we get an insight, and in many ways, an identifiable connection to the people we see. Whether the long version or the edited clips for TV have the same impact remains to be seen. But what Sainsbury’s have successfully achieved here is to prove that showing fantasy snow scenes or mums happily shopping are not the only ways to capture the consumer essence of Christmas. 10/10


Total score: 22.5/30

SG: It’s not being aired during The X Factor, so well done media buying team! Tesco’s 90-second ad airs the night before and hopes to persuade shoppers that says ‘There’s nothing better than Christmas’ (with Tesco, of course). After an ‘annus horribilis’, it’s got a lot of ground to cover in regaining consumer trust and getting shoppers back into store, but I feel like I’ve seen this ad before.. Here’s an ordinary family through the decades at Christmas, warts and all, to the voice of Rod Stewart singing Forever Young. I don’t know what it does for Tesco. There’s no food focus (the one plate shown looks very unappetising), no clothing or homewares (unless they’ve started selling Santa gravy jugs), so what’s on offer? It’s trying to elevate the brand by forging an ‘emotional connection’. The TK Maxx and Fairy Make a Wish Christmas ads, convey the joy of giving in a believable and human way, but this doesn’t feel real. Will 90 seconds of faked nostalgia be enough to convince me to go back to Tesco? Unlikely. 6/10

AM: Shot in home-movie style, the execution uses examples of classic wobbly handheld ‘home filming’ to celebrate how three generations of a family and friends grow and enjoy Christmas together. The production itself cleverly alludes to the different recording genres of 16mm cine film, video cameras and subsequently digital to gives a sense of the passage of time and contains beautifully balanced and carefully observed interactions of real family life. A confident, empathetic triumph. 10/10

LL: I’m having déjà vu. I’ve seen this ad before. A portrait of a family growing together over a generation where we see ageing, births, family friction, mood swings, happiness and ultimately a loving bond. Now what ad was it? Hmm… the John Lewis - She’s Always A Woman ad back in 2011. That’s it. Oh… and the protective dad and daughter storyline in the VW Polo ad a couple of years ago. And countless banking and insurance ads over the years. There are very close parallels between them. The main difference is that Tesco’s is made to look like a compilation of home videos shot every Christmas day. In essence, they all resemble each other very strongly. Rod Stewart’s Forever Young soundtrack, the Super 8 to HD iPhone video transformation over the years and the end frame with all the generations of the family happily gathered together are big plus points to support the storyline. ‘There’s nothing better than Christmas’ (thanks to Tesco) as an end line is the idea glue to summarise the history of the family unit. However, I was left thinking: “There’s nothing better than Christmas… And?” 6.5/10