It's that time of the year where the retailers unleash the power of Christmas through their advertising.
Truly, 'tis a time to be jolly for anyone who loves a bit of feel-good magic.
No one does the season better than Britain. And in the last few weeks, hundreds of millions of pounds of creative budget and expensively licenced music has been unleashed on the UK like the exchange of missiles by superpowers. The internet, rather than ending big TV ads like these, has allowed many to simply make much longer versions that stream online.
Who has won? Depends on your point of view – at this time of year, I always go for something that genuinely makes me feel Christmassy (as opposed to just entertained) and of course, ads that reward repeat viewing.
The Christmas throne is always hotly contested in the UK, as the competitive field has widened to include some newer runners including Ikea, Argos and Walkers Crisps, the latter reportedly have spent £9m on Mariah Carey performing her 'All I want for Christmas' song to help them promote their Christmassy range of crisps (chips in Kiwi-ese) including Brussel Sprouts and Pigs in Blankets flavours (this is not a joke).
Ikea has launched their first-ever Christmas advert with a track by grime legend MC D Double E (sounds like an alphabet rhyme from Sesame Street), and their story is a rather odd one of a family being harassed by a toy dinosaur to do up their lounge for Christmas. I personally found it a bit sad, as they replaced their quite kitsch lounge with a whole load of cookie cutter Ikea clutter.
There's same-same from some supermarkets demonstrating a lack of imagination. Sainsbury's have gone with a dark Dickensian Scrooge-esque tale which frankly rather than making me feel joy and happiness, just made me feel sad.
Asda's ad about catching the Northern Lights looked expensive but left me non-plussed.
Aldi have brought back Kevin the Carrot – which for those who haven't seen it is, yes, a carrot. Who sings? This time helped by Robbie Williams who wants to 'Entertain You' this Christmas. It also features a carrots v brussel sprouts sub plot, which has gone on for years in Aldi Christmas ads.
So far, so not exciting. But then Marks & Spencer pop up with an ad full of people dancing around in Christmas jumpers (sweaters in Kiwi), set to the music of yes, Jump Around by American Hip Hop trio House of Pain. It's actually a lot of fun and my kids really liked it. And it was possibly the cheapest ad this Christmas, helpful to M&S as they are under a bit of pressure.
So, my top three. In no particular order:
Tesco were late to the party with their ad celebrating 100 years of Tesco, as their online delivery van does a 'back to the future' type blast through different ages delivering the goodies, including a magical moment appearing on the set of cult 'eighties game show Bullseye to the sound of host Jim Bowen telling the winners "there's your van". For those like me who miss Jim and 'Bully', it was a special moment and the ad closes with our intrepid driver ending up at home, narrowly missing the snowman, and cue cute kids running out the door shouting "Daddy's home".
Argos is a British anachronism, where in an age of internet shopping, Argos still distribute a huge printed catalogue and millions of people visit their shops, fill out little slips of paper with a code, and collect their item at a counter fed by a Generation Game type conveyor belt. That's not the ad, that's the business.
The new Argos ad is clever, it turns the Argos catalogue into 'The Book of Dreams'. The extended version of the ad is a must-see, as we follow a Dad dreaming of getting his daughter a drum set, then he's playing it, accompanying Simple Minds' 'Don't You Forget About Me' while his kitchen morphs into a rock stadium and his daughter joins him on stage and plays a second set of drums. What's more, you can buy the drum set (subject to availability) for £79. Brilliant.
Finally, John Lewis (this time buddied up with their supermarket Waitrose) have a big return to form with their Excitable Edgar the Dragon ad. It has everything I look for in a Christmas ad – a cute creature (Edgar), slapstick comedy, a feelgood ending, and product placement and retail extensions. Yes, we follow Edgar in a medieval setting as he manages to melt the kids' snowman, the frozen pond, and set fire to the village decorations before hiding away in his room.
Luckily, his friend Ava finds a way to redeem Edgar with the frustrated villagers (think Christmas puddings and village feast). Set to a re-recording of REO Speedwagon's Can't Fight This Feeling, this is joy, and again worth the extended play online. Plus you can buy a plush Edgar, Edgar slippers or gumboots, storybook or tee-shirt, even the Christmas pudding.
With 8 million views alone on the John Lewis YouTube page so far, I'd say Excitable Edgar's going gangbusters.
- Ben Goodale is a veteran adman with a fair few Christmas ads under his belt.