The twelve ads of Christmas

The last decade has produced some stunning examples of festive creative genius.

27 November 2017

Written by Lee Hoddy, Creative Partner, for Shots.

The arrival of November marks the start of the festive trading period for retailers and brands, and with it the much anticipated Christmas Ads. It is essentially Oscars season for the UK advertising industry and the eyes of the nation have been firmly locked on all the big players. While Moz the Monster is taking on Paddington Bear this year, it’s an undeniable fact that the last decade has produced some stunning examples of festive creative genius.

If you have missed a few, check out my ‘ad-vent calendar’, featuring the twelve ads of Christmas.

Authentic and heritage ads

Coca-Cola: Holidays are coming (1995 to present)

There are those heart-warming, nostalgic moments in TV advertising that signal the start of the festive season.
Coca-Cola’s ‘Holiday’s are coming’ is definitely one of them. First aired in 1995, this Coca-Cola ‘Classic’ has remained untouched and the commercial now has an iconic status in the festive commercial calendar. While the tone is distinctly American, the sentiment, anticipation and build of excitement translates globally – a simple classic that stands the test of time and transports you to Nostalgia-ville.

Sentiment-driven ads

Sky Cinema: Nothing brings people together like a movie at Christmas (2017)

Sky Cinema has raised the bar in the ‘reaching for your tissues’ category with this instant heart-warming classic. Centred around the family favourite, The Sound of Music, the ad tells the story of a mother and daughter and the cherished moments they spend together over the course of 25 years of Christmases. The commercial opens with a four-year-old girl watching the iconic film, taking viewers on a touching journey through her teenage years and a gap year spent travelling, before finally revealing the daughter as a mother herself, beginning a new cycle of Christmas movie traditions. The commercial successfully captures the importance of family and tradition, bringing the product front and centre while tugging at the heartstrings of everyone on the sofa at home.

John Lewis: The long wait (2011) / Monty (2014)

In the UK, the arrival of the John Lewis TV ad is a much-anticipated event and for many marks the arrival of Christmas. The success of its commercials is rooted in the deep understanding of the spirit of giving, a simple story brilliantly told, year after year. Each tale is told against a backdrop of soft vocals to build the anticipation and emotion. The commercials successfully capture the imagination of every age group, a moment of escapism for the whole family, perfectly capturing all that John Lewis stand for.

‘The long wait’ demonstrates this beautifully; centered around a child’s selfless, anxious wait to give his parents a gift on Christmas Day. ‘Monty’ highlights a child’s awareness of loneliness and the need to help his friend. Both ads evoke the true spirit of Christmas; Monty captured our hearts and reminded us of the true power of giving. Beautifully done.

Epic storytelling ads

Sainsbury’s: 1914 (2014) / Mog (2015)

Forget the price war, November brings an epic battle between the big food retailers. In recent years it has been immense, with no expense spared in their quest to reach the star on the tree. Sainsbury’s has been a major contender with its strong storytelling approach. Its 2014 ad, ‘1914’ captures a beautiful moment of history, where men at war stop on Christmas Eve to come together. While the ad produced a mixed response among viewers, it put charitable giving at the core of the campaign and its narrative and sentiment was simply poignant and beautifully filmed.

Difficult to follow the epic tale of 1914, so a complete change in direction for Sainsbury’s in 2015. The brand served up the quirky tale of Mog the cat – leveraging animal charm to pull at the festive heartstrings. Mog’s Christmas calamity put a smile on all our faces and captured the spirit of sharing and kindness. Not quite reaching the success of the John Lewis partnership with the Wildlife Trust and ‘Buster the Boxer’ but a great change in direction for Sainsbury’s.

Humorous ads

TK Maxx: Sing-song (2016)

Humour is a refreshing break from sentiment and poignant narrative, and last year the fashion discounter TK Maxx, took a more disruptive, surprising approach with its fun, festive ad. Centred around the traditional approach of a family gathering to sing carols, the scene is then smashed with a remixed Tarantino-esque tune sung by the whole family, with varying degrees of singing ability. There is nothing like a good Christmas sing-song, and this is nothing like a good Christmas sing-song!

Aldi: Man on the moon spoof (2016)

Grocery discounter and disruptor, Aldi, injected humour into its Christmas ad by poking fun at its competitors with a spoof of John Lewis’s ‘Man on the moon’ commercial. While John Lewis was aiming high with emotion and sentiment, Aldi was pushing its pricing proposition with a humorous poke at the retail giant.

Animal charm ads

Waitrose: Coming home (2016)

Waitrose chose an iconic festive bird, the robin, to be the hero of its 2016 commercial. Beautifully filmed, it captures the epic journey of a robin’s flight home to be with his special one for Christmas. The 90-second commercial is packed full of emotional moments, as the plucky robin makes his way home – leaving us navigating fear to terror, sadness to absolute joy in the space of a few seconds. The simple act of sharing a mince pie at the end of his journey reminds us of the gift of sharing great food with family.

Insight-driven ads

Boots: Here come the girls (2007)

Targeted at women, the brand took an insight based on behaviour and crafted a wonderful on-point ad: the prep and preening women go through to get ready for the office Christmas party. It has wonderful moments such as the bathroom cram to get mirror space and the horror of wearing the same dress! Christmas 2007 was the most successful trading period in Boots’ history. The brand has never been able to recreate its success. Simply brilliant storytelling, perfect character choice.

Marks & Spencer: Christmas belles (2007)

At one point in the past decade Marks & Spencer and John Lewis vied for the Christmas commercial top spot. M&S led the way for over five years, when the brand used celebrities in highly stylised well-produced ads promoting Christmas gifts and festive fare. ‘Christmas belles’ is arguably the best example in terms of production value, with its nod to decadent 50’s glamour and the Hollywood golden age. A change in strategy in recent years has left the door wide open for John Lewis to take the M&S crown.

Beyond family tradition

Apple: Frankie’s holiday (2016)

Left-field ads deserve a mention because of how they engage with us. Sweetly weird was Apple’s 2016 offering. Its hero was horror character Frankenstein’s monster (Frankie), who is not normally associated with Christmas. However, the idea of loneliness, offering a thought for those who have neither family nor friends at this special time pulls an emotional chord. Acceptance at Christmas translates in a heart-warming, delightful few seconds of joy. All captured on a stunning iPhone of course!