It’s that time of year again – the Halloween shelves have been cleared, Mariah Carey is climbing up the streaming charts, and Cliff Richard is stocking up on mistletoe and wine.
Yes, it’s time for our TV screens to be dominated by tinsel, twinkly lights and celebrity endorsements as the battle for consumers’ festive purses heats up.
Previous years’ ads for supermarkets and major brands have tended to follow the template set by John Lewis for over a decade – perhaps chucking in a breathy version of a well-known rock or pop song, a cute character and a firm tug on the heartstrings.
However, this year marks a shift in tone. John Lewis’s switch of ad agencies, with 2023’s offering produced by Saatchi and Saatchi, has changed this season’s greetings from pure schmaltz towards a lighter, more surreal feeling.
Others are more transparently product-focused, chasing those all-important pennies amid intense competition in a cost-of-living crisis.
There’s no definitive verdict on any of these ads – it’s often down to personal preference and whether you tend to erupt with joy or cringe at the sight of Rick Astley/Michael Buble/a chomping plant/a cute kid. Here’s a round-up of this year’s festive fare, and some reactions from the Polymedia team.
The department store giant is traditionally the benchmark for quality Christmas ads – who can forget the little boy who can’t wait to give his parents his wonkily-wrapped present, or the rather creepy old man stuck on the moon watching a lonely kid through his telescope?
This year’s ad moves away from blatant attempts to make us sob into our sprouts by going off-beam with the tale of a boy who wants to grow a magical Christmas tree but ends up creating a ravenous CGI Venus flytrap.
Happily for John Lewis, the plant, exiled to the garden, loves to munch on presents and spit out their contents – all of them handily available in store or online.
Polymedia team reaction: Lukewarm, ranging from the succinct “It’s pants” to “Am I on drugs?”. Safe to say this isn’t an all-time classic.
Post Halloween, Twitter (or X, or whatever it’s called this week) is awash with wags joking that it’s time to defrost Mariah Carey and Michael Buble.
Here Buble – the Asda Value Frank Sinatra – embraces this meme, carrying off a nice line in not taking himself too seriously. The setup is simple – Buble is a sort of Head of Christmas at the supermarket, taste-testing products with a wide-eyed wonder and boyish enthusiasm.
It all ends, of course, with Buble crooning out a chorus of Winter Wonderland. Depending on your feelings about the man himself, you’ll either laugh your head off or want to hibernate until New Year.
Polymedia reaction: Most of us like cheese, so Asda just about gets away with it this year.
Marks and Spencer
This was the first of the major ads to drop this year, and proved controversial in the Polymedia office. Not for the storm-in-a-teacup screen grab that unhelpfully set off a row about burning coloured Christmas hats – we don’t get into politics here. No, the office debate focused on M&S’s central message which seems to be: You do you.
So, when it comes to Christmas, if you’d rather not wear a paper hat, or prefer to blowtorch your Christmas cards rather than spend hours writing them out (they do have a point here….) that’s fine according to Marks and Sparks. It stars disco queen Sophie Ellis-Bextor and the ever-brilliant Hannah Waddingham, but they are the only redeeming features in a curiously expensive-looking but lacklustre attempt to do something out of the ordinary.
Polymedia reaction: Most of us love our Christmas traditions and felt this “do Christmas how you want” message was more Scroogey than sparkly. We’ll still be off to M&S for our really chocolatey biscuits, though.
It’s the ad nobody is talking about! The Sainsbury’s Christmas short this year smacks of “will this do?”. A girl asks over the tannoy what Santa eats for his Christmas dinner, Sainsbury’s staff make suggestions and Rick Astley pops up singing “Never Gonna Give You Up” because that’s what he does at the drop of a (Santa) hat.
Look, it’s fine. Just fine. It reminded us that you can buy food at Sainsbury’s if you want. It didn’t offend anybody. If you always go to Sainsbury’s for the Nectar points, you still will.
Polymedia reaction: We felt nothing and that’s fine.
Aldi has increasingly taken up John Lewis’s share of the Polymedia team’s festive love over the past few years, and we were perhaps more excited than we should have been to see the return of Kevin the Carrot for the eighth consecutive year.
This year the orange adventurer takes on a version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, meeting characters including a spoilt sprout, a greedy grape and a naughty kiwi.
Kevin, of course, is the last man (or carrot) standing, choosing to share the spoils with everyone in the spirit of the season. Even “Ebanana Scrooge” gets swept up in the fun, in an ad that’s curiously moving considering it has a cast of various vegetables.
Polymedia reaction: We are totally here for this latest installment in the Kevin the Carrot Cinematic Universe, even if we’re not actually that keen on carrots, sprouts etc (pass the cheese, please).
Are raccoons Christmassy? This one all feels a bit like the Holiday Armadillo from Friends – trying to make an animal festive when clearly they’d just run out of other ideas.
If you can get past the unseasonal nature of its star, this is actually a sweet little tale of a raccoon who embarks on an epic journey to return a lost toy to a little boy in time for Christmas Day.
It does tie in nicely with a campaign Lidl is running to encourage customers to donate a toy to families who are less fortunate, so we shouldn’t really be mean about it. But, hey ho, we’re opinionated so we will anyway – it’s a bit rubbish really.
Polymedia reaction: Well, it’s for a good cause.