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The big festive ad reveal: Separating the turkeys from the crackers

By David Walker

Since when did ridiculo-budget adverts from our nation’s most massive retailers suddenly usher in the festive season?

Since about 2010 of course – where have you been? Advent calendars and Christmas light switch-ons are so 1982. And don’t even ask about Jesus – his appearance fees are astronomical these days.

John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and an ever-increasing cast of thousands have been hijacking our emotions and brainwashing us with delightful celebrity cameos, suggestive hashtags, wide-ranging spin-offs, and cynical product placement for what feels like donkeys now.

Occasionally, there’s even been a genuine tear-jerker that’s been the absolute essence of Christmas.

The weird thing is that we keep coming back for more, like some kind of festive Stockholm Syndrome – we now love a good festive advert far more than we love any EastEnders plot twist, Shrek re-run, or Doctor Who special. The Queen’s Speech is meanwhile just considered a weird, old curiosity by children who never take their eyes off the iPad long enough to know that there’s a thing called TV.

Such is the pressure on retailers to compete in this undignified annual bloodbath that even budget supermarkets like Aldi are forced to get in the ring, only to be inevitably and decisively floored by a single air punch from the big boys. Their Kevin the Carrot effort was unremarkable enough last year, never mind being considered worthy of a return in 2017. Does anyone care about the amorous adventures of a vegetable? No, me neither.

This year, Lidl meanwhile have simply gone with a bloke carving turkey in a slightly theatrical and threatening manner. Still, it’s difficult to convey anything in 20 seconds, such were the apparent budgetary constraints.

For all its futuristic CGI flourishes, the Argos advert just doesn’t have any emotional resonance, and even feels faintly creepy due in no small part to its soulless cast of po-faced elves. Since when did Rudolph the reindeer become a spacecraft? And where’s Santa in this hollow, loveless Lapland? 

Debenhams fares better with its Cinderella-based romance – a love for the ages fuelled by hashtags and Ewan McGregor moving a ladder. Despite a lack of chemistry between the leads, it’s engaging, though perhaps a bit forgettable. Ask me next Christmas what happened in the Debenhams advert of 2017 and I’ll struggle.

John Lewis undoubtedly remains the king, the big kahuna, the Taylor Swift of this slow annual advertising schlep across our screens – but only by an aggregate points decision thanks to years of leading the pack. This year’s effort is dividing opinions, and rightly so. It’s genuinely funny in places, but its lazy appropriation of Monsters Inc. tropes and a hooky Gruffalo don’t hit any novel notes, while the cloying Beatles cover might just be the very wrong side of syrupy when you’ve sat through it for the 42nd time.

 

 

It’s the old time-honoured creature-under-the bed schtick with a bit of added crass commercialism thrown in. Luckily, the child is cute, even if he is a terrible goalkeeper.

My festive winner? I think it has to be good, old, venerable Marks & Spencer. Sure, they’ve effectively bought themselves a very bankable movie star in Paddington, but for my money, the advert hits all the right notes in terms of humour, tone and messaging, while fundamentally eschewing cloying sentimentality.

 

 

The Paddington movies represent a very homegrown success story for the British film industry, and M&S has successfully bagged itself a bit of the reflected glory while appealing to a wide family audience.

Don’t be swayed by all the bad people insisting that reformed klepto ‘Santa’ is cussing ungratefully in Paddington’s ear at the end. It’s sweet, sentimental – and far better than John Lewis’ expensively monstrous nonsense. It could even help to turn around Marks & Spencer’s ailing profits. Now, that would be a Christmas miracle.

 

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