The X-mas Ad Battle: An Analysis

Hear the writers discuss this subject on the Secret Cave Podcast!

Before you start labelling me as a Grinch, let me make it absolutely clear that I adore Christmas.  Despite being a devoted Atheist, the religious overtones are now more of a choice than a necessity.  As for the commercial implications, it’s no different to the capitalism that pervades our society for the rest of the year.  What’s left is a period of magical reflection against the warmth of some figurative fireside (radiator will do).  It’s a time for family and friends, and the healthy stress that comes along with loving them.  Mostly considered a cornerstone of the year, for those lucky enough to enjoy its pleasures, the jovial season is one I hold in perpetual high regard.

John Lewis even did a wonderful, if mawkish, job of summing up the whole affair in their 2013 advert.  Apparently the beginnings of all this marketing madness, it was unique and genuinely touching.  It caused a bit of a storm for its universal themes and pure quality, so much so that we’ve ended up with a “battle” this year to outdo it.  Every company wants to throw their hat in with some half-baked life-wasting segment.  You could take it all in good fun and try to get caught up in the charm of it all if it weren’t for two important considerations.  Firstly, their execution is – on the whole – remarkably awful.  Whether they drip with the fats of unashamed cheese or simply reek of uninspired gold-digging, none match the class of The Bear and The Hare, John Lewis’ initial impressive offering.

The second consideration is more alarming, especially considering how penniless Christmas often leaves us as consumers.  It has been estimated by the BBC that UK retailers alone are expected to have spent £5.6 billion on their campaigns.  How can this be justified?  Marketing is certainly an expensive business, but is this not all just a cynical exercise in being “king of the castle”?  Whatever company may get to call the others “dirty rascals” on any particular year, there’s no real upside for anyone else.  A phenomenon brought about by aggressive competition and money-making does not encapsulate Christmas for me, no matter how many shit James Corden ditties are layered on top.  What it symbolises instead is X-mas – once a text-message shorthand and now a whole approach to festivity.

Nobody really wants X-mas.  X-mas is shit.  It’s something forced on us by people who have too much money to appreciate the holiday in the first place.  This current roster of adverts is drowning in it too.  As a war cry and rally to each of this article’s readers, I ask of you not to stand for this synthetic replacement!  We must defend our precious Christmas period!  Do not let these narcissistic bastards swap it out for something else.  In that spirit, let’s take a look at a handful of the year’s criminals, starting with the smoking gun we can blame for all this:

John Lewis – Buster the Boxer

This one’s got a load of different animals in it.  Animals are awesome.  We all know this, it’s a truism all too often used to tug on our heartstrings.  This one’s not too bad compared to the rest – amusing enough in concept and undeniably cute.  Its frivolous nature makes it certainly inferior to its 2013 predecessor, but it’s still alright.  Thing is, what’s the point in merely being alright?  The Bear and The Hare was clearly something special, why make as big a deal out of something far less grand?  In the end, when the more adorable mammals have buggered off the trampoline, i’m left with Buster the Boxer as a drooling metaphor for either Donald Trump or the X-mas Ad Battle itself.

M&S – Christmas with Love from Mrs. Claus

Nice one M&S, you’ve come up with a genuinely awesome idea for a new Christmas film.  It’s packed with real charm and emotion, it’s relatable and it even plays fantastically and uniquely on the childhood fantasies of the Claus family we all have.  Shame they’ve boiled it down to a three-minute diversion and hashtag, with the sole aim of advertising an overpriced supermarket.  Despite thinking the actual content of this ad is of intensely high craftsmanship, it makes my point for me.  What is all of this for?  It’s not, as it seems, to present customers with a nice little present.  It’s drumming up your loyalty, cementing sales and playing the PR game.  This one almost commits its own crime by being a good enough idea to support a film, and I think Christmas films are generally wank.  I hate that its been wasted on such vacuous intentions.

Aldi – Kevin the Carrot

If this orange twat toppled my meticulously arranged pile of roasties, setting fire to my Christmas pud on his ill-conceived escape, he’d be more likely to wake up in my bowels than on Santa’s sleigh.  At least this one heavily features food, which is what I presume Aldi are trying to sell.  Truth is though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of their utterly inorganic carrots walking around the place anyway.  Anthropomorphising food is always daft.  Amongst the crap poetry, it’s clear that those sweet little sleeping parsnips are coming to an immensely grim end between someone’s gnashers.  Slap Christopher Biggins in a fifteen second flash about frozen cocktail sausages instead, and then fuck off.  Money saved.

Waitrose – #HomeForChristmas

Top notch.  Probably the best of the bunch.  Now lower your prices so we don’t have to pay for another one next year you bastards.  Also, give all the creatives involved better jobs in film, television and games.  Then they might die with a soul still intact.

TK Maxx – The Sing-Song

Oh fuck this one.  This one is the worst by miles.  Not only is it irritating and thinner than tracing paper but it’s not even funny the first time.  It’s as if it were put together by people who know it’s not funny, but have come to the conclusion that us thick serfs find such toss amusing.  We don’t.  Also, my gran would never have a black man’s hands on her shoulders like that.  Multiculturalism is fucking incredible.  Token black people are not, and there’s a lot of it going on this year.

Sainsbury’s – The Greatest Gift

This gash bastard is the reason I wanted to write this article.  If Christmas is about fobbing everyone off with shite toys in your own image then i’m getting off the train.  Not only is his idea terrible, but he comes across as an extremely pathetic, whinging little bitch in the process.  Add an unbelievably bad song, a total lack of humour and James Corden into the mix and this comes very close to depicting Hell.  I’ve heard tell that the awful tune that makes up the thrust of The Greatest Gift is going for the Christmas Number One slot.  Fuck that noise.  We’ve had some bad choices in the past, but even I like a good shitty Christmas song.  Eschewing the “good” altogether, this simply shitty Christmas song becoming #1 would truly set off the downfall of humanity.  Brexit, Trump and now this arse.

There are many more than this too.  It’s not even worth looking at them all, as they eventually come down to the same thing.  Dress it up in sentimentality as much as you like, but it’s still marketing.  Just how synonymous advertising has become with Christmas is ridiculous.  I’m not forgetting such well-established staples as the Coca-Cola adverts either – they stood on their own.  The fact that it’s devolved into a “battle” actually reveals the true meaning behind all the false emotion.  Of course, it was always just a way to increase brand loyalty and sales.  Turning it into a very real contest simply makes it blatantly obvious.  Three minutes of content to line silken pockets is a travesty, and you shouldn’t ever be fooled into thinking it’s well-natured glad tidings.  I genuinely wish you a merry Christmas, for this year and every year.  Don’t believe for a second that the CEOs who put these ads in place give any kind of a shit about your merriment.

British fellow consumes media and regurgitates back what you should think about it.
  • Ben Mulholland

    Fecking awesome post again sir – hit it right on the head! Especially about old Christmas ads like the Coca Cola one (I’ll remember that ’till I bloody die). Those felt like they captured the whole feeling and spirit of the season, rather than being the latest throwaway one-year ad. Hell, look at how many years the Coke ad was repeated and you have your proof; can you imagine them using Buster the Boxer or that bloody TK Maxx ad a second year running?

    • Thank you very much my man! Hope to get you on a podcast soon! To be honest, only reason I wrote this was to have a go at “The Greatest Gift”, but found some interesting points along the way too!

    • Jon B

      Ah yes but who needs a single campaign when we have creative services to sell…?!