A penny for your thoughts makes it very hard to get by in this economy.
Ever since we packed up our pumpkins at the end of October we’ve been subject to the annual bombardment of capitalism on crack that is Christmas advertising. There’s been unfortunate rip offs - Sainsbury’s must have on set watching the John Lewis Bohemian Rhapsody ad in September thinking, “F***.” - banned social good ads - Iceland if you’re really against palm oil don’t just remove it from your own products, refuse to sell it outright, take a proper stand - and sequels we never asked for.
So here’s my top five Christmas ads this year. I think it’s been fair to say it hasn’t been a classic, with a much lower hit rate of standouts from the class of 2018. Perhaps this is no bad thing, as when each iteration tries to be bigger, better and more emotion assaulting there comes a point where it has to peak before it either goes in another direction or the cycle starts again. Just look at John Lewis.
John Lewis - Elton John
Actually let’s look at John Lewis, which after several years of diminishing returns of animated critters has changed track and gone big, celeb endorsement. I appreciated the grander scale, covering decades and globe trotting tours, taking you on a journey through a flamboyant life. The filmmaking craft is phenomenal from the editing to the set dressing to the costumes. It does a much better job of showing how gifts can be life changing, over the likes of Very for instance, in that this was a real story. It’s the first in a good few years that has left me feeling how they want me to feel.
Waitrose - Too Good to Wait
Waitrose, a John Lewis partner, had the inspired idea to ride John Lewis’s coat tails by making their ad about a family watching the John Lewis ad. So meta. It works because it’s treated with such little reverence, with good performances and a strong tagline that ties it all up, which I’m sure many who don’t see the hype about these showcase ads will sympathise with. This was just one in a series of people rushing through things to get to the food (the school choir one is also excellent) but for convention breaking balls it has to be this one.
Twitter - John Lewis
Another John Lewis related ad that using the cultural behemoth as a kick off for subversion. Every year you hear about that poor guy in America getting inundated with wrongly directed tweets since he is the owner of the handle @johnlewis. Twitter, brilliantly, decided to take this and make him the star of their ad. The tone is perfect, from John mundanely replying to stock enquiries to the reveal that the indie guitar cover being sung live building a delightfully surreal experience. Which, for this guy, every year must be.
Pedigree - Season of Good Dog
A surprise from a brand not usually big on Christmas ads, with a lovely holiday message not about Christmas, but about Good Dog, which took me far too long to realise is what the star dog thinks its name is. The attention to detail is fantastic, great writing making you believe this is from the dog’s perspective (“W-A-L-K went a different way”), coupled with dog themed carols, a Big Lebowski-esque dream sequence and subtle inclusion of Pedigree (“I couldn’t eat, but I did.”) and I look forward to see what they come back with next year.
Currys PC World - Magic of Christmas Upgraded
This was a struggle finding a standout fifth, but I think for me it’s the one that launched this year’s Christmas rush, Currys PC World just for the fun inclusion of their products in a Dickensian world. The production values are great, filling a whole techno Victorian street, complete with drones and many of the gags land better than in other ads, the horse and carriage with the banging sound system made me laugh out loud. Not close to the Jeff Goldblum series of 2015 (three years ago!!) which goes to prove every ad should feature Jeff Goldblum.