From John Lewis’s Elton John extravaganza, to David Gandy and Holly Willoughby for Marks & Spencer – the Drapers team gives their verdict on the best Christmas ads of 2018, as well as those that left us feeling a little cold.
Rebecca Thomson, head of commercial content
Barbour’s ad takes a Christmas favourite and adds to it. What’s nice about it is that it uses imagination, rather than simply reproducing the old classic. Plus, it replaces the little boy’s dressing gown with a Barbour coat for the little girl. This is both effective (but not too blatant) product placement, but also deals with a flaw in the original – that boy would have been freezing cold as he flew through the air.
It has a nice touch of magic at the end – however, the only thing that feels as though it’s missing is, after all her waiting, it might have been nice to see her meet her new Snowman friend. Christmassy and cosy without being too over the top.
Joel Barrick, deputy production editor
My favourite and least favourite ads have the same theme: that the right gift can change someone’s life. I find Very’s story of a young girl growing up to be an astronaut after her parents recognise her dreams sweet and touching. But the John Lewis ad – and its suggestion that a gift of a piano led to Elton John’s lifelong success – frankly just annoyed me. It felt entirely focused on “We managed to get Elton John!”, and not on telling its story. And John Lewis doesn’t even sell pianos!
John lewis 1
Kirsty McGregor, deputy editor
I’m not a fan of shmaltzy Christmas adverts, so for me two stood out this year: the first is the Waitrose advert, for its tongue-in-cheek send-up of sister brand John Lewis’s hotly anticipated blockbuster ad. The second is the Sainsbury’s advert, which borders on saccharine but gets away with it because of the plug scene. The image of that little boy jumping at the socket will stay with me far longer than the sight of Elton John reminiscing about his singing days gone by.
Not the worst but certainly the weirdest is the never-ending stocking from TK Maxx. The thought of being followed around by a belching, stripy stocking snake for a year does not fill me with Christmas cheer, although it is at least quite friendly.
One of the worst has to be the Burberry advert. It’s creepy and the moving camerawork makes me feel a bit sick. Nothing about it makes me want to buy Burberry’s product or the eerie, cold lifestyle it is selling.
Jill Geoghegan, head of content news and features
For me Sainsbury’s won the Christmas ad competition this year, hands down. From the cute Christmas tree singing her heart out to the over-the-top stage production complete with human plug, it sums up everything that a Christmas ad should be: festive, glitzy and heart-warming.
Anisha Panchasara, art editor, Drapers
I quite like how Barbour brings to life an ultimate classic Christmas film and still keeps the magical essence throughout. It has excitement and is heart-warming, showing what I’m sure many kids would be doing during a snowy day building a replica of the famous Snowman and letting their imaginations run wild. Overall, it feels very festive and the ad has been shot very well.
On the other hand, Debenhams’ “Do a bit of you-know-you-did-good” doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head for me. I think the concept of knowing you’ve bought the perfect present for a loved one is great, however, I feel it could have been executed with a better choice of song.
Harriet Brown, staff writer
My favourite ad has to be Sainsbury’s take on the school show this year. A lot of Christmas adverts are very worthy, or solemn, which doesn’t feel very Christmassy to me! Sainsbury’s take on the Christmas play is fun, uplifting and playful – and doesn’t look overly primed, polished or twee. It captures the Christmas spirit in a very sweet way, with lots of hidden details that mean seeing it over and over again in ad breaks doesn’t get too monotonous.
My personal highlight is “Plug Boy” – the small child dressed as a plug who flings himself into a giant socket to switch on the school Christmas lights. What’s not to like!?
Grace Whelan, news reporter
After a few watches Christmas adverts can often lose their sparkle, but Marks & Spencer has been clever to create alternative endings and new content for throughout the festive period. Last year’s Paddington-themed campaign was always going to be tough to top, but 2018’s Bridget Jones-esque tone and Tom Jones soundtrack made for strong competition.
The “must-haves” concept is smart way to pinpointing key items from the collection, with all Christmas eventualities covered, from festive party outfits to pyjamas for the big day.
As John Lewis divides viewers with its Elton John advert, M&S shines through with a fun, festive take on a busy family Christmas.
Samantha Warrington, head of content production
A common theme emerged in two of the Christmas ads this year: that of festive gifts enabling young children to fulfil their potential, in the form of Elton John with the John Lewis piano that catapulted him to pop uberstardom (does John Lewis even sell pianos and, if so, how many parents could afford to give one as a gift?) and Very’s baby girl astronaut who, thanks to the Christmas offerings of the online retailer, secures her place in the space station. Are these retailers perhaps slightly exaggerating the importance of giving?
Maybe it’s because my younger children are now teenagers, but I found this year’s crop of Christmas ads largely unengaging. However, the one that did make me laugh out loud was Debenhams’ “Star”. The self-satisfaction and facial fist-pumping that occurred when the gift-givers realised they had “scored” the correct presents represented a much less lofty seasonal sentiment – which was also the opposite of TK Maxx’s endlessly gift-burping giant stocking.
Alison Fisher, art director
John Lewis warms the heart with a great song and lovely narrative and overall message. A lovely family feel-good advert. Everything you expect from John Lewis. I thought Debenhams was a really poor effort. Felt a bit flat and didn’t make me feel warm and Christmassy. An unoriginal idea, lacking a strong narrative. Rather dull.
Emily Sutherland, features writer
This year’s crop of festive adverts from retailers felt slightly underwhelming. There was no standout favourite to rival old Christmas classics such as John Lewis’s 2016 Monty the Penguin.
Marks & Spencer’s “must-haves” Christmas campaign lacked imagination, despite a healthy dose of star power from brand ambassadors Holly Willoughby and David Gandy. John Lewis’s much-anticipated festive offering failed to impress this year. The retailer’s “the boy and the piano”, which follows the story of Elton John’s career, felt more like an advert for the upcoming biopic on the singer. Although glossy and well executed, it did not ignite that feel-good Christmas spirit.
However, Debenhams’ “do a bit of you know you did good”, which showed the moment shoppers knew they had bought the perfect gift”, did raise a smile around the Drapers office and Sainsbury’s “the big night” was simple but heart-warming.