BITE Focus

The best ads of Christmas 2018

This year, in our bumper Christmas Focus, discover the brands who are doing Christmas best, the ones capturing our hearts, tugging on our purse strings and making us well up at our desks.

Izzy Ashton

Assistant Editor, BITE


Is it (nearly) Christmas? I hadn’t noticed…then again, how could you not notice? Before the last of the pumpkins were even thrown away, the tinsel has gone up and the faint intro bars of Mariah Carey can be heard reverberating around office blocks across the country. Is it just me or does Christmas seem to be creeping earlier and earlier each year?

And nowhere is this more apparent than with the annual release of those big bucks Christmas ads, the first of which actually appeared on Halloween this year. Children laughing! Reindeer flying! The odd Father Christmas doing something incongruous! Oh and of course the eagerly awaited John Lewis ad, anticipation for which rivals a blockbuster movie.

So, the John Lewis ad is popular. People love it. But what about the rest of Christmas? What of the other brands? Well, with the big creative slots, it’s becoming clear that the traditional 30-second TV spot no longer rules. These are not quick, glance-at, rush-to-the-loo-during ad breaks. These are longer, trailer-esq films designed to market the brand’s world and accompanying sentiment more than a particular product.

And they’re a nod to the rituals that never change. The 20th time you’ve all watched Love Actually, the fact that you only open presents after lunch, or do you do it before? Christmas, no matter where you live, what you celebrate and in which order you do it, matters. For many, the focus is on the food; for others it’s family. But however you do a modern British Christmas, stick to your traditions, wear your jumper with pride and let no one tell you how to make that gravy.

In this year’s bumper Christmas Focus, discover the brands who are doing the season best, the ones capturing our hearts, tugging on our purse strings and making us well up at our desks.

The magic of animation

Through animation you can capture the magic of a moment in a way that perhaps a real life actor cannot. For Apple’s holiday ad, ‘Share Your Gifts’, the brand chose to focus on the beauty of creative genius, sending out a moral message for all creatives. It is a Pixar-inspired animation in which we follow a budding designer as she locks away her creations, agonising over the thought that anyone might ever see them. And then of course, they do, blown down wind by a faithful hound, and the recipients love them. The only nod to an Apple product is a well-loved MacBook, covered in stickers which pops up in the background throughout the ad.

What would Christmas be without the cursory elves to either make or break it? Argos’ ‘Christmas Fool’ created by The&Partnership London is festive cheer’s worst nightmare. The little imp with bells on its ears terrorises a neighbourhood at night, knocking stars off Christmas trees, unwrapping presents and stealing Sellotape rolls. Thankfully Argos solves everything by shutting the elf in their van and saving the day with their delivery and collection service.

Another, less destructive, elf to grace Swiss screens this Christmas lives at the department store Manor. Working with BETC Shopper and Passion Paris, they created an animated spin off from last year's campaign, entitled ‘The Gift’. The hero of the film is one of Santa's elves, Elfred who is, much to its horror, spotted by a passing child. As Elfred moves through the Roald Dahlian-esq world akin to a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory set, we are immersed in the magical kingdom where the presents are being created. This kingdom reflects the stores commitment to creating the Magical Everyday.

Christmas, not just for turkeys

Animals, like animation, add a little extra magic to a Christmas campaign. None more so than Heathrow’s bears, who appear for the third year in a row in ‘Making It Home, Makes It Christmas’ by Havas London. This year’s ad marks the reappearance of the grandparent bears who are now living in a retirement home in Florida. But the Christmas tree looks out of place, the sunny weather is incongruous and the Wi-Fi connection terrible. So, they pack up, fly into Heathrow and surprise their family by making it home for Christmas.

KFC have cleverly worked their brand into the holiday conversation by focusing specifically on Christmas lunch. ‘Crossroads’ by Mother London is a quirky spot that sees a particularly sassy chicken beat a turkey in a Mexican showdown, cowboy style. With snow on the ground and a wingspan a chicken wouldn’t want to mess with, the turkey seems to be the stronger contender. But, as the tag line reveals, you only eat turkey one day of the year. Chicken you can have anytime.

Keeping it in the family

Families come in all shapes and sizes, likes and dislikes. You’re all different and yet strangely similar. And, at least this happens to me every Christmas, we’re continually told that one day we’ll turn into our parents, even though we swear to ourselves it will never happen. The beauty of this cross generational behaviour has been captured by BETC for Bouygues Telecom in ‘Christmas 2018’. The slot tells the story of a father and son over the years as the son grows up and becomes a father himself. What unites them is a little bit of boogie. Oh, and a useful bit of tech.

In Sainsbury’s festive slot, ‘The big night’ from Wieden+Kennedy London, we open on a school nativity play. Glowing with pride, the children’s parents look on as their little ones take to the stage. The initially tentative soloist star quavers out the opening bars before, after a reassuring nod from her mum, she’s away and joined on stage by a range of not-so-classic nativity characters, from the Queen to a gravy boat and, everyone’s favourite, the perfectly timed plug.

What do you argue about at Christmas? Is it the way the turkey should be cooked, the gravy strained or the presents wrapped? For Tesco this year, BBH London chose to celebrate the weird and wonderful quirks of people’s Christmases, the rituals that make sense to you and your family alone. We’ve all got them. Just try discussing what your Christmas Day looks like with your colleagues. There’ll be raised eyebrows and sideways glances at the order you do stockings/presents/Christmas lunch and/or dinner. In ‘However you do Christmas’, we see families of all shapes and sizes around the country demonstrating how there really is no one way to do Christmas.

There’s something about John Lewis

For 10 years, adam&eveDDB have worked with John Lewis & Partners on their Christmas ads, crafting beautifully told stories that resemble mini films rather than product sales tools. And, as we’ve said, they’re popular. But no matter who you are, no matter how big a brand, it’s important to be able to see the funny side, even if that means poking fun at yourself. The John Lewis Christmas ad has seen thousands of parodies and satires over the years. The star of this year’s slot, albeit of course Elton John himself, is a piano, one that he was given as a little boy. And this year, one of the Internet’s favourite comebacks is from Lidl, who, under the heading ‘It’s a Lidl bit funny…’ suggested to their consumers that ‘Just because you don’t have £872 to spend on a piano, doesn’t mean you can’t be the next Elton’.

We also saw Twitter jump on the John Lewis Christmas juggernaut for their Christmas campaign, created by the Romans. The ad, ‘#NotARetailStore’, focused on the American man on Twitter who is called John Lewis and who, with his @johnlewis Twitter handle, is frequently confused for the British retailer. Every year when the brand’s Christmas ad is released, John Lewis (the man) receives thousands of tweets intended for the store, from product requests to opening hours and others. He takes the time to respond humorously to each. To know about the ’real’ John Lewis, you have to know about Twitter and the joyful humanity at its core.

Perhaps the most self-aware, and strangely meta, of parodies came from inside the John Lewis camp from Waitrose & Partners. Alongside the retailer’s festive 30-second spots, adam&eveDDB created ‘Fast Forward’, which sees an excitable daughter dragging her parents in front of the TV to watch the latest John Lewis ad. The parents, however, are focused on other things, namely their pudding. The slot, which is the first ever co-branded Christmas ad with John Lewis, aligns with Waitrose’s overall messaging that their food is Too Good To Wait for.

What happened next

Arguably, there have only ever been a handful of good sequels. Shrek, of course, maybe Star Wars if that floats your boat and of course the mighty Toy Story. But for several brands their Christmas ad was the perfect opportunity to continue last year’s story. Aldi’s Kevin the carrot is so popular that this year, according to the BBC, fights have broken out in stores over the toy version of the character. This year, after a Christmas teaser ‘#SaveKevin’, which showed Kevin narrowly avoiding death in a parody of the Coca-Cola truck ads, Kevin gets a nemesis, Pascal the Parsnip. In ‘Kevin the Carrot and the Wicked Parsnip’ created by McCann UK and narrated by Jim Broadbent, Kevin proves hero once more as he saves his family from the evil parsnip’s clutches.

Probably some of the longest running stars in any Christmas campaign, this year marks the 25th that the polar bears have starred in the Coca-Cola Christmas ads. To celebrate the moment, the brand worked with David the Agency in Sao Paolo to create ‘Christmas Rules’. The ad gives us a glimpse into the lives of a family of polar bears complete with mischievous youngest cub, moody tech-obsessed teenager and a trio of penguin guests.

Although not yet released, Poundland has promised the return of their naughty elf, Elfie, this time with his girlfriend Elvie in tow. After last year’s divisive slot with a Twinning’s tea bag, the brand have said their latest campaign will be “the ASA’s worst nightmare”. Watch this space.

A message bigger than Christmas

While Christmas is great and the festivities are fun, there are some brands who’ve used their holiday ads to spread a bigger message and focus on the impact that can be had beyond this season. Most noticeably we saw this from Iceland, with their reworked version of an ad created by Mother London originally for Greenpeace. ‘Rang-tan’ is the Christmas ad that sparked a thousand debates, a Clearcast ban for political messaging and an online petition. The ad sees an animated orangutan telling the story of how her rainforest home was cut down to make palm oil. Iceland used it to announce that they will be removing all own-brand products that contain palm oil from their shelves, some 250 products in total. Despite the ban, or indeed because of, the ad has been shared prolifically around the internet, giving the brand a fair amount of free media and taking the Greenpeace message to an audience that the initial ad wouldn’t have reached.

Our local high streets are dwindling, so the media keeps telling us. Small businesses are losing out in a world dominated by online retailers. Or are they? For Visa this Christmas, Saatchi & Saatchi created an ode to the real shops on our high street. The snowy streets play homage to real shopkeepers, the heroes of the high street, in a karaoke-esq slot as they sing along to Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You. From a greengrocer to a butcher, a florist and bookseller, the ad encourages us to ‘Make their wish come true. Support your local High Street.’

adam&eveDDB worked with the International Red Cross to draw from festive marketing whilst highlighting a bigger message. In ‘The one gift Santa can’t deliver’ we see Santa moving through what seems like a war zone, bullets flying, people fleeing and chaos reigning. The ad focuses on the charity’s power to reunite children with their families torn apart by war or disaster.

How good a gift-giver are you?

When you choose a present for someone, it’s important to really think about it. Once chosen, this present will determine how well you actually know the person and thus could have a serious effect on your relationship going forwards. For Boots this Christmas, Ogilvy UK created ‘Gifts That Get Them’ in which we see a mother/teenage daughter relationship told through a new choral rendition of Robbie Williams’ She’s The One. Through all the drama of their relationship, the daughter is amazed when she sees her mum singing in the local choir, her red lipstick a clue as to the gift to come.

Sometimes, you get it so right that you can indulge your smugness. This superior feeling is exactly what Debenhams celebrates in ‘Do a bit of you know you did good’ from Mother London. The ad shows the moment a gift giver realises they’ve chosen the perfect present. The music plays, they move in slow motion and an extraordinary emotion plays across their face. The TV ad is part of the shop’s strategy to reclaim the joy of shopping and turn retail stores into social destinations. As such, there will be Christmas markets and food and drink pop ups in Debenhams stores across the country.

Surprised by Santa

Secret Santa is a phenomenon that has spread around the world, through schools, homes and offices. For what is Christmas without Santa working his magic? Cadbury and VCCP are encouraging people to be generous this Christmas. In their TV slot, ‘Secret Santa’, we see various characters don Father Christmas masks to sneakily place gifts while their unknowing recipients are none the wiser. There’s the pupil thanking her teacher, the fellow gardener leaving chocolate in the shed and the factory worker who spots an anomaly on the conveyor belt. Cadbury is also launching a secret Santa postal service that means you can send anyone an anonymous chocolate gift.

Sometimes, Santa can’t do it all by himself. In ALDI Australia’s ‘Santa Crashes Christmas’ by BMF Sydney, Santa crash lands and needs all the help he can get to set off in time. The ad suggests that Aussies welcome anyone to the Christmas table even if they’re an unexpected guest in an unexpected place, like Father Christmas in the Australian outback. The ad is part of ALDI Australia’s overall strategy the More the Merrier which fuses the idea of Aussie generosity with the brand’s promise that Christmas doesn’t have to cost the world.

And what of Santa’s trusty steeds? They hardly get a look in. But, for McDonald’s Christmas campaign, Leo Burnett has created ‘#ReindeerReady’. In it, Santa, after delivering presents, is reaping the rewards in mince pie form, leaving the sighing reindeers without a carrot in sight. Eventually Santa feels guilty enough to look around for a solution. And what does he see but those glittering golden arches. So, he pops into his local McDonald’s to treat his reindeer not to the classic Big Mac, but an entire pack of carrots. McDonald’s has rebranded these bags as Reindeer Treats, a clever ploy which will surely see them popping up in every kitchen cupboard this Christmas.

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