I promised last week to cover the subject of the craziness of Christmas advertising in the UK and I try always to be true to my word. So, in the immortal words of Listen With Mother ‘Are you sitting comfortable? Then I’ll begin’.
Once upon a time in Britain there was such a thing as the Christmas Number 1. This was a suitably festive song recorded and released just in time to climb to the top of the music charts just before the big holiday. It really began with Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody in 1973, a song that more than 40 years later still echoes round the shopping malls, supermarkets, pubs, clubs, karaoke bars and office parties every single year from November on. Power to your elbow, Noddy Holdenyou’re your Wolverhampton band mates. Of course, not every Christmas chart topper is always about the holiday but there have been a fair few as you will see:
1973: Slade - Merry Xmas Everybody
1974: Mud - Lonely This Christmas
1976: Johnny Mathis - When A Child Is Born (Soleado)
1977: Wings - Mull Of Kintyre / Girls’ School
1978: Boney M - Mary’s Boy Child-Oh My Lord
1980: St Winifred’s School Choir - There’s No One Quite Like Grandma
1984: Band Aid Do They Know It’s Christmas?
1985: Shakin’ Stevens - Merry Christmas Everyone
1988: Cliff Richard - Mistletoe & Wine
1989: Band Aid II - Do They Know It’s Christmas?
1990: Cliff Richard - Saviours’ Day
1995: Michael Jackson - Earth Song
2004: Band Aid 20 - Do They Know It’s Christmas?
2008: Alexandra Burke - Hallelujah
2011: The Military Wives Choir - Wherever You Are
So a few jolly singalong songs, a few traditional carols and a few soppy sentimental ones putting listeners in the yuletide mood while the artists sing all the way to the bank. It’s traditional. But a couple of years back a new and rather odd phenomenon sprung up, that of the Christmas ad, whereby the big stores and supermarket chains spend serious oodles of boodle putting together a video ad so sickly sentimental it leaves viewer either going ‘Ag shame’ or ‘Aaagh – shame on you’; even odder, many of them don’t actually promote a product or products, they’re just designed to make everyone feel ‘Chrstmassy’.
Now excuse me for playing Scrooge at this point, but surely the purpose of advertising is to sell and the problem with this sort of generic advertising is that it might induce viewers to rush off and swipe their cards in a massive festive shopping spree but how can you be sure where they’ll spend it.? Here’s a rundown of what is now known as the Battle of the Christmas Ads
Marks & Spencer
The stalwart of the British high street and equivalent of our Woolworths, is trying to win back core customers after a few years of flagging sales with their own sexy Mother Christmas, a stylish, festive, middle-aged woman in its latest lavish Christmas campaign. The advert by King’s Speech director Tom Hooper features a young boy, Jake, writing to Mrs Claus on Christmas Eve for urgent help to make peace with his sister, Anna, by replacing some dog-eaten trainers. Mrs Claus sends her husband, Santa, off on his sleigh before secretly slipping off to her secret lair, dressing in red and shooting off on a ski-jet and helicopter, named R-DOLF, to deliver Anna’s surprise Christmas present - a pair of new, glittering red trainers.Message – girl power and if you want red takkies, you know where to find them
And ad with lots of animals bouncing on a trampoline. Dad buys daughter a DIY trampoline and erects it in the garden after dark on Christmas Eve. While the family sleeps, first their boxer dog, then a wild fox and a badger all take turns bouncing round on the toy. Apparently it’s heart-warming, not creepy, to have predatory wild animals in your garden overnight. Some critics have said that only passing glimpses of a six-year-old girl, Summer, and no reference to Father Christmas means this year’s offering lacks the human touch. However, that didn’t stop 82pc of viewers in the first two hours saying it made them feel happy, according to Brand Watch. As one commentator pointed out, the unusual political events of this particular year have created demand for a more comforting message - and what better way to create that than a bouncing badger?
Message – children like second-hand bouncy toys with animal dander all over them
The upmarket grocer’s ad tells the story of the red-breast bird’s adventures to return home for one of Waitrose’s mince pies. The poor little bird flies thousands of miles, over snow wastes and constant danger, just to peck at the pie on a plate in someone’s garden. The food group has unwittingly pitted itself against sister department store chain John Lewis in a battle for the cutest Christmas animals and I hate to be the one to break the bad news, but British robins are not migratory.
Message – don’t let facts get in the way of a tear-jerking ad. Oh, and Waitrose makes bird-friendly mince pies
This budget chain is running an ad with a talking carrot called Kevin the Carrot character in a retelling of The Night Before Christmas. The advert has the humble vegetable set out on an adventure before joining Santa Claus on his sleigh. It also includes a cheeky challenge to John Lewis.
“Carrot was waiting, his head in a tizz, “Oh golly, oh gosh, how exciting is this?” a narrator says in the short clip. Kevin the Carrot then proceeds to hyperventilate before bursting “John Lewis!”
Message – Aldi sells carrots and carrots are sentient, living creatures. Who’d want to chop one up and boil it alive after that?
Meanwhile, at the other end of the retail spectre, luxury-goods purveyor, Burberry, has taken Christmas luxury to another level, spending an eye-watering £10m (P13m) on its lavish three and a half minute film.
The Tale of Thomas Burberry includes a roster of British Hollywood stars including Dominic West and Sienna Miller and written by Academy Award-nominated Matt Charman and directed by Academy Award-winning Asif Kapadia.
Message – you can’t afford anything they sell and you shouldn’t even be watching the ad.
Heathrow airport has joined the skirmish with a heart-tugging clip featuring two old teddy bears returning home, the “best gift of all’. The ad, set to a classic Chas and Dave soundtrack, follows two much-loved and ageing teddy bears as they land at the airport and captures the moments they and their loved ones are reunited at the arrivals gate.
Message – going home for Christmas is good because it may be your last.