MrMoth discovers the true meaning of Christmas, with help from the wonderful world of advertising.
Every year, we eagerly look forward to discovering what the true meaning of Christmas is. This is beamed into our open, smiling faces by adam&eveDDB on behalf of John Lewis. This year, following “Friendship” and “Love”, we were informed that the true meaning of Christmas is loneliness, despair and helplessness. I dunno about you, but I’ll stick to raw commercialism and stuffing my body so full of sausage I squeak by Boxing Day. Just as Jesus intended.
Yep, it’s the surprisingly annual MostlyFilm Christmas Advert Roundup. The cycle began anew on the 6th of November, with John Lewis premiering the shit out of their hotly-anticipated “Man on the Moon” advert. I say hotly-anticipated, but really who sits around anticipating a department store’s TV spot? And who does that hotly? Quivering with barely-contained delight and refreshing the John Lewis YouTube page? No. God no, if this is you please… please stop. There’s a world out there. Here, have a look through this telescope.
It’s pretty depressing, this John Lewis ad, and I pretty much hate it. You’ve got some Norwegian warbling the theme to The Royle Family over an increasingly desperate little girl trying to communicate with a man so isolated and sad that he has LITERALLY gone to live on the Moon. He looks wistfully at the blue marble in the sky, knowing that everyone he has ever known, ever loved is down there somewhere. Maybe dead. Probably dead. Almost certainly dead, and he watched them die, too. So now he shuffles from his shack (missing the opportunity as he does so to announce that this week he are be mostly eating bourbon biscuits) to a bench and back. That’s all he does. Maybe he has a wank in his shed. Back on Earth our heroine watches him through a reasonably-priced telescope that, in all honesty, raises our expectations as regards the capabilities of mid-range optics.
Thing is, it kind of didn’t matter what the advert said or did, as long as it said and did it in the right way. It had to have the plinky-plonky cover, it had to look just so and it had to tug heartstrings so mercilessly we would beg it stop, through tears and snot. This it managed, just about, and so ensured the survival of the brand. That brand isn’t even “John Lewis” it’s “John Lewis Christmas Adverts”. People who don’t and won’t shop at John Lewis consume this brand, in annual doses.
Sorry, veering into “thinkpiece” territory here. A quick stroll downstairs from John Lewis and we’re in the Waitrose foodhall. How’s their advert?
Straightforward. No messing. Jolly music (YES! FUCKING YES!!!), people with gaily decorated houses, presents, food being prepared, Heston Blumenthal dusting a cake with powdered narwhal horn, people coming together to eat and enjoy Christmas, bam. Buy shit from Waitrose, it’s nice. This is a formula that works, and look here is Iceland doing pretty much the same, only not as middle-class.
What’s interesting about Iceland is that they’re not going all-in on Pandre. He’s raising the shit out of his profile on Strictly, but he doesn’t get to do any of the voiceovers and he only turns up briefly in shot. I mean, good for them – he’s ghastly – but still. If you hire a celebrity to front your brand, why would you background them at the most wonderfully consumerist time of the year? Anyway. This is fine, both of these are fine but they’re kind of dull, aren’t they? Makes you long for a CONCEPTUAL ad like John Lewis. Other supermarkets who have gone for a similar approach – Morrisons have dropped the “Ant n Dec are sexually aggressive to gingerbread men” schtick and Aldi have a sweet but ultimately safe campaign. How about Asda, though? Asda? What’s Asda up to?
Heyyy, Asda, calm down. So it’s not a “storytelling” ad, it’s not lush or Christmassy in the traditional sense. But then again it’s not all twinkly twinkly plinky plonky I-has-a-sad Christmas. It’s bright, it’s amusingly redolent of actual British Christmases (no snow, leaden skies) and it’s upbeat as fuck. *pops Mostly Pop hat on* The music is by X-Factor loser Fleur East who is from Walthamstow and therefore great *takes hat off, replaces it with Christmas cracker crown* Want something else from Walthamstow? How about our local milkmen? This is proper advertising, don’t you dare tell me it isn’t. My milkman is in this.
You ok? Recovered from that bit of amazingness? Good, let’s get on. Last time I was here I ended with the traditional Christmas song of the Coca-Cola Corporation. Holidays are coming, I announced in a portentous baritone. Holidays are coming. I still hum that, of course, in the weeks approaching Christmas. But where are the red trucks? Where is the simple hymn to refreshing cola drinks? I’ve not seen it. Maybe it’s not coming back. Enter, stage right, Cadbury’s. I’m not suggesting that Cadbury’s have stolen the idea but, well…
Yyyyeah, hard not to think of it, isn’t it? I wonder if Cadbury’s realise that it’s not a convoy of trucks painted in a single colour that is inherently Christmassy, it’s the atmosphere of the advert. The original Coke Trucks advert has a sleepy, dream-like quality to it, like you might wake up one night and glimpse, on some distant hill, a line of softly-lit lorries setting about the business of delivering a dizzying sugar high to every child in the land. This is hard and unyielding, gritty like a Yorkie. And the Thunderbirds music is all wrong. Nothing about it feels like Christmas, even the grey Christmases with empty, whistling skies evoked by Asda. It’s odd, because it’s advertising Cadbury’s advent calendars but on the other hand the idea of an advent calendar with chocolate inside isn’t (I don’t think) linked to Cadbury’s as a brand. Now, if they’d gone with “Plastic stocking with five or six chocolate bars”, I’d be there. That’s a Very Cadbury Christmas.
Next up we’ve got Lidl, who have decided to give us some comedy. That’s nice of them, I like funny things.
Huh, that is actually quite funny. Well played, Lidl. Well played. I’m still not buying your weird off-brand food but I applaud your humour-driven marketing strategies. Enjoy your celebratory Champogne! Meanwhile, I have to watch the Tesco adverts. I think they’re trying to be funny, too.
Christ. Whose idea was this? Because they need to be fired, right now, and replaced with an animatronic reindeer. Let’s get Ben Miller and Ruth Jones, they said. Let’s make them a sassy married couple with a dorky son, they said. It’ll be like them ones we did with Prunella Scales and Jane Horrocks, they honestly said. Those were popular with idiots. Well, my friends, I’m a common or garden idiot and I did not like these. Not one of them worked for me. It could, possibly, have been funny but it’s just so poorly executed it falls flat. It’s like having a clip of Keeping Up Appearances as your ad campaign. Sure, some people will like it but you know what else some people liked? Hitler. Makes you think, hey, Tesco? Sure makes you think.
Right, who’s up for some Marks and Spencer? They usually go for something a bit unusual, don’t they? Last time I was here it was all fairy tales and Helena Bonham-Carter’s massive head. Remember when they had Shirley Bassey and Antonio Banderas in an ice palace? Ok, so this should be good.
Oh. Sorry, I think I must’ve embedded the Argos ad by mistake! Oh, Thom, what a fool… Wait, the Argos advert is actually pretty slick and its winter-sports based hi-jinks look comparatively classy. Nope, this is the Marks and Spencer advert. This is something of a step down, isn’t it? It’s just a slightly bigger version of their regular adverts. It uses the same music (an instrumental version of Uptown Funk, if you’ve not got the energy to click the video), they’ve not even bothered to add jingle bells in the background. I’m absolutely INCENSED by the lack of effort shown here. Are M&S in financial trouble? Because this is the Christmas advert equivalent of a boyband video filmed in a warehouse with no props beyond a few lights and a set of matching stools. The worst moment is when there are small children bouncing hither and yon only for the rug to be pulled from beneath us by a caption “GYMNASTS SHOWN”, like a videogame ad flashing up “Not gameplay footage”. Oh. So these small children aren’t really pulling backflips while bouncing on a bed? Why do this to us, Marks? Why?? You’re ruining Christmas, and the only major supermarket I have left is Sainsbury’s.
WHO WIN IT ALL BACK IN GLORIOUS STYLE. I don’t care if you’ve seen it already. I don’t care if you’re at work. I don’t care if you’re in a library or hiding from armed robbers – play the damn video and feel better about Christmas. You may even feel a bit better about advertising, but let’s not go too far. The point is, Judith Kerr is a national treasure and just straight-up commissioning and filming a Mog story is the kind of idea you probably have all the time in advertising but how often does Kerr agree to do it? Never. So all the advert needed to do was include Sainsbury’s products (without having to label them) and job done. It’s a clever, warm, funny advert that plays like a short film, that makes itself an event without being self-important. It’s the kind of long advert you won’t mind watching over agin. It’s a complete triumph and makes one wonder if, next year, the True Meaning of Christmas will not spring from a department store but from a supermarket.