The Spirit of Christmas (Adverts)

MrMoth is not about to pretend that the world hasn’t gone to shit, but he is about to ignore it. Just for a bit. Come on. It’s Christmas advert time.

To be honest, “Come on, it’s Christmas” could be the slogan at the end of most of the adverts I’m about to cover. Cheer up, FFS. There is light, and happiness, and warmth. The world is a cold place, but the fire at home is as bright and cheerful as ever at Christmas. Buy our products. Shit, sorry about that last bit, but we are adverts. Buy stuff. Consume. Obey. Smile, it might never happen. Worse things happen at sea, love.

To be honest, I thought the worst HAD happened at sea to the feathered star of Waitrose’s Christmas advert. We follow a robin – an honest, Brexit-loving BRITISH robin, not the weird straggly things Americans call robins – on its improbable journey ‘cross hill and dale and fucking mountain to get to a bird-table, where promised is a Waitrose classy as hell mince pie and a guaranteed robin-fuck. At one point our intrepid bird chum comes a cropper on a trawler and is nursed back to health by a rough and salty seaman, but in such a way as I genuinely thought it was dead and he’d put it in a little box to, I dunno, bury it at sea. That would have been a contender for the bleakest Christmas advert this side of John Lewis’s “Lonely man nonces a young girl from a distance of 225,000 miles”. Which, I realise, was only last year. But no! Robin makes it to the pie and shag date, the luckiest lad on Bird Tinder. Warms the heart.

As I mentioned, John Lewis went out of their way to make us feel like crap last year because APPARENTLY having a sad = big bucks. I’m pretty sure there’s a line in their masterplan that just reads “???” but whatever, it works for them. Anyway, this year maybe we’re already sad enough or maybe they just thought they’d try something different. So they went with joy. Actual happiness. I know you’re going to think me cracked for saying this, so I took the liberty of embedding this little-seen advert within the post. Here.

See? Yes, I know, plinky plonky oofy doofy cover for the soundtrack as per, but hedgehog on a trampoline! Child’s beaming face on Christmas Day! That bit where the camera is on the other side of the wall and the music has gone and you just see a happy dog on a trampoline! It’s actually rather lovely. Assuming you disregard the actual fact that the trampoline on Christmas morning is going to be a swamp of fox shit and badger piss (and eviscerated squirrel, once the carnivores grow tired), it’s absolutely friggin’ adorable. I don’t want to fall in line here, but it is.

Last year, I pretty much declared Sainsbury’s the CHRISTMAS ADVERT WINNER because, well shit, people, they got actual Judith bloody actual genuine Kerr to write their advert. And it was brilliant. So that’s a lot to live up to, isn’t it? Judith Kerr. Mog. Brilliant execution. Go on, give it your best shot.

James Corden. O-K then. First of all, why is James Corden voicing a stop-motion Bill Nighy? That’s a bad sign. I mean, yes, he’s got stop-motion form, having been the mouse in both (wonderful) adaptations of the Gruffalo books, but I think advertisers dangerously overestimate the regard in which Corden is held by the Great British Public. I think when it comes down to it – ignoring statistical outliers – he’s sort of tolerated because he was good in that one thing (Gavin & Stacey and/or two episodes of Dr Who), though on the whole… bit bored of him now. Anyway, Corden aside I still don’t feel this advert on many levels. Yeah, I’m not gonna lie I got a little teary at the end because what working parent doesn’t feel a bit like they need to spend more time with their children, but that’s a cheap shot. If he wants to spend more time with them, maybe don’t work so long and hard on creating fucking factory to clone yourself? Maybe spend that time with your family, you feckless shit. Also if your job can be done by a nodding dog, you’re absolutely screwed at your annual review.

Still, it’s not an actively depressing advert, and the campaign behind it is actually rather sweet – a fund to help the families of children stuck in Great Ormond Street over Christmas stay close over the season. So maybe it is I who am the monster? Also of note is that this, like the John Lewis one, is another advert quietly flying the flag for diversity. Just a little, but enough to provoke the slavering hordes baying for the blood of outsiders in the Daily Mail comments section. So even though John Lewis refuses to take a view on placing advertising in the Mail, it is at least baiting the readership elsewhere.

Speaking of whom, you can’t look me in the eye and say the Tesco Dad played by Ben Miller isn’t all Fun Dad in the supermarket but spends half his evenings carefully spacing out the words M U S L I M S and I M M I G R A N T S below the line of any given Mail Online article (usually ones with the Kardashians flaunting their curves). I imagine Ruth Jones (another Gavin and Stacey alumnus we apparently have to tolerate at Christmas. Whatever happened to Mathew Horne, eh?) just rolls her eyes and goes back to Strictly: It Takes Two whenever he pops up, ranting about Article 50.

Anyway, they’re back after we failed to destroy them last year – so far no sign of the suspiciously elderly son they dragged round before which I guess is an improvement, but I’m not feeling the victory. I hated them then, I hate them now. Plus ça change. Also recycling their campaign from last year – House of Fraser. It was OK last year, bit different, but just feels a little tired this time out.

Definitely NOT rehashing last year’s effort, Marks and Spencer have gone all out in a new direction. I say new, it’s a very familiar direction, in truth. Where last year they made an ad that felt more Argos than Argos’s own (Special mention in passing to the skating Yeti in this year’s effort from Argos. Nice work), this year it’s a heartwarming tearjerker that fills a whole ad break… I mean, where do they get their ideas?

Mrs Claus is a three minute epic of no consequence, detailing a single present drop for one boy who may, or may not, have been acting the dick all year. It’s a terribly thin sort of story; in a group of maybe three it would be fine but as the entire focus of a high-budget Christmas ad it struggles for gravity. Remember the John Lewis advert with the little boy who couldn’t wait to give his gift? It’s that, but made by a halfwit with double the budget. It’s Michael Bay aiming to remake 2001 and hitting Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Similarly playing from that hymnbook, Aldi crash back from their excellent Christmas School series of ads last year to what can only be described as a failed attempt to parody the John Lewis style of advert. I get, on an intellectual level, that Kevin the Carrot is supposedly endearing and his accompanying Christmassy rhyme a tale to warm the cockles in a possibly ironic sort of way. But my heart is as stone against their best efforts, cause it’s just not that good. And surely no one fell for their attempt to fool people into thinking it might be the new John Lewis advert? Oh… oh I just realised their advert is a strange, just-wrong-enough knockoff of a beloved brand. Wow. That’s… pretty meta.

I feel like I’ve seen a lot of Christmas Adverts this year, and I mean that as a category. Not just adverts screened up to Christmas, but ones designed to be an event. A talking point. Something warm, to be thought of fondly. Like, seriously, fuck off. You can’t all do it. You’re mistaking a sales pitch for a fairy story. Looking at you, Very, you jumped-up Freeman’s catalogue with your Frozen characters. And you, Boots. It may seem noble of you to give festive makeovers to women working on Christmas Day but it comes over patronising and cynical. And I realise, I do realise, they all are. Just try not to show it.

Amazingly, two years in a row, Asda of all shops have managed to keep the right side of this line. Last year they played for (and got) a bleak but cheerful naturalism. This year CLEARLY things are bleak enough so they’ve switched Fleur East for jingly bells and the cloudy, council estate Christmas of actual memory for the glowing, snowy version cultural memory. Grandparents overdoing the Christmas jumper, a little girl just managing to control her puddle-jumping impulse, the traditional scrabble round for more space for SWEETS in the kitchen, in a series of short adverts (take note, Morrisons, who are attempting something similar but with much longer spots) that have no more ambition than to say “Asda has stuff you can buy at Christmas”. Yes I can see myself being manipulated – this is Christmas as promised on the side of a bus – but I don’t care. It has a twinkle to it, just enough charm to get through the shield.

So smile. It’s Christmas! It might never happen. Might not happen this week. Might be ok for the length of a commercial break.

About Thom Willis

Thom is the curator of #microwrites - - and writes his own stories for He lives in London because, given the choice, who wouldn't?

5 thoughts on “The Spirit of Christmas (Adverts)

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