The excitement and spectacle over the Christmas adverts feels like a modern phenomenon. In years gone by, the Christmas TV schedule would be what we would all look forward to. Today, it is those bits in between them that are given the spotlight. Advertisements are a staple in our festive TV diet. Given the reverence allotted to this merry marketing, I think they deserve some analysis and thorough review. So here are my in-depth and slightly ridiculous thoughts on this year’s seasonal offerings.
First up we have Sainsbury’s. They are a fan of the sombre, socially conscious ad. Perhaps their most famous is 2014’s recreation of the Christmas Day truce of 1914. This year is in-keeping with this theme. Following the story of orphan Nick, the advert looks very Dickensian, and is set 150 years ago when Sainsbury’s opened their first store. In a snow-covered street, Mary Ann Sainsbury is selling a bountiful booty of clementines. Nick is wrongly accused of stealing one of the fruits. Sainsbury rescues the poor boy and gives him a bag of clementines. This moment of salvation sparks something in Nick and we find out he is the child who will one day become Father Christmas. There are moments of knowing humour in the ad that prevent it being maudlin. Sainsbury’s are celebrating 150 years of “making Christmas, Christmas” so the Dickensian setting seems fit. However, given that there are still so many children living in poverty today in the UK, the advert is an uncomfortable watch. I appreciate the attempt of a deeper narrative but it just feels inherently icky in an advert. Also, viewer discretion, a man eats a clementine like an apple, skin and everything!
Secondly is this year’s wild card, Walker’s. Unlike the other two companies featured in my review, Walker’s are not known for their Christmas adverts. However, this year they have hit the nail on the head. In what feels like a fever dream, Mariah Carey appears on our screens. A vision in red glitter she sings her famous Christmas tune. I cannot help but think “surely the royalties mean you don’t need to be advertising crisps,” yet a millisecond later I am drawn back into this brightly coloured dream sequence of Carey handing out luxurious presents. However, she draws the line at her Walker’s. Those are not for sharing, they are just for her. This advert is mad and makes little sense. But then neither does Christmas, or life for that matter, so maybe, just maybe, it is perfect!
Now finally, the crème de la crème, and what you all came here for: the John Lewis Christmas ad. This year they have partnered with their little sibling Waitrose. It is the usual formula. An 80’s ballad is whispered gently over gently tingled piano keys. Haunting. The song is “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” the 1985 ballad by REO Speedwagon. This lilting rendition is performed by Bastille frontman Dan Smith.
The narrative, however, is less soothing than the melody. The setting is a ye olde, quaint town. A small child, Ava, is friends with a cute, pint-sized dragon, Edgar, who cannot control the flames emanating from his nostrils. This leads to some unfortunate events. A tree gets singed, a frozen pond gets thawed. The annoyance that this causes the other townspeople lead to the dragon being ostracized. This causes Edgar to withdraw, ashamed and saddened, to his home and no longer come out into the town. Ava is not happy with this. She thinks up a plan.
The advert culminates with Ava and Edgar arriving at a big Christmas dinner where all the townspeople are busy celebrating, without a care in the world for the misery they have caused Edgar. As they see the dragon enter they all look worried. But, then Edgar uses his flames to light the greedy, selfish townspeoples’ Christmas pudding. Everyone cheers and Edgar is welcomed in, part of the group again. How Christmassy. How lovely that Edgar’s vicious neighbours suddenly care about him now he is of use to them.
Monty the Penguin was the high point of John Lewis Christmas adverts, yet, the retailer has never quite recreated that magic. The feeling just falls a bit flat. Having not been swept away on a wave of emotion, I couldn’t help but see the story for the Utilitarian hell-scape that it really is.