Close-Up: Festive fun seeps through recessionary gloom

This year's Christmas ads have to strike a balance between blockbuster and parsimony. Three pundits give their verdicts.

RUSS LIDSTONE - chief strategy officer, Euro RSCG London

As a cab driver (the ultimate economic barometer) told me recently: "It's hard to know whether to pretend the recession isn't happening, or to have a cheap Christmas and get into the recession mood now."

The same dilemma exists for brands - celebrate with traditional blockbusters or surrender to the gloom of the nation by downplaying the whole thing? As a Christmas romantic, I love the sparkle of a great Christmas ad, but, this year, it's hard not to view them through the heavy filter of Alistair Darling's recessionary eyebrows.

Marks & Spencer has certainly gone the whole multimillion-pound hog by inviting the universally appealing Take That around to Twiggy's gaff for a present- giving and undie-wearing extravaganza. The celeb formula has rubber-necking interest, but, this year, I can't help but think that M&S could have shown a tad more humility, gone a bit more East 17 and done some more of those nice £10 meal deals.

At Christmas, all roads lead home, and that's certainly the case in the schmaltzy "planes, trains and automobiles" epic in which Waitrose citizens return home (courtesy of British Army Chinook) for British turkey. The idea underpins Waitrose's quality values and may just about keep their loyalists out of Morrisons until 1 January.

Argos focuses on the dangers of not shopping for "great value at Argos" - namely over-zealous department store staff (in homage to Love Actually) and last-minute present buying at your local garage. A valiant attempt to do something different, but, in retail, you're only as good as your local store, and having recently queued at Argos for 20 minutes, the exaggerated department store service looked appealing to me.

Boots strikes a reasonable Christmas recession balance and sticks to the tried-and-trusted female office staff/Sugababes combo. It's hard for the sequel to live up to its predecessor and this "Secret Santa" doesn't have the relevance or insight that the party preparation did. It pushes Boots' gift range effectively and I'm sure Mr Darling will approve if we all kick-start the economy by spending £65 on a moisturising shaving system for "Tom in accounts".

RUSSELL RAMSEY - executive creative director, JWT

If you know the person, you'll find the present, as the excellent John Lewis campaign is telling me at the moment. Well, let's see how well the other Christmas retailers know me. First present out of the sack is from M&S. We open on home movie footage of Take That (without Robbie) arriving at Twiggy's house. The bird from Hear'Say (Myleene Klass) and a couple of tasty models are already there. Could be interesting, I think, except they just play charades and wrap presents. There's so much smiling and laughing going on, I don't know where to look. I'd hate to spend Christmas with this lot. M&S doesn't seem to know me at all.

Next present is from Waitrose. I like the brand, will I like the gift? It features a series of characters on their way home for Christmas intercut with food shots. What is it about Christmas that makes people go all sentimental and dreamy? This one is deliberately slow and emotional. It has the desired effect: I'm almost asleep after the first 15 seconds. The equivalent of a pair of stripy pyjamas.

The next one, from Boots, looks promising. They obviously remembered how much I liked last year's offering so they've wrapped it up again. Same music, same cast (almost), same location. We see various office staff wrapping up presents for each other. It's the perfect vehicle to showcase the gifts you can buy at Boots, and quite entertaining. I'm not quite as thrilled as last year, but I'm happy enough.

I've saved the biggest, brashest present until last. I tear it open to find not one, but two presents inside from Argos. The first one shows the tedious lengths to which posh shops go, to wrap things. An impatient shopper looks on getting more and more irritated. The second one shows a bunch of shoppers invading a petrol station looking for last- minute presents. They buy everything from fan belts to screen wash. Witty direction, good casting and great performances. These insights touched a nerve with me. Argos took a bit of a risk here. Dramatising the negative, not showcasing any products and leaving the branding right till the end. Its bravery has paid off. They're brilliant and I love them. Thank you, Santa.

BETH WILKES - mother, Doncaster

Waitrose. I really didn't like this ad at all. The whole ad had a very sad feel to it at what is supposed to be a happy time of year. The music was extremely dreary and the people in the clips didn't seem to have any Christmas spirit. The food advertised looked delicious and was well photographed, but the music and other images detracted from this. I'm afraid this ad wouldn't make me want to go and shop at Waitrose (even if we had one nearby).

Boots. I enjoyed watching this. It was a good idea and the little jokes were amusing, but I thought the whole thing was very reminiscent of last year's Christmas ad; ie. the office setting and the music. It didn't show a vast number of the products available on offer, but I'm sure it could give the male members of the population a gentle nudge in the right direction. It didn't go into details about the actual offers available in-store, which are what would entice me to do my shopping there.

M&S. This was my favourite ad as it captured the spirit of an ideal Christmas Day. It had a real "feelgood" factor helped along by the jolly choice of music. It showed a good range of products available for all members of the family. Obviously, it will appeal to both sexes, having glamorous models for the gentlemen and an attractive boy-band for the ladies. I'll definitely be going to have a look in-store.

Argos. I wasn't really impressed by either of the two ads. I thought the Christmas present one focused far too long on the present wrapping and the music wasn't very seasonal. The garage ad was a good idea and was amusing to watch. Neither ad showed any of the products on offer at the store or promoted any other services; ie. online shopping and home delivery. They didn't inspire me to go and shop there.

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