It's tinsel time for adland

With the high-street retailers losing share to online stores, the pre-Christmas push is more important than ever. But will the campaigns deliver?

THE ADS: MARKS & SPENCER

Marks & Spencer's Christmas TV ad is themed around a Moulin Rouge-style stage show, with all the performers dressed in clothes from M&S. The ad was written and art directed by Pip Bishop and Chris Hodgkiss from Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R.

THE STRATEGY

The idea that Christmas should be a big, showy production has been carried through to other media, including M&S's in-store magazine. The campaign focuses on the women's clothing range, aiming to build on the work featuring Twiggy that ran earlier this year.

THE CHALLENGE

This Christmas is a critical time for M&S, even more so than it is for the other retailers. Analysts will want to know whether the business can keep up the 3.3 per cent sales growth achieved during the period that its last ad campaign ran - and some very difficult questions will be asked if it can't.

THE VERDICTS

NEIL DAWSON, executive planning director, TBWA\London

At last, there's good news at M&S. Sales and profits are up, the City is feeling confident and the quality-focused "your M&S" campaign has created an engaging, personal tone. This is all cause for celebration but surely not a reason to throw out the entire strategy. This execution is very jolly and there's plenty of Christmas cheer. And who could argue with There's No Business Like Show Business as a soundtrack? But somehow the ad lacks the individual connection of the campaign so far. This seems like "your M&S on 42nd St".

LEON JAUME, executive creative director, WCRS

M&S is gay "Uncle" Harold. From him, as ever, a gift bursting with glamour, glitz and show tunes. You can't help feeling he had more fun choosing it than you do receiving it, but we love his joie de vivre - and, of course, it's beautifully wrapped.

NICKY MIDDLETON, housewife and mother of Luka, Godstone, Surrey

I really love this ad, it's classy, fun and extravagant. I always like M&S Christmas ads and this is up to its usual standard; it makes you want to watch it and captures that Christmassy feel. I don't really shop at M&S but using young models is a good idea - now I would at least go through the door and have a look at the clothes. I also like the fact that they left telling you who the ad is for until the end, so I spent the whole ad trying to work it out.

Christmas pudding rating: 4

THE ADS - ARGOS

This is Clemmow Hornby Inge's debut work for Argos, and Richard E Grant has been replaced by a man who has too many friends and a little girl who turns into a monster. The ads were written and art directed by Pete Gatley.

THE STRATEGY

CHI is attempting to position Argos as an alternative to the beleaguered high street with a new strapline: "Don't shop for it. Argos it."

THE CHALLENGE

Catalogue shopping is starting to look a bit outdated in the internet age - after all, what is the internet if not the world's biggest catalogue? Argos is trying to get around this by using TV ads to direct people to its website. Sales at the retailer were down 3 per cent for the six months to September 2005.

THE VERDICTS

NEIL DAWSON, executive planning director, TBWA\London

The strategy for Argos seems sound enough: position it as different type of retailer based on the strengths of the catalogue and internet offering. The executions are fables of Christmas where Argos is the solution to shoppers' problems and needs. There is undoubtedly a clear logic to this campaign. But there is an incongruity between the warmth of the stories and the slightly familiar-sounding 80s throwback of an endline. The over-riding impression is that Argos is not sure whether it wants its ads to charm you or hit you over the head.

LEON JAUME, executive creative director, WCRS

Argos is sensible old Auntie Pat. She's over the menopause now and knows you can't go wrong with a book, so that's what everyone gets every year.

NICKY MIDDLETON, housewife and mother of Luka, Godstone, Surrey

These ads are great. I can really relate to the second one, with the little girl who turns into a monster - when I saw it, I thought it was a brilliant idea. The one with the man with all the friends is also good; it gives you a nice warm feeling and shows that you can get a present for anyone at Argos. I do shop there; I really like looking at the catalogue at home. It makes going to the store a lot easier.

Christmas pudding rating: 3

THE ADS - BOOTS

The campaign from Mother promotes Boots' usual three-for-the-price-of-two Christmas gifts offer, with product shots, plenty of tinsel and holly, and a voiceover that tells us we give more than 500 million Christmas presents every year.

THE STRATEGY

Boots' campaign is based around the idea that giving presents feels just as good as receiving them - and that three presents for the price of two means you can give even more than you thought.

THE CHALLENGE

Boots blamed lower consumer spending and higher infrastructure costs for a poor six months to September, a performance that included a 9.6 per cent fall in first-half underlying profit. Boots is facing intense competition from supermarkets and high-street discounters, and has said that it doesn't expect trading conditions to improve before Christmas.

THE VERDICTS

NEIL DAWSON, executive planning director, TBWA\London

According to the Boots campaign, we are going to give more than 500 million presents this Christmas. And that's where you lost me. There are Christmas conventions aplenty here - snow, presents, trees. The strategy is to promote the three-for-two offer but I fear this is lost in the laborious, sub-Orange voiceover. It's all a little remote for Britain's favourite high-street chemist. "Trust Boots" is puzzling. People do trust Boots, but do they really want to be told to do so?

LEON JAUME, executive creative director, WCRS

Boots is loser brother Ed. He doesn't know whether to celebrate Christmas or bang on to everyone about the crass consumerism of the whole event. The joy of receiving his offering is soured somewhat by his telling you what a bargain he got, how much you're going to like it and, worst of all, to "trust me".

NICKY MIDDLETON, housewife and mother of Luka, Godstone, Surrey

My overall impression was that this is a fantastic offer and I suppose that is what Boots wants to get across. I watched it a few times to see if I liked it because I love Boots and I shop there all the time, but to be honest it just wasn't happening for me. It is traditional and quite Christmassy and the voice in the ads sounds trustworthy, which matches Boots' image. But I wouldn't choose to watch it again.

Christmas pudding rating: 2

THE ADS - TESCO

The usual fare from Lowe London for Tesco, but with a Christmas theme and voices from Cilla Black, Peter Kay, Julie Walters and Frank Skinner. The ads were written by Sam Cartmell and Liam Butler and art directed by Jason Lawes and Matt Allen.

THE STRATEGY

The ads steer clear of the sleigh bells and "Santa visiting the store" strategy favoured by most of the other supermarkets, instead continuing Tesco's "every little helps" positioning with a seasonal theme.

THE CHALLENGE

With the Office of Fair Trading said to be considering another look at market competition, Tesco saw its stranglehold on UK supermarket retailing slip a little this autumn, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres - albeit by a fraction of 1 per cent. The retailer will be hoping for a repeat of last year's Christmas performance, when sales grew 7.6 per cent in the run-up to 25 December.

THE VERDICTS

NEIL DAWSON, executive planning director, TBWA\London

Tesco shows everybody else the way. These ads continue its existing product-led campaign, nothing distracts from the offer and you just know it's Tesco from the start. Celebrity voiceovers add humour (particularly the marvellous Peter Kay). The absence of Christmas cliches is welcome and all the details are carefully crafted. This is humble stuff from a big brand that has found a distinctive voice. They make it look easy. But we all know it's not.

LEON JAUME, executive creative director, WCRS

Tesco is mum. Loves you all year round and you love her back. She's not going to let you down at Christmas now, is she?

NICKY MIDDLETON, housewife and mother of Luka, Godstone, Surrey

I like Tesco ads; they are simple but that is the appeal of them. They just tell you they are good value and have a wide variety of products. They are short and to the point and you don't need to use any brain cells to understand them. There's not a lot going on visually but the different famous voices in the ads make them more interesting. I don't shop at Tesco, though - there isn't one nearby.

Christmas pudding rating: 5

THE ADS - WOOLWORTHS

The latest in the series starring Wooly and Worth is set around an advent calendar that comes to life. Each visit through the calendar doors shows different products and carries the "prices worth celebrating" strapline. The ads were written and art directed by Gary McCreadie and Wesley Hawes at Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

THE STRATEGY

Woolworths often tries to mix humour with strong price messaging and this campaign is no exception. The TV ads launched with an 80-second slot booked during a Coronation Street break.

THE CHALLENGE

As with the other retailers, Woolworths is suffering the effects of the popularity of online retailing. It has responded by taking its Christmas theme online for the first time, by launching a website with competitions offering prizes such as £1,000 worth of gift vouchers.

THE VERDICTS

NEIL DAWSON, executive planning director, TBWA\London

Woolworths is using its existing campaign characters Wooly and Worth opening an advent calendar to introduce their Christmas offering. While I'm not remotely averse to the use of cuddly toys in advertising, this doesn't really come off. There isn't enough of the characters to engage the consumer, and the majority of each ad becomes a basic product sequence. This is cheap and cheerful stuff but not much more.

LEON JAUME, executive creative director, WCRS

Woolworths is chronic alcoholic Auntie Eileen. She's becoming increasingly tiresome these days, turning up with her incontinent pets and telling unfunny jokes in that INCREDIBLY LOUD VOICE that gets on your nerves and makes the smaller children cry. You start to long for Boxing Day when you can see the back of her.

NICKY MIDDLETON, housewife and mother of Luka, Godstone, Surrey

These ads show that there are some good offers in the store and they are supposed to be fun but, to be honest, I found them a bit nauseating and irritating, including the voice, which was particularly annoying. The dog characters don't appeal to me, although they might appeal to a 12-year-old if that is the kind of audience they are trying to attract. These were the only ads that I really didn't want to watch again.

Christmas pudding rating: 1.

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