Christmas ads 2018: Adland reviews Tesco, Cadbury, Heathrow, Boots and more

The annual unveiling of festive ads is now in full flow.

Christmas ads 2018: Adland reviews Tesco, Cadbury, Heathrow, Boots and more

In our second instalment of reviews, Campaign asks adland for their thoughts on: Debenhams "Do a bit of you know you did good" by Mother; Heathrow "Making it home makes it Christmas" by Havas London; Tesco "However you do Christmas" by Bartle Bogle Hegarty London; TK Maxx "The never ending stocking" by Wieden & Kennedy London; Marks & Spencer "Must haves" and "Christmas favourites" by Grey London; Boots "Get them something that says… you get them" by Ogilvy UK; Waitrose "Too good to wait" by Adam & Eve/DDB; and Cadbury "Secret Santa" by VCCP.

Richard Denney, executive creative director, St Luke’s

Remember, remember the fifth of November. Gunpowder, treason and Christmas ads.

As the fireworks go up, so do the Christmas ads. Keeping the fireworks theme in mind, during the 80s, Jean-Michel Jarre, French composer and pioneer of electronic and new-age music, performed dazzling shows, mixing his distinct music with incredible fireworks and laser displays. And although not to everyone’s taste, he certainly knew how to put on a show.

The fireworks selection from Campaign looks full of promise, but do they contain the crackers and thunder flashes the crowd are after?

First up, it's Tesco. Like a Roman candle, it puts on a nice show, with some lovely casting and performances. The re-record of Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way delivered by a brass band is charming, too, but is it the firework that gets everyone talking at the end of the night?

I’m sure Debenhams’ certainly won’t be. This offering is more indoor firework and we all know how disappointing they are.

Never mind, though, because I know what the next firework in the box is capable of and Heathrow’s lovable, furry family don’t disappoint. The idea and execution set the tone for Christmas perfectly.
This sparkler will definitely light up faces.

Reaching back into the box, I pick up TK Maxx "The never ending stocking", a golden cannon. I’m not sure if I should light this now or save it till last. I light the touch paper and run quickly as Cuban Pete kicks in and the endless Christmas stocking starts burping up its wonderful festive feast for all to see. Oh yes…definite crowd-pleaser.

With some of the big guns missing from my box, it still feels like it could be a good show. Crossing my fingers, I send M&S up into the sky. After last year’s wonderful display, I can’t wait to see it. But, hang on. I think this one has the wrong name on it. M&S makes wonderful fireworks. Maybe the smoke trail left from TK Maxx is masking its magic?

Boots knows what its audience enjoys, sending up another sentimental rocket. But this time, it’s the rewrite of the lyrics that makes the difference. I’m sure it will get folk reaching for their phones to call their mums and daughters and maybe digging into their purses to buy gifts too.

It’s almost the end of the show, with Waitrose up next from that incredible fireworks factory, masters behind some of the most memorable displays to date. And let’s not forget, like Jean-Michel Jarre, it knows a thing or too when it comes to music and displays.

The description on the side of the box tells me there’s 300 parts to this almighty fountain. I watch the first two go off before turning to the crowd to promise them it will be a belter but, although they are nice, they don’t really do enough to keep everyone glued. It’s hard to judge this, only seeing two pleasant pops, so I’ll have to wait for the remainder of the firework to explode before judging whether it’s quite the display it promised.

Fresh from toilet breaks, the crowd are ready as I set off Cadbury’s "Secret Santa" to finish the show. We all know of Cadbury’s previous dazzling performances. However, this feels more sparkler than mighty mortar, which is fine, but it’s the big show, right?

So, the fireworks are done for another year. But wait, in the distance there’s something huge that’s really lighting up the sky. Everyone around me is talking about it. We all know where it’s come from but we’re not allowed to get up close. Which is insane, because it’s very much needed and everyone wants it. One thing’s for sure, I’ll be buying fireworks from Iceland next year.

James Denton-Clark, managing director, Karmarama

It’s been a cold year for UK retailers, including many of those with festive ads out last week. The economy, businesses and brands continue to wrestle with the uncertainty of you-know-what. It’s equally chilly for many of the creative businesses behind the ads – the big holding companies they belong to are restructuring, reimaging and regurgitating. It’s pretty brutal out there for many – nobody really knows what’s going on any more. Well, apart from one thing at least – Christmas ads will make us all feel better, as sure as sprouts is sprouts. It’s the law. We’ve all read our Binet and Field – we’ve got this covered, people. Lovely production values + human seasonal insight + Dickensian snowy memory structures = Christmas retail saviour. Feet up and crack open the sherry – job done.

Except it’s not really, is it, however much I hope I’m wrong. It’s all such a well-snow-trodden fairy-lit path that I think it’s very difficult to work out who’s doing what and how brands can genuinely connect with people. Yes, we all say we do things differently at Christmas, yet there are rituals to be followed (and broken). Yes, there are some ads that make us feel better than others, despite the nagging feeling we’ve seen them before from somewhere else. Yes, there are multiple gifting insights and Christmas panic insights to sweat, again. And again. But it’s tough to differentiate in the grotto.

Having said that, a few did connect with me. I like that Waitrose & Partners scrapped the big ad for beautifully put together, nicely observed and charmingly performed scenes of people who can’t wait for the food. They made me smile. Also, I liked Heathrow Airport’s ad. A simple insight that brings the benefit to life. I never really understood why the teddy bear mascots, though, except to make me moisten up, you manipulative bastards.

However, the one that connected the most wasn’t on the list, wasn’t our idea and didn’t even make it to TV – Iceland and Greenpeace’s "Rang-tan". Good on you; I’ll sign the petition.

Vicki Holgate, chief strategy officer, FCB Inferno

Tesco: Now, I love an insight! But can you "over-insight"? An insight should make you look at things differently and I suppose I already knew that not everyone likes sprouts. But there is no doubting that Tesco will offer you a variety of food this Christmas.

Debenhams: I really enjoyed these! Love, love, love the cheesy music and the slo-mo celebrations. But why do the present buyers look surprised? Surely they knew this was the right gift already? Or is shopping at Debenhams just about getting lucky?

Heathrow: Again, Doris and Edward make the journey home. And, yet again, it’s the little touches, the hand-holding, the embraces that melt your heart. Will it make me fly via that airport? Only if it is convenient. But I do feel a whole lot warmer towards Heathrow.

TK Maxx: Delightful gifts belched at you by a huge red-and-white worm. No-one will forget this ad, which ties in nicely with an actual in-store activation. Irreverent and fun – just like TK Maxx.

M&S clothes: The objective is to sell product. The ad shows product. Albeit with a Christmassy wrapper. Holly (and her enormous online following) is a great choice and the last five seconds will probably be the bit that sells most product.

M&S food: The objective is to sell product. The ad shows product. But oh so well! The shoppers talking about their favourites are natural and quirky. Makes me want to buy M&S food this Christmas. Worryingly, though, we are also promised Keith Lemon as part of the wider campaign. Please. No. Where is the brand fit? He is the antithesis of food porn.

Boots: A touching tale of mum and daughter. Nicely played out with just enough sweetness without being saccharine. Slightly measly gift, but maybe it was just the tree present?

Waitrose: A nice twist on the Christmas theme. Beautifully crafted with just enough agony alongside the rush for ecstasy. I get that Waitrose food is the best. And I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing more in the series.

Cadbury: Cute. And what a great way to spend your (official or unofficial) Secret Santa money. Gives me ideas. Tempts me to get a little something for people I might not have otherwise bought for. And addresses a bit of Christmas that other advertisers have ignored because it is small fry. For Cadbury, that could be a fabulous opportunity.

Jon Goulding, chief executive, Atomic London

I’m one of the few that don’t subscribe to the "Christmas is our Super Bowl" notion. Where advertisers enjoy over four hours of undivided attention from over 110 million people. Not so Christmas in the UK; we’ve all got too many other things to do.

So I’m looking at this latest batch with a less misty-eyed view than some and with a more brutal criteria that I expect most retail CMOs will be using to judge their success: does the ad emotionally connect with me in 30 seconds? Does it make me want to do something different as a result? Or, most importantly, does it make me sit up and distract me from my second screen, shopping on someone else’s website?

We start with M&S and Tesco. Both need a big win this year. Unfortunately, both brands feel like they’ve fallen into the trap of making ads that try to appeal to the "everyman and woman" by literally montaging almost every man and woman until your name comes up. I don’t have time to sift through it and so they’re not for me, I’m afraid.

Next, we have Boots and Debenhams trying a new take on an old formula. While I really like the insight with the Boots work and I’m sure a lot of mums out there will shed a tear, I’m not convinced it works so well as a stand-alone 30-second ad, which is how most people will probably see it.

In contrast, if you’re going to "do a bit of Christmas advertising", Mother’s take on it feels typically arresting, surprising and enjoyable. It probably won’t be enough to save Debenhams from its woes, but you can’t blame the ads for that!

And so to my favourites from this clutch. TK Maxx is as bonkers as the shopping experience, but has a clear promise and a fresh perspective on the category. It’s probably the most joined-up from a brand and activation perspective, which is one indicator for being a good campaign and not just a good ad.

But the winner for me is Waitrose, the partnership that built the formula for Christmas advertising in the first place. It breaks all the rules this year and has created highly interruptive, disruptive, hard-working 30-second (and shorter) timeslots, and yet retains the brilliant production qualities you’d expect from Waitrose. I expect this CMO will be sitting more comfortably than some.

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Gurjit Degun

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