Christmas ads 2020: adland reviews John Lewis, Sainsbury's, Tesco and more

Engine's Melody Sylvester and Digitas' Dani Bassil share their thoughts on the festive selection.

Clockwise from top left: Sainsbury's, McDonald's, Burberry, John Lewis & Partners
Clockwise from top left: Sainsbury's, McDonald's, Burberry, John Lewis & Partners

The season for festive ads is in full swing now. This week Melody Sylvester, head of film at Engine, and Dani Bassil, chief executive of Digitas UK, review Tesco "No naughty list" by Bartle Bogle Hegarty; Burberry "Singing in the rain" by Riff Raff Films; John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose & Partners "Give a little love" by Adam & Eve/DDB; Sainsbury's "Gravy song" by Wieden & Kennedy London; and McDonald's "Inner child" by Leo Burnett.

Sylvester

There have been a few times this year when I have felt despair as a human; felt an overwhelming battle fatigue. My natural optimism diminished by horrific news events, global natural disasters, the pandemic, political incompetence, wilful ignorance and outright lies.

But, god damn it, no-one can take away my love for Christmas. Christmas 2020 will be like no other in living memory but let us hope the focus will be on "giving" and always, always about LOVE, even if it's a bittersweet time for some of us.

I'm going to kick things off with, arguably, the most surprising piece, for Burberry. This evocative and stylish film delivers some sweet juxtaposition in its location, casting, art direction, choreography and styling. But what really slays for me is the moment when one of the performers strips off, strides into the sea and plunges backwards into the water. The exquisite release is palpable. I think we can all share in the desire for some sweet freedom as the vocal says "and we are ready for love".

John Lewis – is a curious tale with a refreshingly rich mixture of people depicted. It delivers tonally and is no slouch in the use of animation techniques. It has it all. Animation and VFX has featured across all of the films, which is great. I suspect that it may have had something to do with it being deemed less risky than trying to shoot live action during lockdown. I wonder whether that was the motivation behind the McDonald's fully animated view of modern family life. It works in either medium and I think it scores an emotive and insightful win here too.

What a relief to hear from Tesco that there is "no naughty list" this year. Trust me I've thought about being naughty, but I've barely had a chance this year... and on Zoom doesn't count... does it? (Well, unless you're that former journo at The New Yorker.) I like the beautifully composed vignettes in this one.

Sadly, it didn't land as well as the film from Sainsbury's. Both great pieces of work, it was for me simply a case of one felt more like an ad from Tesco versus the home-video style film from Sainsbury's. I lost my Dad at Christmas, so this film rang true for me and therefore had the edge in the love stakes. 

Overall, there is definitely a clear shift in the level of inclusivity in casting across all of the films so that is gratifying to see. What's not to love about that?

Shout-outs to everyone that has worked so hard to deliver all of this beautiful work and to everyone in every industry that has been hit hard in 2020. Wishing you a safe, peaceful Christmas and, most of all, love!

Bassil

I don't know how you're all feeling but lockdown two feels pretty tough. Nights are closing in; I've been sitting in the same seat looking at the same things for months now and I'm pretty sure I'm going to crash-tackle hug everyone I know when I'm allowed to again (just warning you). I've moved to my living room to watch these on the actual telly (a new room, such fun!). But watching some Chrimbo ads and parking my Zoom calls for a bit is some welcome relief, and with this lot, frankly a pleasure.

Let's start with my favourite – Tesco. I mean, honestly, the country needs some proper laughter and I actually LOL'd. Everything about this is perfect, the voiceover, the track, the sentiment. I bloody loved it. Nice one BBH.

There's two pretty shitty things about the Sainsbury's ad. One is the shocking racism the first ad received online and the second is it's really made me miss my family back in Australia, whom I'll probably see some time in 2050. It's lovely, though. Simple, thoughtful, and true. And for me, this represents Christmas perfectly and advertising at its best.

So much I could say about the Burberry film. Such great spirit, beautiful art direction and choreography and again a brilliant track. It felt so edgy and cool but with real joy. And supporting Marcus Rashford's campaign is a big tick, too. Wouldn't make me buy a trench coat, though. Sorry.

Pretty sure the McDonalds' ad represented me when I was 13 (I was more goth though, an interesting choice to wear only black in 30-degree weather, but that's teenagers for you). I think after this year we all need to bring back our inner child and I can tell you right now I'm definitely reindeer ready. A lovely spot, indeed.

I like the mix of animation styles and live action in the John Lewis/Waitrose ad and good work that another brand is supporting Marcus Rashford's efforts. There's such huge anticipation every year for this and going a bit smaller is probably the right thing to do. It's a nice ad. The Twitter response has been most amusing, and for that, this definitely gets some extra credit.

Well thanks for having me, I'm straight back to Zooming. Can't wait for the next "you're on mute" comment. Five minutes in, and there it is. Bring on Chrimbo.

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