Christmas ads 2021: adland reviews Argos, TK Maxx, Sports Direct, Barbour, Asda and more

Victoria Buchanan from Tribal DDB and Becky McOwen-Banks from VaynerMedia share their opinion on a selection of this year's Christmas spots.

Clockwise from top left: TK Maxx, Sports Direct, Barbour and Argos
Clockwise from top left: TK Maxx, Sports Direct, Barbour and Argos

With adland snowed under by Christmas campaigns, which ads are tickling creatives' fancies? 

Campaign asked Victoria Buchanan, chief creative officer at Tribal Worldwide London, and Becky McOwen-Banks, executive creative director, VaynerMedia London, to review Argos' "Baubles to last year" by The & Partnership; TK Maxx's "Walk this way" by Wieden & Kennedy; Sports Direct's "Go all out" by Mox; Barbour's "Paddington, please look after this bear"; and Asda's "Make Christmas spectacular" by Havas. 

Victoria Buchanan

Oh yes, I’m ready, give me Christmas. It normally feels too early, but not this year; I ordered my turkey in September. Probably the most important work of the past two years, Christmas 2021 ads are pumped, glossy, full of energy and they are working harder than ever to get us up, get us out, get us going. I enjoyed my Christmas kick-off and now I’m full. 

TK Maxx

The super-cool comeback show. Love the styling, art direction and gorgeous palette. The TK Maxx ad has a real Sex Education-esque feel for me. There is such an air of cool here. All the characters look great, from the make-up and the outfits to the accessories – dog love. The magical silver blue boots are breathtaking and outrageous, and I love the way dad is so proud of them. Diverse, inclusive – welcome all, to the house of TK Maxx, where everyone is going to have a good time. I’m ready for my Christmas boots.

Argos

I have loved the past few years of Christmas Argos ads – from drumming dad and daughter, I was in. The "Book of dreams", the physical paper and pen mark-ups, we have all been there and love it. Argos encourages us to go big this year. Making up for the lost time with silly, sweet, warm stories that are joyous and inspire you to think bigger than you were thinking before. It feels like a big story going all over the country. But I don’t like the magazine round-cornered boxes in the edit taking me through the scenes. It’s ugly and broke the spell.

Sports Direct

Someone has opened their wallet and pushed out the boat. Super sports stars – count them all in. Wowzers, Sports Direct has never looked so good. A “nothing beats a Sports Direct star” feeling punches you through this giant snowball fight. Fast, exciting, impressive and funny – it’s hard not to love this. Get off your arse and get out there. 

Barbour

Barbour's spot has all the ingredients to be a delightful Christmas treat. A charming animation that looks like it took hours of care, with beautiful illustrations put together in a very crafted, time-consuming way. All the vibes give me careful, quality, production – pulling me into the product world of Barbour. For me, sadly, the writing and story flow stop it from being brilliant.

It’s awkward, it has space and gaps, I don’t get enough to draw me to any of the characters and it feels like the script didn’t have enough words. But a great sustainable product story from a premium brand not trying to sell new expensive products but instead a tin of wax. 

Asda

Bolero? All your Torvill and Dean sensors turn on as you skate through Asda’s seasonal stories. A bit like the Ikea kitchen, a bit like this Christmas ad, a bit like that Christmas ad. I forgot what brand I was watching by the time it ended; it was generic and bland. My least favourite, I didn’t believe in any of it, I didn’t recognise the characters as they took me through, and some bad sleep acting annoyed me at the end. Photocopying their bottoms would have sprinkled on some Christmas magic.

Becky McOwen-Banks

It’s early, isn’t it? It is, I’m sure. We’ll soon be celebrating Chrimbo in bikinis in the blistering sun on a British pebble beach in August at this rate. But, hey, get the baubles out, as Noddy H would scream "It’s Christmas".

And what a rush of cheer fell into our laps this week, from the fantastical, the star-studded, the just go-all-out and the practical "let’s get this done". These probably are the ads we need to take us away from the drudge of the worry of winter amid haulage supply-chain panic threatening to Grinch Christmas. 

Let's start with permission to gorge.

Argos

"Baubles to last year" from Argos gives us permission to go all out. Add excess to your list and go mad. Some of the art direction with multiple screens felt a tad try-hard and confused – is it a big-screen event or one film trying to cover various media needs? You can almost hear the ask to make the ad feel like it was made for social, which misses the authenticity of the moments through these "framed" moments. But the uplifting pace and sheer fun takes it through to pudding.

TK Maxx

"Christmas to the Maxx" picks up on a similar theme but with more elegance. The all too familiar starting scenario surprising us with a low-sentimental, all-style take on the Christmas show. Love the little audience member vignettes, too, each one so familiar even in the few seconds we see them on screen. More please.

Asda

That similar theme of family moments is set over ice for Asda's "Make Christmas spectacular". But instead of the genuine uplifting joy of "To the Maxx", this spectacular feels distant, choreographed... well, like an ad. I can appreciate the technical ambition of getting the film made but I am left as an audience member on the sidelines, rather than actually feeling part of the emotion. I’ll pass.

Sports Direct

Post-lockdown-by-golly-we-need-a-big-Christmas really must be in the air as Sports Direct continues the pace, throwing as many celebs in the mix as possible. Authentic moments aplenty – the reality of the British reaction to snow and the scripting make this a fun, natural-feeling jaunt. It hits some of the key sporting moments from the year and puts Sports Direct streets away from being a low-price, high-street casualty. 

Barbour

And then Barbour... I’m no longer sure who Paddington won’t work for any more which may explain the tenuous attempt to link product and character, which is as clumsy as the obvious product plugs. Back to the shop come Boxing Day on this one I’m afraid.

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