Close-Up: Sorting advertising's Christmas crackers from the turkeys

A creative director, a chief strategy officer and a mum give their opinions on this year's Christmas offerings from some of the major retail brands.

- Leon Jaume, executive creative director, WCRS

Christmas is everything advertising hates. Advertising strives to be original, daring, different and new; Christmas is the same old story being retold in the same old way.

For our foremost creative practitioners this is a problem. I call it the Art Director's Christmas Tree Syndrome. These people have spent years paring their interiors down until they are shrines to minimalism and suddenly they are expected to import a shaggy lump of pine that will scatter detritus across the Dinesen flooring. After pacing the backstreets of Shoreditch, they usually find some tortured compromise with an artfully gnarled black twig, lit by a dozen white bulbs and topped with a Mayan fertility symbol. But then they have to go to work, and the trouble really starts.

If they stick to the familiar, they end up with the Marks & Spencer ad. Yes, it's the annual carousel of stars, but there is no energy in the performances and the whole thing disappears into itself with a self-referential excuse for the seasonal showing of Noemie's bum.

Boots had a big hit with "here come the girls", so you can't blame it for trying it all one more time. But the setting of a riotous office Christmas lunch at which there is no booze dilutes any credible insight. No amount of laughter can distract us from the knowledge that these girls ought to be throwing up on a neighbouring table and tripping over their own knickers as they stagger off into the night with the waiter.

Morrisons has a good story: no other supermarket prepares as much food in-store as it does. Freshness is its thing. Not on screen it isn't. Its story is overwhelmed by a combination of Christmas iconography and its own assets, Richard Hammond and Take That.

The Sainsbury's ad features two juggernauts: a mighty catering truck and Jamie Oliver. He's hurtling round the country bringing festive fare to all. This is potentially horrible, but everyone involved, especially Oliver, has gone at it with such zest that they pull it off with a festive flourish.

Argos best captures what Christmas means to most of us: the comforting repetition of behaviours and rituals. There is nothing new here, but that's the point. The cliches are delivered with affection and empathy and we are reassured that Argos is a worthy seasonal ally.

In the John Lewis commercial there is much to enjoy: the delicate reworking of Sweet Child O'Mine, the cinematography and the idea, which is that Christmas is about rediscovering our inner child. It shows children unwrapping adult presents. But apart from one boy, who leaps around in some slippers, the gifts are greeted by these "inner children", not with manic glee or the "unadulterated joy" promised in the press release but with well-bred adult restraint. I would have thought that inner children should behave like outer children, jumping on sofas, bouncing off walls and puking with the excitement of it all. But then I like a proper Christmas tree.

- Nikki Crumpton, chief strategy officer, McCann Erickson

I've been asked to view these ads as a planner but I can't. I am completely incapable of viewing any Christmas ad like a planner, because at Christmas I consume ads like a child. It quite simply becomes all about the presents, which is why I love the thought behind the John Lewis ad.

It taps into a lovely insight (about myself) that understands people (like myself) regress at Christmas. However, despite the feeling of "yes, you get me", I wonder if this will be the commercial rocket fuel that John Lewis craves this Christmas; there just aren't enough really meaty presents in here. As an adult I will continue to do my Christmas shopping there but I'm not sure my inner child will.

Boots has gone for the angle of "we know the company Christmas party has been cancelled but the departmental piss-up in a dodgy pasta bar hasn't". A scaled-back version of "here come the girls" with no diminishing of the charm.

This is retail with panache, lots of glossy presents, and all wrapped up with a genuine feeling that it really gets what Christmas 2009 is all about.

Sainsbury's has also gone for Christmas of a grass-roots nature.

It packs a lot into this little cracker of an ad, real and gorgeous food, served up by the equally lovely Jamie, done in that wonderful Sainsbury's way that just wants to make your inner Nigella burst out of her Christmas stockings. I like the way it is reminding people that Christmas doesn't have to be fancy to be delicious. A nice present to give.

Lots of wrapping, but no presents in the next two. Unlike Sainsbury's, where the quality of the food feels embedded, here, with Morrisons, it feels like a side dish, as it inhabits the set it borrowed from Hollyoaks. It needs to lose some tinsel and show some substance in order to be in step with the way most of us will be approaching Christmas this year.

Worth every penny? I hope it was, Marks & Spencer. I love every single one of the celebrities in this ad, but is it me or are they all coming across as a bit snide? I wouldn't mind if they were making me desire what they were selling but I haven't a clue what's worth every penny. No presents here.

There isn't a Christmas list in the land that isn't written without a lot of input from Santa's little helper, the Argos catalogue. Loads of presents in there then.

This is a beautifully observed, family Xmas, a bit like the one we had in ...

Sorry I started to veer off the point there, which is what happens a bit in this ad. Argos, you should know your place. Can I get that DSi for £20 cheaper or not? Cheaper might be the overall message but it's like hunting for a sixpence in one of my granny's puddings (she always forgot to put one in but they tasted lovely).

But unlike my granny, I do know when to say goodbye so with that, I'm off to see if I can find my presents in my mum's wardrobe.

Heidi Lang, stay-at-home mum

You know Christmas is just around the corner when the perfume and toy ads suddenly take over the TV and all commercial break activity becomes (even more) gilded with cliches. Your heart sinks but you know it is inevitable - the shopping has to be done.

The John Lewis ad is just perfect. Perfect-looking children in perfect houses unwrapping perfect gifts. The tagline is "getting back that Christmas feeling" but the ad itself lacks just that. It is beautifully created and backed by a mellow cover of Sweet Child O' Mine and, for me, the music is the highlight. When the song fades, so does any memory of what I just saw and the only thing I want to buy is one of those perfect homes where the ad was set.

The seemingly limitless energy of Jamie Oliver in the Sainsbury's ad is like a shot of vitamin C. Part of me wants to be negative about him but that would be like kicking a puppy. In all his bounciness, he does make Christmas cooking seem so easy and convinces you of Sainsbury's being the one-stop shop when it comes to your Christmas food. I think the Express one near me is calling my name already, even if only for the Champagne.

The Marks & Spencer ads have actually become part of the whole Christmas build-up for me in all their festiveness. This year it has once again gone all out with the celebrity endorsements cleverly interrupted by a few of those famously luscious food shots but, overall, the ad just seems to lack the sparkle and falls flat. If it wasn't for the fact that every time I see it I am shocked at how much weight Stephen Fry has lost, I would be disappointed.

If there is one thing I have come to associate with the season and hate with a passion, it's the Here Come The Girls song in the Boots ad. I understand it wants the brand to be immediately recognisable but enough is enough. The ad itself is fun to watch and survives several viewings. However, I still don't associate Boots with Christmas shopping, but for the pre-party make-up upgrade, it is definitely the fix. What I especially love about the ad is the addition of a pregnant girl - faux bump or not.

The Argos ad is refreshing among all this glamour and good taste. It's almost so bad it's good. It shows you "real" families spending a "real" Christmas together and not a celebrity in sight. We can all identify with the sticky situations where the turkey is too big for the oven and uncle Bob got a bit too drunk. Not sure I would still shop at Argos but it does make me feel better about myself than the John Lewis ad did.

Considering Richard Hammond's penchant for adrenaline, he seems misplaced in the Morrisons ad. I never really shop at Morrisons, mainly as there isn't one anywhere near me, but this ad doesn't exactly push me to go that extra mile to find one.

I think I'll do my shopping online with whoever can deliver on time and pray for all the mayhem to pass me by.


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