Who's got the Xmas factor?


Justin Tindall

Executive creative director,
Leo Burnett

Justin Tindall, executive creative director, Leo Burnett:

I am haunted by a recurring Christmas nightmare. 

It starts on Christmas Day. Having delicately applied the final flourishes to my perfectly roasted KellyBronze, I head for the dining room for what will surely be the triumphant arrival of my glorious bird. But what’s this? WHAT THE FUCK… IS THIS? There’s a roast turkey already there. Worse than that, it’s a bigger, better and more perfectly presented turkey than mine. Suddenly, I hate my turkey. Every cell in my body wishes the woodland-reared fuck had never been born. 

This, I imagine, is how the Harvey Nichols team felt when they saw the Christmas work for Currys PC World (1). All their blood, sweat and tears gone to waste. Somebody got there first. And they got there bigger and much better.

The Currys PC World work is flawless: the idea, the writing, the casting, the performances, the way the product is seamlessly woven into the narrative is something to behold. And not a hashtag in sight, which feels refreshingly modern in itself.

Maybe that’s the problem with the Harvey Nichols (2) effort? In their desperation to create a hashtag-led idea, they’ve ended up focusing on the croutons rather than obsessing about the soup. 

There are lessons to be learned here. Thankfully, Lidl’s (6) "School of Christmas" is on hand to help. The hashtag in its film is, at least, a servant of the idea, not the master of it. And what a charming film it is. Beautifully observed with enough wit and irreverence to prevent it becoming patronising or pompous. If I have a niggle, it’s that this year’s insight is not quite as ownable as last year’s. Still, gold stars all round.

While we’re in the classroom, here’s a brain-teaser for you: How on earth does Ruth Jones + Ben Miller + Daniel Kleinman + Bartle Bogle Hegarty = Embarrassing to watch? From the hive-inducing performance of the boy to the cringeworthy, 70s innuendo at the end, Tesco’s (3) Christmas ad is a toe-curler. When the beleaguered brand said it wanted to signal the start of its turnaround, who knew that it intended to turn around and face backwards.

Sainsbury’s (4) Christmas campaign oozes confidence. Seemingly unconcerned that there should be any tangible connection between the idea and the brand, Sainsbury’s brings us Judith Kerr’s lovable cat, Mog. They’ve got the book, they’ve got the fluffy toy, they’ve got the charity. I’m just not sure they’ve got the ad. At three-and-a-half minutes, it’s flabbier than Mog herself. And why live action? Kerr’s original illustrated world is where the nostalgic emotion lives. Why not animate that? I’m sensing the influence of a bear called Paddington.

Speaking of Paddington, how Adam & Eve/DDB copes with the annual pressure of the John Lewis (7) Christmas ad is beyond me. As an ad, this one’s nice. As a John Lewis ad, it’s a bit disappointing. The issue, I think, is the tension between reality and fantasy. There’s enough reality to provoke questions about the logic and enough fantasy to feel emotionally distanced from the relatability of the story.

That said, I’m not sure there’s even a story to speak of in the Marks & Spencer (5) film. There’s a nightmarish amount of product, though.

Why did I have to go and mention nightmares again…


Andy Nairn

Co-founder, Lucky Generals

Andy Nairn, co-founder, Lucky Generals:

There are some things you simply do not do at Christmas. Sobriety. The Mrs Brown’s Boys special. Asking for "pigs in blankets" at David Cameron’s house. But most of all, YOU DO NOT SLAG OFF OTHER PEOPLE’S FESTIVE ADS. 

Thankfully, the seasonal tradition of goodwill is not hard to maintain when it comes to John Lewis (7). I think this year’s outing is its best Christmas effort since "the long wait". Possibly its best ever, as it has a particularly original storyline, an unusually profound insight and a well-integrated campaign behind it. Highlighting the plight of the elderly, at a time when most advertisers are falling over themselves to appeal to the young, is the mark of a confident brand and agency team. Phenomenal in every sense of the word.

Sainsbury’s (4) follows closely behind, perhaps only by a cat’s whisker. This is also a beautiful piece of storytelling, with a powerful moral, in support of another good cause. As with John Lewis, the TV idea is taken through the line, with the books and miniature Mogs sold in-store. I just wonder whether the role of the brand is a little weak.But then I’m allergic to cats, so maybe I’m being sniffy.

Next up is Lidl (6). I think it has been by far the best supermarket advertiser over the past two years. It has excelled across media, by honing a really nice, competitive-but-charming tone of voice. 

I’m not sure this is the best example: perhaps because it can’t exhibit its customary "dig" at this time of year. 

Now, two advertisers with the same idea. The old "reactions to unwanted presents" route has been with us ever since that great campaign for Gold, in 0 AD, showed an infant Messiah struggling to hide his disappointment at Frankincense and Myrrh (sales of which have never really recovered since).

Having said that, both Currys PC World (1) and Harvey Nichols (2) breathe some fresh life into the idea – the former via some great acting (of bad acting) by Jeff Goldblum and the latter via a neat turn of phrase ("Avoid #giftface"). So while these presents from adland might not be everything we’ve ever wanted, they’re not a pair of dodgy socks either.

Finally, a couple of retailers with illustrious advertising histories that have been going through difficult times recently. 

Marks & Spencer (5) has long excelled at visceral, sensual communications (I once Googled "food porn", only to be confronted with some deeply disturbing images of cucumbers. And when I say "deeply disturbing", I mean it literally.) This year, it has extended its visual approach to cover non-food too, using "The Art of Christmas". I actually think the agency has done a good job in wrapping up a slightly awkward package here. The problem is more what lurks inside: The Art of Retailing is all about having the right products, at the right prices, for the right people, in the right places – but M&S still hasn’t mastered that.

Finally, Tesco (3). Hmmm. This might test my reserves of festive goodwill. Suffice to say that it gets credit for attempting to create a long-term campaign, not just a one-off. So far, it feels rather clunky and dated, but maybe the characters will wear in. Ask me again in the summer – although remember that, like everybody, I will be back to saying that everything is shit by then, whether it is or not.


Kate Stanners

Chief creative officer, Saatchi & Saatchi

Kate Stanners, chief creative officer, Saatchi & Saatchi London:

Christmas seems to have become our version of the Super Bowl – the time when we show off the very best of what our industry can do. 

The trouble is that we can sometimes get so sucked into the hype that we almost go into pantomime mode. Looking at this selection of ads, it’s quite hard to work out which brand is which. And I think that’s because brands are forgetting to be true to themselves in their overwhelming desire to be Christamassy.

So the question for me is: Is this an ad for the brand or an ad for Christmas?

In many ways, Adam & Eve/DDB and John Lewis triggered this Christmas obsession and, for me, their 2011 ad "the long wait" was the high point of the campaign. I struggle with this year’s effort. It’s slightly depressing and lacks a key insight – there’s a high tear-jerk factor but for little gain. I’m left cold. Which isn’t how a John Lewis (7) Christmas ad should make me feel.

Harvey Nichols’ (2) 2013 Christmas ad was amazing. This year, the work is not as rich in insight (I can think of two other brands doing a "gift face" theme) and I don’t think the agency has quite made it feel unique for them. It’s not as spiky as last year and I’m not left with the luxury pay-off the brand deserves.

Currys PC World (1) is one I do like. Twenty years ago, I did some work with Jeff Goldblum and he’s just the same now as he was then. This is not a unique idea either, but this time it has been done really well. It sits perfectly with the brand but also elevates it. And it nails Christmas as a moment to give an otherwise dull brand some genuine personality.

I don’t really get Sainsbury’s (4). I applaud the storytelling, the animation and the craft – the cat, the kitchen scene – but I don’t see what it’s telling me about the retailer. Like last year, they’re doing a tie-up with a charity, but this time it feels like an excuse to tell a story that is a long way away from the brand’s usual voice. The three-and-a-half-minute version feels far too long, and the 60-second too short. 

I quite like the Lidl (6) ad but (at the risk of sounding like Scrooge) not as much as I like its all-year-round work, which really is getting things the wrong way around. And although it’s shot quite nicely, I don’t get the freshness that I usually get from the brand.

Marks & Spencer (5) is just Christmas wallpaper. They have used Christmas to inject some fun into a brand that struggles to seem fun as a rule. The problem is that it’s lacking an idea, so this could be an ad for any fashion brand or even for Boots. It’s all a bit M&S does The X Factor.

And, finally, I’m never going into a Tesco (3) store again. Enough said.

I will, however, somewhat unusually for me, be doing my Christmas shopping at Lidl and Currys PC World. And I’ll be watching my festive films on Sky, whose reworking of The Princess And The Pea as The Princess And The Sprout by WCRS has won the battle of Christmas hands down.