Has Christmas advertising had its day? Rob Metcalfe isn’t encouraged

Has Christmas advertising had its day? CEO Rob Metcalfe isn’t encouraged by the current crop

20th November, 2018 by Rob Metcalfe

As has become traditional, around this time each year I have taken a look at the latest batch of retailers’ festive TV commercials for The Grocer magazine. My unedited thoughts are below, but the overall conclusion is that this year’s efforts are a bit thin on both creativity and selling power. Perhaps like Woolworths, which started off the whole Xmas ad-a-thon in 1981 (‘Have A Cracking Christmas’), Christmas advertising has run out of steam. (Incidentally, if you want to see that original ad, have a look here. It is, for all the wrong reasons, extraordinary.) Among the class of 2018, Iceland has tried something different, but probably too different for most of its customers. Morrison’s hasn’t even bothered and is just running last year’s ads again. At least Aldi has made a new ad, even if it’s terrible…



The loathsome Kevin returns. Aldi has made yet another pointless ad featuring the hateful little vegetable in the mistaken belief that they have created an endearing and campaignable character. They haven’t. It was a thin idea in the first place and stretched to year three with the nonsensical introduction of an evil parsnip it makes even less sense than before. One improvement – last year’s ‘joke’ about urine has been replaced by one about testicles. Oh how we laughed. What has this to do with Aldi? Nothing. And will they see any sales benefit as a result? No. Pass me the grater.



It feels as though Argos worked backwards from its ‘Foolproof Christmas’ tagline and created this overblown ad to justify it. Basically, evil little creatures (‘fools’ – neither impish nor endearing, just nasty) will destroy your entire Christmas unless you get the delivery man from Argos to squash them. At a time when peace and goodwill are supposed to be in full flow this comes across as rather unpleasant, and probably quite frightening for young viewers. Did you know that you can buy Christmas stuff from Argos and they will deliver it quite quickly? You did? Well this was a waste of money then wasn’t it.



You are going to like this ad whether you like it or not and we’ll keep chucking things in until you do, seems to be the creative ethos behind this bonkers festive onslaught from Asda. Like a rogue state run by Santa it is shelling us into submission with rocket propelled Christmas missiles that explode unmitigated Yuletide all over us until we give in. Its epic, very silly and rather fun. There may even be enough happening to keep it interesting in the long run-in to Christmas, it’s got yetties, a Trabant and synchronised skiing waitresses, just like every proper Christmas should have.



Well we’re a million miles from Peter Andre’s party platters. In fact so far, that it’s not a Christmas ad at all. More a short NGO propaganda film with an Iceland message tacked on to the end. The animation is sub-Disney schlock but the message is powerful enough, especially for children, who are clearly the main target. A cynic might think that Iceland would be relieved that its non-Xmas Xmas ad has been ‘banned’, thus whipping up social media fury and tens of millions of views without paying for all that expensive TV airtime. But do Iceland shoppers really care about palm oil? Or is the CSR tail wagging the marketing dog?

2/10 (for not being festive)

John Lewis

Differentiating your Christmas ad by not making a Christmas ad is clearly the future. Iceland has done it and now John Lewis is spending its seasonal budget on promoting next year’s Rocketman Elton John biopic for no obvious reason other than that they both have ‘John’ in their names. This is not a good reason. The ad looks expensive and feels cheap. It also appears wildly out of kilter with the real world. Sure, the gifts you give can change people’s lives, but not many people will be handing out pianos this year. It’s a great ad for the atheist Elton John and a rotten ad for Christmas at John Lewis.



Nigel is an idiot. Not just the usual TV advertising ‘aren’t men stupid’ idiot, but a fully fledged arse/elbow, don’t know what day it is, surely snow doesn’t melt when it’s warm kind of idiot. And he shops at Lidl. Perhaps that’s what this feebly unfunny ad is telling us. Buy your party time chicken breast skewers and crispy coated prawns from us and you can be recognised buy everyone as an idiot too. Oddly, this counts as “upgrading Christmas” according to the ad. Poor Nigel, He doesn’t look like a bad bloke and his friends seem to be having fun. But he shops at Lidl and he’s an idiot.



M&S has apparently travelled the country to find people willing to pretend that they get excited about M&S food at Christmas. They sell turkey. Woo. And sprouts. Yay. And Christmas pudding that doesn’t look or taste like Christmas pudding. This is narcissism taken to a new level driven by the absurd delusion that anyone outside the fevered imagination of M&S marketers might have seasonal “M&S favourites” and be so excited about them that they want to go on telly and share. In the real world nobody cares that much where their sprouts come from. All of which has the, presumably, undesired effect of making M&S shoppers look a bit weird.



Ploughing on regardless, Sainsbury’s apparently ignored the fact that John Lewis had already made a similar but better ad three months earlier and delivered its own bells and whistles souped up school show. There are many nice moments and plenty of tugs at the heartstrings, but it’s not as inventive or as much fun as the JL version. And it doesn’t say anything at all about Sainsbury’s. Even the tagline suffers by comparison. ‘We give all we’ve got for the ones we love’ is patently not true. ‘We’re a second rate John Lewis’ would be more appropriate.



Pinpoint accurate in its humour – who wouldn’t rather have a posh mince pie than listen to an amateur seasonal choir? – this nicely delivers festive fun alongside a hero product. And unlike the undifferentiated sprouts and turkey of other retailers – for which the phrase ad nauseum was probably invented – it’s a product unique to Waitrose. Blimey, a Christmas ad which might even sell something. Who’d have thought that TV advertising could be so daringly commercial. I hope the others in the series are as well written, made and acted as this.