Through my thick-lensed, NHS-framed, ad-nerd glasses, nothing beats Superbowl season. But Christmas is a close second.
From the national anticipation of how the John Lewis ad will make us cry this year, to seeing who will miss the mark, or which obscure brand unexpectedly will blow us away with a wonderfully executed nugget of brilliance. It’s my version of an advent calendar!
Let’s start with this years’ winner, in my eyes, of best Christmas ad.
I’m sure that no one will be surprised that it’s the hotly anticipated ad from German pharmacy chain Doc Morris. No? No one guessed that?
It’s not (just) because it’s healthcare. It’s not (just) because it focusses on self-care – of which Verve is a staunch proponent.
It’s because it’s a darn fine Christmas ad. It’s lovely, it’s Christmassy, it’s triumph over adversity, it’s an underdog story, it’s full of family joy. And it’ll probably make you cry.
But, obviously there are a whole load more ads to talk about.
Where to start? Well, I suppose the elephant in the room (but only if it’s part of your support bubble) is COVID…
DON’T SAY THE C WORD
It’s interesting to see which brands have chosen to address the pandemic. Some have gone for the head on approach, making it a key element of the narrative.
Amazon has done a wonderful job with their uplifting tale of a young ballerina whose performance was cancelled, but *spoiler alert* still gets to wow the audience with a little help from family, friends and Amazon.
Others have chosen to make subtle references to lockdown. Sainsbury’s series of ads are phone calls over family videos, which it’s tough not to smile over; but only ‘Gravy Song’ mentions that they hope they can be together for Christmas.
Tesco also refers to corona-safety. It’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and maybe I’m a stuffy, humourless scientist, but it seems tough enough at the moment to get people to follow hygiene and lockdown guidance without saying they’ll not be on the naughty list for not washing their hands properly or going on holiday.
Not all supermarkets are pandemic-poking though. Lidl’s irreverent animation starts by lulling the viewer into a false sense of nausea, but soon reveals it’s a cutely animated send-up of a Christmas ad. Complete with ‘logos on jumpers’, ‘emotional gravy’ and ‘no need for cutesy characters’ as a carrot is stabbed with a fork.
Online clothing store Zalando takes a heart-warmingly positive look to the post-COVID future, with an uplifting message that we WILL hug again.
A more light-hearted look at the year is taken by TK Maxx. A tiny fashionista goat struts through TK Maxx’s spot, and if you were ever going to identify with a pink beret-sporting caprine character it is going to be now – “she’s had such a hard year” – a personal favourite this one, always a fan of the peculiarity that Wieden+Kennedy bring.
Apparently, another group that have had a tough year are our phone providers. Or so Three would have us believe. Looking through the eyes of a smartphone and voiced by a choir singing a carol seemingly written by a smartphone, we see the ups and downs of phone life. From having a screen cleaned after being sprayed with baby food to not recognising a mask-wearing owner. It’s a nice idea, and definitely raises a smile – what more could you ask. The radio ad works well too.
DO NO WRONG
On to our first ‘[x]-vertising’ buzzword: ‘Goodvertising’.
Brands coupling with charities, either saying ‘donate to…’, ‘we donate to…’ or perhaps, ‘buy from us and we’ll donate to…’. There seems to be much more of this in 2020 than previous years – understandably I guess, there’s a lot of good needed at the moment, and of course brands will -vertise that they are doing it.
Finally, in our “doing-good” section, we find Boots who have chosen to address hygiene poverty.
Probably the most relevant good-doing in this group – both in terms of what the brand does and what is in front of everyone’s minds. Combined with a lovely message of ‘what the world needs now is love’ (…and hygiene), the creative is fine.
Joules has partnered with the woodland trust to raise awareness of their work in protecting endangered species and slowing deforestation. It’s a nice, cosy, very Joules-feeling animation.
Body Shop and Papa John’s have both chosen to focus on combatting homelessness, in very different ways. Papa John’s have produced a deliberately cheap (-looking) ad, professing to have donated their marketing budget to Crisis and the Trussell Trust.
While Body Shop tells the story of two previously homeless young women. One recites a self-penned spoken word piece, the other performs a modern dance. Writing this I realise that sounds rather pretentious (well done to the 4Studio for pitching that!) – but it comes together wonderfully to make a rather powerful piece.
Uh oh, the tear-jerkers. The sad-vertising.
Let’s start with the sad-vertising royalty, the ever-anticipated John Lewis ad. Along the lines of Boots, a lovely message that we all need to ‘give a little love’ (was anyone else hoping for a Bugsy Malone remake?).
It’s a wonderful live-action, animation combo. A heart-felt, pass-the-love-parcel story with a diverse mix of beautiful animation styles. For me, flicking between the styles, however wonderful they are, took me out of the story a bit. Nevertheless, very much worth a watch in full.
Flying the flag for our industry – as I’ve always said, if anyone has the power to affect people’s emotions it’s healthcare. And kids. As for kids’ health, just pass the Kleenex.
So Great Ormond Street Hospital doesn’t have to do much to have us in bits. But they have. Their gorgeous animation tells the true story of two sisters being treated for the rare neurological condition Chronic Demyelinating Polyneuropathy, getting to travel home for Christmas and open their presents together.
One surprise for me this year was McDonald’s ‘Inner Child’. It might be because I’m parent to a fast-growing 7 year old, and therefore I’m a huge drip, but seeing the child trying to out-grow playing with his mum, really hit a nerve.
I don’t remember having seen a Disney festive ad of note before (maybe because they’ve not been of note…). This year’s unsurprisingly flawlessly animated film shows a grandmother and granddaughter and the family traditions that bring them together. Another example of goodvertising, the soundtrack is a charity single and the film is ‘in support’ of Make A Wish foundation.
TIS THE SEASON TO BE JOLLY
Happy escapism now. Hapvertising? Escapvertising? This might not have a name, but it’s very enjoyable.
One of highlights of the year is Burberry. A feel-good strut through the street while ice bombs plummet from above. No masks, no social distancing, just joyful.
Argos’ book of dreams again brings us a family performance. Sisters AbracaDaisy and the Incredible Lucy stage an increasingly elaborate magic performance, in an increasingly elaborate living room theatre. It’s an obligatory smile-fest, but not quite touching on one of my 2019 favourite, their ‘Drummer Girl’ featuring pint-size-protégé Nandi Bushell (check her out here, incredible talent).
As a company whose name means ‘play well’ you’d expect Lego to bring some fun to the list. And they do – with a tribute to some of the bonkers ideas kids come up with (as well as showing off some of their bigger licences).
Snoop Dogg has been busy this year. As well as continuing to front Just Eat’s hip-hop home delivery campaign – this time in fluffy puppet form. He also celebrates the ‘small things’, showing us around his home complete with son and daughter (both played by Snoop). I like this one – peculiar and pleasing.
There’s a fair few other ads which I’m not going to cover – from Coca Cola’s epic journey – to M&S’ usual food-porn (now with even bigger celebrity voiceover names).
But one worthy of mentioning through sheer WTFactor is KFC’s Recipe for Seduction. A truly bizarre 16 minute soap-romance film with Mario Lopez playing a young Colonel Sanders teaser here and if you think you can bear it – the full film is available here. It may be weird as anything, but any ad featuring the line “Secret’s out, Chicken Man” can’t be all bad.
Overall, it’s a pretty interesting crop this year – as you’d expect in ‘these times’. I hope you’ve enjoyed taking this journey through the different approaches and styles this year. Now, everyone hold your breath for Superbowl!