Iceland, Asda, Aldi and... drum rolls please, Argos: PRWeek panel on Christmas campaigns

Which major retailer has set a new precedent with its 2019 campaign? Which tugs on zero heartstrings or goes all-out woke? Which hits all the right notes or gets called out for picking on sprouts? PR experts scrutinise the first batch of festive campaigns.

Iceland

After last year’s hugely successful purpose campaign Rang-tan, all eyes were on the frozen food specialist to see what it would follow up with. Palm oil purpose has been swapped for the 'magic of Disney' in a Frozen 2-themed Christmas campaign.

The spot, created by the Disney Animation Studios, stars the characters of Frozen 2 playing a game of charades that culminates with Elsa using magic to create the "Perfect Christmas Dinner" for a real-life family. It was created by Disney Animation Studios and will run on TV, across Iceland’s digital channels, with additional outdoor and press components.

This ad split our panel down the line with some frosty reviews and others left warm and fuzzy.

James Gordon-MacIntosh (Hope&Glory): After last year’s campaign I was pretty excited to see where Iceland would go next. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed. Even if removing their brand from some of their own-brand products, rather than removing the palm oil, was an epic climb-down, I think they could have done better as a tricky second album. Sure, Frozen 2 is going to be a big moment amongst families this festive season and the tie-in that takes Frozen characters into Iceland’s aisles by putting them on-pack is super-smart and deepens the connection (and will drive sales, no doubt). But the association with frozen food from a brand that was trying to position itself as mainstream is an odd choice, and, after last year’s triumphs, I think I was hoping for more.

Shirin Majid (VCCP Kin): Iceland + Magic of Frozen = no brainer. And hey all you cynics, sometimes a no-brainer ad is ok, ok? This ad doesn’t give me massive Christmas feels, but it does remind me how excited I am about the film. (Disclaimer: I may not be the most unbiased evaluator in this instance, because I’ve been looking forward to Frozen 2 for YEARS. Judge me, I don’t care!). With a critical eye, the idea doesn’t carry through smoothly enough in the transitions between animation and reality. The animation is magical, but the beginning and end less so. The flipping between Frozen and Iceland messaging is competitive. But, in the spirit of Christmas, I just Googled Frozen 2 cinema tickets (again), and I am reminded that you can indeed create a magical Christmas feast from frozen food.

Julian Obubo (Manifest): After last year's 'Palm Oil ad' I think expectations are quite high for Iceland's offering. This is just an ad for Frozen 2 with the joke being that Iceland specialises in frozen goods. It's a let down after the purpose-driven effort last year. They wanted to go Frozen, but they ended up with something rather damp.

Leila Mountford (Lewis): They were never going to top last year, so I think they’ve done exactly the right thing in completely shifting approach. The storyline cleverly engineers a positive mental connection between the popular film and frozen food as an option for your festive meal. There’s also a dash of humour when Olaf jokes about the salad plates being Elsa’s favourite part of Christmas (love Olaf). In true Iceland style, they’ve focused on family being the thing that makes Christmas special, not how posh the brandy cream is. And as an aside, the spot also made me want to be seven again, waking up on Christmas morning wearing Disney-themed pyjamas and believing that Father Christmas ate the mince pies that we laid out for him and not Dad. All round a magical ad with strong brand recall that leaves you feeling fuzzy.

Andrew Soar (Ogilvy): Mum’s gone to Iceland and ripped out all its courage! Amid the deforested home of ‘Rang-tan’ the orangutan, the result is an icy cold, stripped-bare hole with a huge Disney $ shape within. They have played it so safe with this distinctly colder Frozen 2 collaboration. In reality, Rang-tan was an anomaly amongst Iceland’s traditional marketing so, this feels like the advert you’d expect from them. I miss 2018 Iceland. Oh well, at least the Olaf toy will sell well.

Argos

Argos greets Christmas with a father and daughter drumming extravaganza. The spot, by The & Partnership London, starts out with dad going through his daughter’s Christmas ‘Book of Wishes’ – an clever rebranding of the Argos catalogue – with a big red circle around a drum kit. Drums suddenly appear in front of the dad who begins playing to the iconic Simple Minds tune, Don’t You (Forget About Me). The daughter then wakes up, comes down the stairs and forms a formidable duet in a spot that many predict will be a hit. What did our panel think?

Janelle Feliciano (Weber Shandwick): First of all the tune, totally unexpected. There’s a million great drum songs out there and they went with the one that hits ‘feel-good nostalgia’ on the hi-hat. Then we have this really great casting. A lot of the time ethnic minorities are dressed up and put into a weird wacky role, but it’s great to see he’s just a relatable cool dad. Also did you know that minorities are the least likely to enter creative careers? So if all this ad does is inspire loads of little BAME girls to smash some drums then I think that’s job done.

Leila Mountford: What’s not to like about a nostalgic Simple Minds hit and a regular-looking dad living out a popular fantasy of playing drums in front of a cheering crowd?  Throw a cute kid in the mix and you’ve got a cheery Christmas ad. Considering the old Argos catalogue isn’t the sexiest of things to promote, I think they’ve done a good job. There’s also a solid demonstration of breadth of products and visual brand cues at the start and end helping with memorability. It doesn’t fill me with glee, nor does the track evoke any particular strong emotion like other ads have achieved when using an old hit, but I’m pretty sure drum kits will be flying out of Argos this year (and an equal amount will be played once and then used as an obscure coat rack after Christmas).  

Julian Obubo: I've always thought Simple Minds Don’t You (Forget About Me) was an okay song. After seeing this ad, I've had to reconsider my earlier ambivalence. The choice of music is brilliant. The visual link to products is subtle, not overwhelming, and the story is uncomplicated – a father and a daughter just smashing it on the drums. I like the visual callback to the famous Cadbury's advert. I won't be surprised if this becomes a fan favourite this season.

Shirin Majid: When I was a kid, I used to pore through every page of the toy section in Christmas catalogues like they were in fact a Book of Dreams. So this idea really resonates with me in terms of the honesty of the insight about the anticipation of Christmas prezzies and the natural link to the brand. But whaaaaat is happening. Is that teeny drumkit a nod to last year’s Elton piano? Why the 80s video? The drum solo that never ends? Crowdsurfing teddies? Whatever, I don’t care. It’s fun, lighthearted and totally Christmas. 

Andrew Soar: In a world of Amazon and super-fast deliveries to your door, Argos isn’t the brand it once used to be. But, despite being up against the ropes, it has come back fighting and I for one, love it! The Book of Dreams is not only a lovely creative to make the humble catalogue feel magical again, but the advert is what Christmas ads for me, are all about. What is not to like? Drums are sexier than pianos - sorry John Lewis 2018, it is a fact. Mix that with an enchanting tale of a father and daughter connecting and the sublime soundtrack from Simple Mind’s 80s classic ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ (which is obviously making a tongue-in-cheek reference to all us Amazon users) and you have a winner. Hold on, did we forget a giant teddy bear stage dives and crowd surf? Ok, done!

James Gordon-MacIntosh: Inspired by Bill Bailey describing the Argos catalogue as the "Laminated Book of Dreams", this is a return to form from Argos after last year’s questionable, character-driven spot fronted by what was termed by one correspondent a creature resembling a "demonic foreskin". Shot in-camera it’s a feel-good spot with a toe-tapping soundtrack. Capturing the magic of the catalogue – I can still remember circling the gifts I wanted for Christmas – and its role as the starting gun for the festive season, this is one spot that simply makes you smile; a perfect antidote for these bleak times. The brand has also digitised its catalogue archive at the same time as the spot landed. A cute touch and one sure to conjure up a healthy nostalgic glow amongst parents across the land.

Aldi

Kevin the Carrot is back and this time he’s in a spot of bother with the Leafy Blinders. Some mean-looking sprouts aren’t happy that Kevin is now the star of the Christmas dinner and they try to stop the carrot from a special Christmas performance.

Kevin escapes with the help of a toothy cherry tomato and does a striking rendition of Robbie Williams ‘Let Me Entertain You’. Not all of our panel were entertained and not all took kindly to the sproutism on display.

Andrew Soar: Guess who's back, back again. Kevin’s back, tell a friend. Aldi’s carrot escapades have been a hit amongst festive ad watchers for years now and this is not going to disappoint the loyal fans, even if there is some carrot nudity! It has, however, just single-handedly killed off all of the good work of Moro’s chefs to make me think that sprouts can taste great again. Aldi has cast the arch nemesis of most people’s Christmas lunch once again as the villain of the peace. With the poor Russell Sprout and his Leafy Blinders gang not quite packing the punch of Cillian Murphy’s brigade. All the while, Robbie Williams takes centre stage as Kevin’s vocals with a rendition of ‘Let Me Entertain You’. Aldi you had me at "smother me in cranberries".

Julian Obubo: Aldi is keeping it simple here. They've gone with what is essentially 'The Greatest Showman'... with vegetables. If you can't beat them with creativity, beat them with simplicity of message. It's not memorable, but it drives home Aldi's message that you can find everything you need for Christmas at Aldi.

Shirin Majid: Oh I love Christmas ads, good and bad. I judge them based on whether they a) make me cry b) make me hungry c) make me buy something, or d) give me goosebumps and/or Christmas feels. Just watched Aldi’s and got goosebumps. But not in a good way. Look, I love a bit of Robbie, just not that track. I love roast carrots, just not singing that track. And I love cheesing it up for Christmas, but it just seems like I’ve seen this aerial performance before. However! My six-year old will love the animation, and it does leave me wanting to eat heaps of Christmas dinner, so maybe job done? 

James Gordon-MacIntosh: The Carrot’s back. And this time he’s got pun-laden vege-mates. Enter Russell Sprout and the Leafy Blinders (furious that carrots have stolen the festive show), the brilliantly named Tiny Tom (the tomato that saves the day) and fart gags. Throw in a Robbie Williams soundtrack (lyrics amended for the season) and you’ve got a cracking ad: "bring those mince pies over here … with cream!" is a remarkable re-working. I genuinely love this spot. But, as ever with Kevin, it’s the way he’s used in social that captures the attention and sustains it – a build-up campaign that attracted a ton of attention, UGC that suggests that he’s become a meme in his own right and (I hope) lots more to come in the lead-up to the big day. If I had any criticism it would be that Russell and the Leafy Blinders could have made more of an appearance. But that’s churlish criticism. This is a great spot and a campaign that lives and breathes beyond the TV extravaganza.

Leila Mountford: I hate to be overly critical, but there is something quite disturbing about this ad. From the creepy picketing sprouts to the enormously vulgar amount of food that is displayed on the table (which just reinforces how much waste and gluttony there is in a traditional privileged Christmas setting) – nothing about it feels right. Don’t even get me started on the carrot who, at first, seems to resemble a sort of P T Barnum type character and then Robbie Williams' voice belts out of his tiny carrot mouth. But more fundamentally, for me the focus is all wrong: it ultimately puts pressure on whoever hosts Christmas to go all out and ‘entertain’ their guests, making Christmas a competitive sport. Not a fan of this one. P.S. does Aldi have an issue with sprouts?

Asda

Tilly tries to bottle some of Santa’s leftover magic, which looks awfully similar to the Northern Lights. Tilly blows the magic Christmas dust around the village and all sorts of weird stuff happens, such as a house being turned into gingerbread and a man’s head becoming a snowman. Then there's more gingerbread men at a bus stop and a giant golden bauble rolls down the street before Tilly loses her Christmas dust and falls asleep. The spot, by AMV BBDO, is high on production value and Christmassy charm.

Shirin Majjid: This is my favourite Christmas ad so far. Big cinematic feels, dynamically composed music, original visual touches…and all the Christmas magic. It’s a short film meets pop-up fairy tale meets glittery Christmas card. It’s a yes from me. But I think there’s more opportunity to go beyond the ad. At first watch, you go with it as a Christmas tale, but it’s not completely clear what’s going on in the story. Apparently it’s about Tyldesley, Wigan, which was dubbed the worst market square in the country by its residents. It’s a lovely human and real-life link so would love to know more, and would love to see it continue beyond the ad in terms of invigorating local communities via PR or social.

Julian Obubo: I wasn't a fan of this. I could vaguely see what they were hoping to do here, but the story and direction are just off. It feels a little 'Christmas ad by numbers'. There's cute kids, a hint at loss of grief, a bit of magic. It just appeared contrived when put together. I appreciate the cinematic effort, but I don't think this will stick in anyone's memory.

Leila Mountford: I don’t get the storyline in this one at all. Did they sneak into the grandfather’s house? Is he dead and the house still hasn’t been cleared out? Is the girl so depressed at the end because the magic ran out of the jar (or because they are, in fact, orphans as still no trace of parents or grandparents)? Finally, why are the Northern Lights appearing in an English sky? No clear link to Asda that I can see and no tingly Christmas feelings, either. I think with a bit more clarity on the narrative it could’ve been quite warming, but it was a bit all over the show for me. 

James Gordon-MacIntosh: Joining the likes of Amazon and Aldi in the "let’s land the magic of a family Christmas in a nation beset by conflict" school of festive celebration spots, Asda rolls out the schmaltz... in a good way. With a firm tug on the emotional heartstrings, this spot does the job. Asda is in the squeezed middle of supermarkets - neither a budget retailer nor perhaps as associated with the indulgence of the season (when shoppers tend to trade-up) as its competitors. Claiming to bring the magic of Christmas without putting product in their flagship spot is a perfect piece of positioning. Is there a nod to the current BBC adaptation Phillip Pullman’s "Dark Materials" somewhere there, maybe - without the expensive licensing deal (ahem, Iceland, I’m looking at you)? Maybe. Intended or otherwise, it’s a perfect reference to bring some cultural relevance and resonance for the family shoppers ASDA needs to attract and retain. 

Janelle Feliciano: The whole time I kept wondering how far up north are they? Is there even an aurora borealis in the UK? Why didn’t they choose something a bit more relatable to be the Christmas magic? Then I realised maybe this ad isn’t for me, but instead for my inner child who grew up with 90s Christmas film magic and didn’t question weather patterns. To enjoy this spot, is to just give into the holidays. My one irk is that I’m not sure if I would remember it was an Asda spot? A subtle nod would’ve made this better.

Andrew Soar: This ticks all the festive fuzzy feeling boxes, doesn’t it? It’s heart-warming and captures the spirit of the season, giving with almost reckless abandon to ensure joy for others. The best part of this story is the one that isn’t told. The ad pays tribute to the residents of Tyldesley in Wigan, a town that famously had the "worst Christmas tree in Britain". After they were bestowed with this unwanted award, residents came together to transform its appearance from shoddy to sparkling with handmade decorations and tinsel. It is this community spirit in times of severe divide that makes this story about much more than just the sum of its parts. However, if you don’t know the Tyldesley story, is the advert as impactful? I think not.

Here are a few other spots that caught the eye of our panellists:

TK Maxx 

Leila Mountford: A fun ad and beautifully shot with just the right amount of absurdity. Reminds you of the times you found random treasures in TK Maxx that you weren’t even looking for like the fish-shaped vase (or the squid ink spaghetti you picked up in the queue on the way to the till). It does kind of evoke all the ingredients of the Coors Light ads with Jean Claude Van Damme, or is that just me? Right from the deep and moody voiceover to the quirky mountain scenes, I wouldn’t be surprised if the action hero himself skied into shot and offered the TK Maxx protagonist a cold can of lager.

Amazon

James Gordon-MacIntosh: A brand in need of some warmth and emotion as it struggles with ubiquity - alongside some of its much-publicised issues with tax and employment practice - has landed a belting feel-good singalong. It’s nowhere near the joy of last year's Sainsbury’s spot - Plugboy was my highlight of 2018 - but it still gives the brand a much-needed gloss of warmth. The (I actually think slightly sinister) singing boxes and rousing rendition of "Everybody Needs Somebody" captures the spirit of the season and puts an Amazon box at the heart of it. For what is to many a pretty functional brand it gives some personality, while at the same time reminding people what Amazon does best - deliveries. 

Janelle Feliciano: Is it because I’m American that I really enjoy a good singalong jingle-fest? It’s happy, it’s positive, it’s about getting stuff and giving stuff to our loved ones for Christmas. Also extra points for making the delivery driver a real person – sometimes we forget the ones providing a service for large tech companies are actual human beings with feelings and families. In conclusion, I know it’s a bit cringey in certain moments, but give me a break, it's the holidays and I can’t wait to see my friends and family and shower them with presents.

Visa

Julian Obubo: I love an ad that has a strong, universal message at its core. Countless stories have been written about the death of the high street, so it's great to see a brand like Visa advocating for shopping locally this Christmas. I particularly love the emphasis on the diversity on the high street, and the simple, but light humour in the execution. This is one that compels you to keep watching and if you're like me, to join in the song as well. It'll be interesting to see how their wider PR campaign ties in with this ad.

Very.co.uk

Andrew Soar: Another advert with a community coming together – this may become a theme. Whilst this might not pack the same emotional punch of Asda’s, it is charming in a budget version of ‘Up’ kind of way. They have cleverly brought back old characters from previous ads together, with each playing a supporting role in making lonely Sidney’s Christmas more memorable. Whilst it is a touching tale, it fails to truly deliver impact and, is surely missing a charity partnership with Age UK or similar. Unfortunately for Very, the most memorable part of this advert is the music from Margate’s fabulous Social Singing Choir, whose rendition of Rudimental’s 2012 hit ‘Feel the Love’ is brilliant.

Zalando

Shirin Majid: It’s as if Wes Anderson and David Lynch’s love child got inspired by Mother’s wall of mothers and then shot a music video on the high school dance set of 1987’s Can’t Buy Me Love. Cool. Does this ad make me cry? No. Does it make me hungry? No (it shouldn’t). Does it make me want to buy festive clothes and shoes? Probably. Does it give me Christmas feels? A little. But I love the track, I love that there are grannies dressed like 20-somethings in a normal way, I love the sweet main character, and I love the glittery vibes. I could do without the awkies dancing though. Is that the African Ant-Eating Ritual?! Google it. I’m not wrong.

Our Christmas creatives panel will be back with another round of Christmas reviews next week.

NB Janelle Feliciano was unable to comment on the Iceland and Aldi campaigns due to client conflict


Click here to subscribe to the FREE Creative Inspiration bulletin to receive dedicated features, comment and the latest creative campaigns straight to your inbox. Make sure you register for the site to access more than one story per month.

To submit an idea for the bulletin, email John.Harrington@Haymarket.com

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in