'Bootiques', M&S, Lidl, Mariah, Selfridges rave, and flat-packed brilliance - PRWeek panel on latest Christmas campaigns

The next instalment of what our Christmas creatives panel had to say about some of the best (and worst) campaigns this festive season.

Everyone's favourite diva does Chrisps-mas this year
Everyone's favourite diva does Chrisps-mas this year

Boots

Boots has rolled out the most interactive and integrated campaign thus far. It aims to take the anxiety out of Christmas gifting, with pop-ups and personalised activations. The campaign uses a film, created by Ogilvy, about the stress of Christmas gift-buying to point out that there is a better way. This year Boots, with help from WPP's Team WBA, is allowing customers to tailor gifts at a ‘Bootique’ for all personality and character types, including the sleep-deprived, beauty queens, gym junkies, moody Tweenagers, vegans, your special lover, and more. It includes an online tool to help guide consumers.

Ottilie Ratcliffe: There’s a strong strategy behind this one, and I applaud Boots for tapping into the load of disparate interests and passions that have almost turned into subcultures in their own right, rather than targeting the everyman. There’s a gleefulness to their insider knowledge of obscure pastimes, called out (literally) by a young influencer saying ‘you won’t understand this part of the ad’. Let’s face it, if you’re buying a gift in Boots it’s either for stocking fillers (cotton balls again, thanks mum) or a generic gift box from their Christmas aisle for someone you don’t know that well. So to flip this message and position themselves as the destination for thoughtful gifts for tricky recipients is both brave and clever. But it’s a message that’s been invested in heavily enough across in-store and social that it carries weight, and could genuinely change perceptions of the brand.

James Gordon-MacIntosh: Do I like this ad? Not especially. We might enter a bizarre parallel world at Christmas where ads are there to be "liked" and fawned over in columns like this. But that isn’t the point of ads really, is it? They’re there to sell us stuff. To show us why retailer X is better than retailer Y when, in reality, the majority of what is on the shelves is the same. So this spot does a bloody good job of capturing the nation’s dilemma with gift-buying in the modern era and suggesting that Boots might have the answer. The brand has taken its advertising into reality with the launch of "Bootiques" – online and in-store concessions that address the challenges its customers have with festive shopping. Does the job.

Leila Mountford: I see what they are trying to do here and I do appreciate them trying to dramatise the fact that there are so many sub-cultures today that many people won’t understand them unless you’re a part of said group… BUT, after delving a little deeper on the ‘Bootique’ area of the Boots website (hint: look at the first few items that pop up when clicking on ‘what to buy the person you’re heels over head with’), I feel like this is a rather forced attempt to look like Boots ‘get’ consumers today, rather than acknowledging that people are defined by more than ‘liking make-up’ or ‘being vegan’. As an example, I have no intention of gifting my partner item number one on that trending list! Too try-hard. Just ask your teenagers for a Christmas list if you’re so confused!

Julian Obubo: It's always tricky to show off a new service in a TV ad, but I think Boots may have pulled it off here. We can all relate to the difficulty of finding the right gift for family and friends. I can't recall any ad in recent years that tackles this, so kudos to Boots for taking a novel route and linking it back to actual IRL innovation.

Andrew Soar was unable to review the Boots ad due to a client conflict.

M&S Food

Paddy McGuinness and Emma Willis head to the Christmas markets to sample some of M&S's Christmas range in a spot packed full of clichés and cheese. Each stall is hosted by M&S product developers of ‘The Perfect Turkey’, ‘Torched Winter Berry Pavlova’ (which does look delicious), mince pies and a moreish Brie en Croute. The campaign creative was by Grey London, production by Pulse Films and the media planning and buying by Mindshare. The wider campaign includes advertising across TV, print, radio and social media.

Andrew Soar: Ok, confession. I love M&S food. Now for the non-biased review. On the gastronomy side, M&S ads have been brilliant at one thing for years… food porn. If you are a fan of the usual breathy ooh-ing and ahh-ing, then you are going to be hypnotised by the gravy being seductively poured over the perfectly bronzed turkey. Like all things M&S, the ad is aesthetically magnificent to look at and the production value is full of quality. However, it is more functional than magical. It is made even more apparent when Paddy and Emma say ‘M&S’ before everything they sample. It just feels a bit excessive and unnecessary. Music is key for festive ads and the little cherubs from Ysgol Gynradd Llwyncelyn Primary School choir are delightful, but I do wish they were singing something other than Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross again. All that being said, I am still just thinking about the turkey and gravy.  

Leila Mountford: As usual, M&S has cast the food as the hero in their Christmas commercial this year and have continued with Paddy and Emma as chief food samplers, popping delicious morsels in their mouths, this time while gliding through a branded food market. They’ve gone full-Christmas by setting the ambience with a choir of angelic children’s voices and snow gently falling in the background as the two celebs manage to casually slide in the M&S brand name six times in 90 seconds. I won’t necessarily remember this ad beyond the festive period, but I do know that I’ll be buying the M&S mince pies with the salted caramel cream. When your products do the talking for themselves, sometimes all you need is a beautiful demonstration of the quality.

James Gordon-MacIntosh: Look, it’s not a "big" Christmas ad. But it does make me really, really hungry. So it must be doing something right. Unlike their brethren in the clothes department, whose effort just made me feel uncomfortable.

Ottilie Ratcliffe: Oh dear. This one would have been better if the food could just speak for itself. It’s not just M&S food, it’s M&S Christmas food. Cue the usual food porn, but this time cloaked in idyllic snow-covered market huts with rosy-cheeked children harmonising in the background. But it’s just so. Bloody. Cheesy. From the moment Paddy McGuiness does a little spin as he enters the fairy light-strewn stalls, I’m cringeing. Kids run past the camera giggling and pointing in open-mouthed wonder at nothing in particular, a mother bends down to whisper in little boy’s ear (not long enough to actually form words), a woman throws her head back laughing with her friend who isn’t looking at her, a hand falls on a boy’s shoulder as he nods at nothing as the apparent stranger moves away. Everything’s ringing a bit hollow, and I wish they’d just focus on the sexy, sexy, food. But Paddy and Emma Willis are distracting me by showing each other around the market and taking it in turns to describe dishes – sometimes interrupted by the actual professionals on the market stall. Who’s leading this tour?! And why is Paddy asking the guy to save him some when he’s already walking away eating some?! Verdict: Sickly sweet and hard to stomach, but the food looked delicious.

Julian Obubo: This is essentially chatty Paddy McGuinness and Emma Willis on a Christmas buffet line, set to beautiful music. I'm sold! M&S Food ads are legendary and the audience has come to expect sensual, appetitive visuals from them, this ad delivers that! I know where I'll be doing my Christmas food shopping (after I pick up some stuff from Lidl).

M&S Clothes

Marks & Spencer’s department store campaign features 50 different jumpers from its range in the first Christmas ad created by Odd London. The initial 60-second spot features a large cast of characters apparently yanked into action by their jumpers, as House of Pain’s 1992 hip-hop track Jump Around plays. The sequence starts off with wild, disjointed movements before shifting into a group routine built around a signature movement in which the right shoulder is rolled back and forth.

Leila Mountford: A much catchier and more memorable ad than last year and an attempt to embrace a typical M&S association (the jumper), rather than trying to fight it, but unfortunately, even with the old-school funky track it still feels frumpy. I think I would’ve enjoyed it even more if the casting of the protagonist added an element of surprise when the dancing begins and if she didn’t need styling to make the jumper look good. Nevertheless, it was fun and serves a purpose.

Ottilie Ratcliffe: I’m on the fence with this one. One the one hand it’s catchy, upbeat, fast-paced, with a great soundtrack. I like how they’ve put every participant in an M&S Christmas jumper, and landed the message that they’re so imbued with festive spirit that the wearer will be irresistibly drawn to dance. On the other hand, there’s something quite Exorcist about the whole thing… which is a new one for a Christmas ad. And if there’s not demonic possession exactly, then there’s at least an echo of the Kenzo ad. The main dancer’s eyes-dead-to-camera finish is spine-tingling rather than mischievous – and makes me definitely not want to buy an M&S Christmas jumper. However, big fan of the jumpers being centre stage, with pared-back festive scenery that lets the dancing jumpers shine. Also appreciate the PR machine running in tandem giving people tips to execute the ‘shoulder roll’.

James Gordon-MacIntosh: As I said (above), this just made me feel uncomfortable. I’ve never personally been a massive M&S clothes shopper, so maybe it was never going to light my fire. But this made me cringe and want to hide. I just felt really embarrassed for M&S really. No brand should be made to do this.

Julian Obubo: I'm not really sure why this ad is needed. I do admire the choreography, though, and I never thought I'll see the day where House of Pain's Jump Around will be used in a Christmas TV spot. I do think they could have been bolder in the delivery.

Andrew Soar: Word to the mums, M&S came to drop bombs! Ok, so this ad will divide opinion. The old M&S faithful will miss the charm of The Two Fairies or David Gandy staring into their soul down the lens. But change is good, and I really love the cheerful high energy of it. Most people want tug on heartstrings for Christmas ads, but there is a lot to be said for just good old-fashioned frolicking fun and revelry. The aim is that the dancing will appeal to the heartland fans who love Strictly and a shoulder roll, whilst bringing a new younger audience through the doors. I hope it succeeds because it's modern, exciting and has a wonderful, hypnotic charm. As comms professionals we all want brands to be brave. M&S is doing it and living by some of the song’s lyrics: "I ain't going out like no punk b*tch, get used to one style and yo and I might switch".

Lidl

Building on the ‘Big On’ creative framework it launched earlier this year, the Christmas campaign focuses on showing shoppers how they can have a ‘Christmas they can believe in’ thanks to the brand’s ‘Big on Quality, Lidl on Price’ promise. The brand wants to assure consumers that a Christmas of luxury, delicious food and drink needn’t be a thing of festive dreams. The adverts show the key moments of Christmas, whether it’s packing for the journey home, the big Christmas shop, or the festive get-together.

Julian Obubo: Lidl, like its German cousin Aldi, has eschewed telling a cinematic, sentimental story and simply gone for: we're cheap and we've got lots of stuff. I say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Lidl is the fastest-growing supermarket in the UK and they've done this by being laser-focused on what they do best. I can imagine them entering the "Christmas ad as a movie" field in about five years' time, but for now, it makes sense to just show us the goods!

Andrew Soar: I’m a fan of the brand’s "Big On" positioning that Karmarama launched earlier this year. It was the right change from the money-saving message it had been pushing for years and this is a nice continuation of that. There are moments in the "a Christmas you can believe in" ad that are LOLs and brilliant. Whoever hasn’t sat on a random-as-hell chair at the dinner table has not lived in my opinion. The jingle jangle of crates of wine bottles in the car boot and checking the portion sizes out before handing out the smaller piece are real moments we can all relate to. Despite the ad being ‘big on’ a real British Christmas, it ends up being ‘not so Lidl’ on storylines or product focuses, which leaves you feeling somewhat nonchalant about the whole thing. Sometimes less is more. I should remember that next time I’m handing out the Christmas pud. 

Ottilie Ratcliffe: I’m a huge fan of this advert. It announces its intention early on of celebrating a ‘realistic’ British Christmas (in line with Lidl’s core messaging of working to realistic budgets), rather than a stylised and idealised snow-laden wonderland version, and it’s immediately endearing and refreshing for it. Populated throughout with snippets of well-known Christmas films and songs in the VO, the visuals are packed with small truisms we all recognise and love. The elderly relative sat on a deckchair at the dinner table, passing the smallest plate of pudding to a neighbour, Facetime buffering while you toast your mates abroad, bottles clinking all the way home in the boot. From start to finish it’s a Christmas we all recognise and love, despite it not being a Hollywood version of the festive season. And it makes the viewer absolutely certain that Lidl understands them, more than ads that peddle a blockbuster version of Christmas with a price tag to match. Job done. 

James Gordon-MacIntosh: Someone at Lidl missed the memo about festive "big ad" season this year. So they just made a Lidl ad. With some Christmas in it. What can I say? It’s a Lidl ad.

Leila Mountford: I am a fan of this one. It feels like one of the most authentic so far. We’ve seen so many other retailers paint the picture of the ‘perfect’ magical Christmas, and what this ad does is poke fun at the others in a charming way as we see the truck pull out of shot at the start and a VO talks about ‘a Christmas that we can believe in’. The scenes I loved most were the garden chair at the dinner table and the dodgy wi-fi connection video call, because these scenarios are all part of the big day and they don’t detract from it. So are the silly games that we decide to play after one-too-many and the awful paper hats we put on our heads making us feel that bit more festive. Roll on Christmas and all its little quirky imperfections and roll on being able to put both pudding options in the trolley because they’re Lidl on price!

Walkers

James Gordon-MacIntosh: Gary was clearly unavailable, so Mariah was wheeled in to do a star turn and belt out "All I Want for Christmas …". The coverage and hype for the big-budget blockbuster is off the scale – it was everywhere. On-set shots and a tonne of ad review pieces show star power still does the job for the nation’s favourite crisp brand.

IKEA

James Gordon-MacIntosh: In the battle for cultural relevance, IKEA’s first Christmas ad wins, no question. While other retailers may have gone for musical extravaganzas featuring tunes of old (ahem, M&S fashion) or for a youth culture take on the festive season (Selfridges, please stand up) and look a little like dads dancing at a disco as a result, IKEA has gone for "a wonderful Christmas grime" and has pulled it off. Both IKEA and D Double E come out with credibility firmly intact – it is a remarkable collaboration that shows us all how brands can work in culture by appreciating the nuances of the world they are partnering with. The toy characters are acutely observed. And it has IKEA’s trademark double-take oddness that means that it feels like something you wouldn’t expect of the Swedish retailer and yet is at the same time curiously apt.

Andrew Soar: IKEA is serving up close to home realness! As soon as former N.A.S.T.Y. Crew member spits "this place ain't bless, this place is a mess" you know IKEA’s first-ever Christmas spot is going to be on fire! Not only has IKEA cleverly worked with the grime artist to give it relevancy – this is no Mariah Carey Walkers grab bag payday – but it feels real. A true-to-self D Double E track complete with super producers Star. One providing the bass-heavy beats. Mother have cleverly taken a real consumer insight and placed it at the centre of the campaign. ‘Silence the Critics’ is a brilliant execution to get the nation defying ‘home shaming’ and opening their doors to friends. Just like the Swedes do. They do everything better than us! IKEA, the only way to salute this advert appropriately is to let out a shout of ‘BRAP, BRAP BRAP!'

Ottilie Ratcliffe: Christmas ad of the year. #Bluku

Selfridges

Leila Mountford: What have you done, Selfridges? This is an awful attempt at modernity and the most ridiculous portrayal of a Christmas scene I have witnessed in a marketing campaign. If this is what the future holds for Christmas, then please count me out. I want to rewind time and un-see this ad where clearly everyone is too cool to listen to Christmas music, eat or load a dishwasher. You can demonstrate a more updated view of the festive period without going full on Matrix 4. 

James Gordon-MacIntosh: Selfridges is my favourite London destination (retail or otherwise). This ad, however, just left me a little bemused. So, appreciating as I do that it’s not really "for me" – I’m well off the demographic sweetspot for this film – I asked around. The collective youth of the Hope&Glory office said it did nothing for them either. One commented that it felt like a bunch of film students had been given a massive budget and asked to make a Christmas ad without any particular brief. That observation, it felt to me, hit the nail on the head. That said, I’ll still be there to admire the windows and Christmas shop for my nearest and dearest, so it’s not all bad.

Julian Obubo: Selfridges have decided to appeal to a very specific kind of audience here – young, rich, party animals. I admire the specificity and the fact they've decided to go against the grain for a Christmas ad, but this feels like it could have been released at any time of the year. I do think it'll resonate well with its intended audience, and I did enjoy trying to identify the numerous cameos in it - did I spot ex Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie? He's doing adverts now?

Andrew Soar: This ‘Future Fantasy’ film is grand scale from Selfridges who rarely go so big at Christmas. Getting Nabil (Elderkin) to direct is a masterstroke, he has produced some of the finest music videos of recent years for the likes of Kanye West, Frank Ocean, FKA Twigs, Kendrick and the Arctics. The action sees us transported to artist Daniel Arsham’s vision of 3019 and it is full of creatives. There are appearances from Miguel, Kim Jones and even the Cambridge Analytica whistle-blower Christopher Wiley. If Arsham and Nabil’s prophecy is anything to go by, the future is still full of neon, it is eclectic and hedonistic and, everything is going to be voiced by the fabulous Little Simz. I can buy into that. Special mention to the font choice too, the typography is great. 

Dogs Trust

James MacIntosh-Gordon: Well that was a bit harrowing wasn’t it? Still, it lands one of the most iconic and enduring Christmas straplines of all time.


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