'Brilliant in its simplicity or simply boring?' - PRWeek Christmas panel on Waitrose and Morrisons

PRWeek's creative experts share their views on another brace of festive campaigns.

Clockwise from top left: Kim Allain, Nick Woods, Rachel O'Malley, Greg Double, Janelle Feliciano, Jo Chappel, Charlie Coney and Sasha Marks (centre)
Clockwise from top left: Kim Allain, Nick Woods, Rachel O'Malley, Greg Double, Janelle Feliciano, Jo Chappel, Charlie Coney and Sasha Marks (centre)

Waitrose & Partners, 'Best bit of Christmas'

Waitrose & Partners has put food at the centre of its Christmas campaign.

Created by Adam & Eve/DDB, the ad features Extras and After Life star Ashley Jensen in the main role, as she expounds on why “the best bit of Christmas is the food”.

Nick Woods, partner, Sunny Side Up

It definitely looks like a Waitrose ad, there’s just something about that particular filter. The nakedly self-serving thought at the heart of the ad, that food is the best bit of Christmas, may be true for some, but it’s mostly true for the staff at Waitrose, who haven’t been getting as big a bonus as usual and really need us to focus on edible fulfillment this Christmas. And while Ashley Jensen ‘fits’, she’s let down by a pretty ropey script and isn’t able to land any comedy.

Maybe next year they’ll get that other fella from Extras. There’s joy to be had in a world where a funny little fat man is cast as Santa.

Sasha Marks, board director, Brazen

Well, it’s no tear-jerker, but as a grocer who wants to win at Christmas, focusing on the food is the aim of the game, surely?

Loved the cheeky scenes between Ashley and Heston – I can see a Great British Fake Off PR campaign launching here, especially since the ad launches in between Emmerdale and Bake Off.

Mouth-watering, mischievous and memorable.

Kim Allain, creative lead, MSL UK

In comparison to the other ads we’ve seen, this one feels the least creative and a bit bleurgh. And for this to be the ad following on from a Waitrose/John Lewis Christmas ad split feels a bit like a falling from grace.

If you are going to say food is the best part of Christmas, at least have that food looking the sexiest you’ve ever seen it. That turkey was drryyyyy AF and so was the slice of cake on the Auntie plate.

Having Ashley Jensen and Heston Blumenthal cameo (shrugs)… it was cute. What I will say, though, is Waitrose knows who its audience is: defo not me – and you can tell it from the ad. Some nana or yummy mummy somewhere may appreciate this ad (I hope for their sake), but not one for me.

Janelle Feliciano, creative director, The Romans

Auntie, who hurt you? Why are you so mean? And not in like a funny Harvey Nics "I spent it on myself" way. More like an "I’m never inviting auntie to Christmas dinner again" kinda way. The peculiar hip-hop Santa soundtrack adds to her unnecessary need to think she’s too cool for festive cheer and group activities. Or maybe she just got so used to lockdown living that auntie forgot (like some of us) how to socialise?

I’m writing this right before having dinner and I should be drooling, but I’ll be honest – this ad didn’t make me hungry. In fact, I think the turkey looked a bit dry.

Jo Chappel, creative director, Fever

I can’t work out if this is brilliant in its simplicity or simply boring. Shunning the ‘big idea’, emotional storytelling and cultural references of the others and focusing on the food plays confidently in the brand’s juiciest sweet spot.

Luckily, a bright spark cast Ashley Jensen as the naughty but nice aunt with a food fetish, sprinkling just enough festive sparkle – or ‘nibbed hazelnuts’ (not nibbled, as I first read) – onto what would have otherwise been a classy but forgettable ad.

The Waitrose Christmas is understated, elegant and a little bit sexy; the idealised version of Christmas we thought we’d have when we were all grown-up. No last-minute present-buying, slobbing around in stained pajamas spooning cold bread sauce straight out of the fridge. The super-glossy version in the ad may feed into our aspirations, but is ultimately as empty as the bowl of stuffing.

Charlie Coney, creative strategy officer, UK and EMEA, Ogilvy PR

Ah, the eternal question dividing families for generations – what is the most important bit of Christmas?

I’m torn between reluctant present-buying, family arguments, sitting on the office photocopier (on ice, if you’re Asda) and three weeks of total gluttony.

Looks like Waitrose is firmly in the latter camp, with an ad that unashamedly targets its core demographic: middle-class foodies with way too many rooms in their house.

It’s witty, inoffensive, a little dark at times, puts food front and centre, and nails the correct serving ratio of Brussels sprouts (10 per cent) to things that actually taste nice (90 per cent).

Morrisons, 'Farmer Christmas'

Morrisons has introduced a Farmer Christmas character in its festive ad, which celebrates the workers who make Christmas happen.

Created by Publicis.Poke, the ad opens with two young friends, one of whom asks: “Have you heard of Farmer Christmas?” The friends follow the alternative festive hero as he rides his “sleigh” (a combine harvester) through the fields and pats his “reindeers” (Morrisons’ lorries).

Directed by Somesuch’s Nick Gordon, the ad shows Farmer Christmas’ “helpers” – the Morrisons' bakers, fishmongers, butchers and other workers – who help make Christmas happen.

Charlie Coney

The Morrisons Christmas ad takes a totally different approach to everyone else and is a logical extension of its longstanding support for British farmers, under its #MakeGoodThingsHappen CSR platform.

Morrisons is the single biggest customer of British farming, committed to 100 per cent British meat and flour, and gave farmers a five per cent discount during the pandemic. With that in mind, it makes sense to focus on the essential role farmers play in delivering the festive feast, although I did find the rapid (non-sequential) changes in season quite confusing, and the flying combine harvester is surely the stuff of Christmas nightmares.

I sincerely hope its shelves aren’t empty by mid-December and everyone starts blaming Farmer Christmas for prioritising brand work over his day job.

Janelle Feliciano

Welcome to The Wizarding World of Farmer Christmas. Rest weary Harry Potter nerds, you can now stop wondering who delivers the food. It has to be these guys.

Did you ever see the stat saying there’s a whole lot of British kids who don't know that cows moo? If something like this ad can help kids question where their food comes from, I’m all for it.

Points for a good amount of magic and a bunch more points for a fresh take on Father Christmas. Love the spirit and the originality. Nice one guys.

Nick Woods

Imagine a retailer which understands its own audience, its own brand and the unique cultural context of this Christmas, and is able to deliver an entirely original short film, which fits perfectly and which is supported by action (as opposed to just being some pretty words). It’s what they’re all (well, most of them) trying to do and yet, so often this year, have failed to achieve.

Farmer Christmas sits comfortably in the 'simple-but-genius' aisle: a brilliant, creative celebration of the workers behind the business and behind every single meal, from farmers and growers to drivers and shop staff, and a brilliant evolution of the brand idea that food can be a force for good.

This ad wins Christmas 2021 for me, easily. I’ve chosen to watch it five times already. More, please.

Sasha Marks

Ah, Farmer Christmas. I thought this was rather lovely.

As a brand, Morrisons has committed to supporting farmers over the past 18 months and that’s translated through every touchpoint, from discounts for farmers to putting them front and centre in this Christmas ad.

Loved how it celebrated its staff and all the supermarket heroes who’ve worked relentlessly to keep the shelves stocked and our fridges full throughout the pandemic. Thought it lacked a little of the magic we love to see in a Christmas ad (the reindeer trucks could’ve been cuter), but it was authentic and honest.

No frills, just like its food.

Jo Chappel

Another single-minded homage to Christmas food. This time focusing on provenance and the immense work farmers put in over 364 days to put the festive food we gorge in minutes on our tables.

I like the concept of Father Christmas as a farmer, but only on the proviso my four-year-old doesn’t get wind, as there goes my carrot and stick for the next six weeks. Not sure he’ll be as motivated by the promise of a lobster as Lego Ninjago.

That aside, it’s a sweet story (told through the eyes of teenagers just old enough to know the real identity of Father Christmas) and has good intentions in celebrating the unsung heroes of the festive season. Talking of unsung heroes and dismantling stereotypes: nearly one in five farmers are women and the number is rising, so maybe next year it’s time for Farmer Christmas to be revived as a woman.

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