‘Felt like a wasted opportunity’ – PRWeek Christmas panel on M&S, Disney and TK Maxx

PRWeek UK has assembled a team of creative comms experts to critique some of this year’s major festive campaigns. Today: TK Maxx, Disney and M&S Food.

Festive campaigns from Disney (L) and M&S Food (R) are under the spotlight

TK Maxx

Oli Miller, associate creative director, Pangolin

“I should start this by explaining that I like TK Maxx, I like its ‘jumble sale’ user experience and like that it has saved the day with a couple of last-minute gifts when inspiration has escaped me. But this piece is underwhelming.

Maybe it’s just because it came out quite early, but this one wasn’t really for me; like products in their Homeware section, it just feels a little confused.

I like the energy, the visuals and the clothes – but the Christmas part is just so incidental, it feels like an afterthought. A couple of quick style adjustments and this could be any time of year. I'm not asking for Santa whistling Fairytale of New York, but give me something. Anything.”

James Gordon-MacIntosh, co-founder and chief creative officer, Hope&Glory

“‘Ditch the schmaltz and land our audience message’ was likely the brief for the first Christmas campaign out the blocks. And, let’s face it, in straitened financial times, this really should be TK Maxx’s year.

The challenge for the brand is always going to be that buying something from a discounter might not sit well with the recipient of a gift (because ‘it’s the thought that counts’ doesn’t always cut it, in my experience). So making shopping in TK Maxx socially acceptable to a wider range of audiences is what this spot sets out to do.

Faced with a brief that told them to land ‘the social acceptability of gifts from TK Maxx at any cost’, you get a feeling that the creative team – with nothing really to go on – saw their opportunity to channel their inner Wes Andersons in a desperate bid to make life interesting for themselves (with mixed results, based on those I asked for feedback – one person said it had a ‘weird auntie energy’, which I’m pretty sure is not good).

Upon the PR team realising that this one was unlikely to get a tonne of coverage for its creative approach alone, going early and first seems to have done the trick as the brand has successfully kicked off the festive ad season as far as the news is concerned this morning. I’d say 10 out of 10 for tipping consumer behaviour, but a way off those heady heights for delivering the festive vibe. But, hey, that’s what the advertising is there to do.”

Indy Selvarajah, chief creative officer, Ketchum

“The director has taken all the things they love, put them in a bowl, mixed it around and out came the ad; Wes Anderson, Bjork, Napoleon Dynamite, Tyler the Creator Mountain Dew ads, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Tilda Swinton (lookalike) and a nice French disco track. And it all works.

So nice to see a fun, unsentimental, idiotic Christmas ad.”

Lora Martyr, creative director, Taylor Herring

“This ad made me smile. It’s bright, colourful and quite literally very sunny (although a sprinkling of snow and some choice decorations within a pleasingly Wes Anderson-esque treatment make a valiant attempt to bring a festive feel to it).

It quickly speaks to TK Maxx’s price-point benefit – key, during a cost-of-living crisis – but then, driven by a glorious shoulder-shimmying 70s soundtrack, swiftly moves into a montage of fast-paced joy. Not sure the final joke was needed, but overall I loved the aesthetic and, whileI wouldn’t necessarily tell a friend about it down the pub, I would happily watch it many times over.

It’s definitely not your traditional Christmas ad, but it was playful and fun to watch. And we don’t need them all to be tear-jerkers, especially not this year!”

Scott Dimbleby, creative director, W Communications

“Anything that uses Cerrone as its soundtrack gets a nod of approval from me – at least for sound design. Visually, it’s clear to see our dear friend Mr Anderson has once more been referenced extensively with use of colour and shot styles, to the point of the final scene looking as if it was shot out the back of The Grand Budapest Hotel for a fraction of the budget (very TK Maxx).

Nice to see something full of positivity and bounce, with touches of Awkward Zara in there (great Instagram account if you don’t follow, BTW) for extra festive ‘zaniness’. Big tick from me for casting a fellow redhead in the lead role.”

Suzanne Haysler, head of consumer, The PHA Group

“While this is similar in tone to last year’s charming ‘Lil Goat’ – quirky, brightly coloured and fast-paced – this ad from TK Maxx didn’t hit the mark for me.

The main reason being that it just lacked a bit of substance and, apart from the faux snow, didn’t feel festive at all. We know that value this year is more important than ever and retailers like TK Maxx offer a great solution, but I felt this advert essentially says no more to the viewer than ‘buy from TX Maxx this Christmas to get good stuff for cheap’, which is a bit too on the nose – even if that is exactly what they offer.

Simple can be effective, but after a few watches of this one I still don’t think it has enough impact to inspire audiences to shop with them.”

Disney

Scott Dimbleby

“As a new father myself, this one pulled on the heartstrings and made me laugh as it reminded me of our five-year-old dog Pablo, who basically felt exactly the same as the young protagonist featured – albeit he didn’t give away his favourite toy on meeting our daughter for the first time this year.

Being Disney, it oozes quality, doesn’t try too hard and cleverly brings together the expansive family of brands through clever Easter eggs you spot each time you press play. For me, it’s a great example of a simple feel-good narrative that, while not setting the world alight, will certainly leave lots of people with a smile on their face thanks to its close-to-home storytelling and slick visuals.”

Greg Double, creative director, MHP Mischief

“Pass the tissues, we have our first Christmas advert tears. It’s Disney with a Marvel, John Lewis you’ve just been knowingly outdone by gold.

Granted, as an older brother to three sisters and a soppy dad to a daughter, I was always going to be susceptible to this one, but it’s just magical. Soppy song sung by the girl from Encanto, big Pixar eyes for added cuteness and a Christmas storyline that felt immediately recognisable, but still fresh. Forget the cost-of-living crisis, you can warm your house with this advert.

But this is PRWeek not AdWeek, so let’s focus on what’s going on below the line. The advert’s sheer loveliness has picked up some coverage already, but the featured Mickey Mouse toy and lantern set are on sale and proceeds going to Make-A-Wish give this a feel of a truly integrated comms campaign.

The only small complaint: I had no idea this was the third part of a ‘trilogy’ from 2020 and 2021. Maybe I just missed it, maybe it’s because previous iterations were ‘just adverts’ – but unlike The Rise of Skywalker, this is one Disney third film that makes you watch the two before.”

Oli Miller

“For those not paying attention, this is the third part of the Disney #FromOurFamilyToYours trilogy of ads. It’s not quite the tear-jerker of the previous two years (I actually loved the tone of ‘The Stepdad’, 2021) but it’s nice to check in and see how the team is getting on.

What I liked about this spot was the message: giving a gift doesn’t have to have cost you anything – especially salient in the current climate and an especially smart move for a commercial behemoth like Disney.

As with TK Maxx, Christmas, again, isn’t intrinsic to the plot. This baffles me a little – something taking place at Christmas doesn’t make it ‘Christmas’.

It’s nice. It’s well-made and, as you’d expect, the animation is spot-on but, ultimately, it’s a little forgettable. It doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors, or, more importantly, Disney’s Christmas benchmark, The Muppet Christmas Carol. But then again, what could?”

Suzanne Haysler

“Disney can always pull on the heartstrings, and this charming three-part campaign is no different. Seeing the depiction of one family spending time together at Christmas over many years was touching, and will no doubt resonate with many families.

Disney really does have the ability to use music, animation and storytelling to rouse emotions in even the most stone-hearted of us! However, I think that when ‘The Gift’ is watched in isolation it lacks a bit of ‘wow factor’. It was only when I went back to watch the first two episodes (which, admittedly, I hadn’t seen until now) that I started to really love it.

I’d also have liked to have seen more about how the story linked to and has supported Make-A-Wish, because other than the logo at the end of the video this partnership element was a bit lost on me.”

Olivia Mushigo, senior creative, Talker Tailor

"Disney, a cease and desist letter is in your post-box as the ad was my life story. As a little sister who welcomed (ish) a new baby brother, the narrative resonated with my origin story.

"The video was festive yet heartfelt, and it made me feel warm inside, all the emotions you need to feel when watching an ad. The branding was subtle, allowing you to focus on the story. I whacked out Shazam to find out what song they used; it added to the overall warmth of the story."

Indy Selvarajah

"I think the younger kid would have smacked her new sibling across the head with the Mickey Mouse toy.

"But apart from that, this is lovely. Obviously Disney get it spot on with the ‘casting’ - beautiful diversity in technicolour. Great ‘xmas eggs’ hidden throughout the ad. And gorgeous to look at from start to finish."

M&S Food

Lora Martyr

“Lots of twinkling lights, deep reds, greens and a roaring fire set the mood for a picture-perfect Christmas (the aspirational kind where no one’s drunk relative has ever passed out in the corner).

The Fairy and Duckie narrative, however, was incidental at best – and seemed only to be there because of contractual obligations with (iconic) talent. Felt like a wasted opportunity not to put one of our best comedy duos to better (and funnier) use.

While charming in its way, it could well have just been 90 seconds of glistening product shots like in previous years. It does the job for the brand, no doubt – I definitely want to go to that Christmas lunch – but creatively this isn’t in the same category as the big Christmas ads we’ve come to expect; full of emotion, with an engaging narrative. Instead, this was an Instagram-worthy spread of property and food porn.”

Scott Dimbleby

“Well duck me, French and Saunders are back in the room and of course it was M&S to do it.

Cutting to the chase, I preferred last year’s inclusion of Percy as opposed to this year’s ‘less of the shelf’ option of a slightly mauled but very well-animated duck. For me, it’s always more entertaining to hero something we’ve spent years shoving in our gobs late into the evening as opposed to something altogether new.”

Oli Miller

“It’s a simple premise, is light-hearted and, worth mentioning, is about Christmas. It’s a likeable ad with a likeable cast – French and Saunders + dog.

M&S has combined all the right ingredients. Christmas magic: check. Slow pans of decadent food perspiring: check. National treasure: check and check.

If I was being critical, I’d say it’s pretty risk-averse and it would have been great to see an iconic comedic duo give the audience a big laugh. Probably saving them for the podcast.”

Suzanne Haysler

“Uniting French (aka Fairy) with Saunders (who plays the new Duckie character) for this campaign is a great move from M&S. Both are perfect for the brand and its audience – and it’s a nice, if not slightly obvious, build on last year’s campaign.

However, the standard is set incredibly high for Christmas adverts and this one didn’t quite meet expectations for me. The story wasn’t fleshed out enough and we got to the standard footage of M&S food perhaps a bit too soon. Despite that, though, simply seeing the dreamy clips of their new Christmas menu will definitely bring me into stores, so maybe it has served its purpose.”

Olivia Mushigo

"This advert needs to come with a warning...DO NOT WATCH IF YOU ARE HUNGRY. Decadent, moreish and tempting, the slow movement of the cranberry sauce dripping from the food, the glistening glaze was the highlight of the whole advert for me.

"I would have started with the food and left it at that; no offence to Duckie!"

Indy Selvarajah

"Not sure about this one.

"There’s no rug pull. You can see where this going from the moment duffed up Duckie says ‘I’ve got a hole in my stomach’, cue M&S food. So the pay off is really underwhelming. It’s also not very funny.

"Could have been better if the two of them had to overcome Duckies biggest challenge, not the hole in his stomach but the culprit for the abuse, the mut. 

"Imagine them using M&S food to give the dog a taste of his own medicine. Perfectly cooked, and slippery, brussel sprouts at the top of the stairs or delicious turkey drumsticks laid on a napkin that covers a hole in the floorboards…etc.

"With the hound dog gone, Duckie can enjoy his M&S food even more, and, importantly, not have to sit on the sideboard for the rest of his life. Happy days."


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