Lessons We Can Learn From A Decade In Christmas Adverts
By Nell Frizzell Posted 26 days ago
Ah the Christmas advert: an event as intrinsic to the festive cornucopia of excess as tinsel and brandy. Things have changed in the last 10 years, of course. Some themes come and go: war, technology, feminism. But some are as evergreen as the Norway Spruce: children, pets, nostalgia and mothers.
Come with me on a trip down memory lane, to see what wintery wonders have been flogged in Christmases past.
Oh listen, it’s a plinky plonky version of The Beatles: exactly what George Harrison would have wanted. It must be the John Lewis Christmas advert. A young Rees-Mogg lookalike gets a tickle in his pickle about a chemistry set, two white haired people smile benignly at a semi-cuboid Tom Tom, Donatella Versace made dog pricks her ears up at a hairdryer; a woman literally sitting in the rain smiles passively at a spotty umbrella; a baby stares at a toy mouse. ‘If you know the person, you’ll find the present,’ we are reassured, as snow falls against a grey fibreglass sky. Except you probably don’t know the person; you’ve picked their name out of a hat in the office Secret Santa and now you have to buy Naomi from Human Resources something on your lunchbreak.
Morrisons had the little one from Top Gear who looks like Maureen Lipman riding a sleigh made from a shopping trolley, Boots went for a Secret Santa-themed incarnation of their particular Here Come The Girls form of feminism and M&S pulled out all the stops with Take freaking That.
This year, the John Lewis advert was soundtracked by a cover version of Sweet Child of Mine by Guns N Roses. How very rock n roll. A little girl tries on a necklace that all my old art teachers wore, presumably on rotation. A little boy dances around in his giant fur-lined slippers. Oh hold on, I think I know where this is going. Two kids in a city penthouse swing their legs in appreciation at a coffee machine. A little girl strolls along with a Silk Cut purple handbag that nearly reaches the floor on her. Another child whirls around on a cliff top with an umbrella, paying scant concern to the very real possibility of being hoofed over the edge by a stray gust. ‘Remember how Christmas used to feel? Give someone that feeling,’ says the slogan. Presumably by locking them into an overheated house with all your drunk, arguing relatives and telling them that they have to play charades. That’s how my Christmases used to feel. Just in case we haven’t quite got the concept they end, handily, with a small camera-wielding redhead transforming into an auburn adult staring lovingly into a 2cm square digital camera display.
Meanwhile, Littlewoods went for Jane Horrocks’ voice and some giant white cubes, Argos had a very sardonic take on how shit turkey was or how your weird relatives wear shellsuits and turn up unannounced, while Cold Feet’s Fay Ripley went all posh for Tesco, offering her plumber a raspberry tart.
In a small sunny village, a group of vandals sneak in under the cover of darkness and pump white plastic foam all over the roofs, hedges and windowsills. This is the Sainsbury’s offering and, as night falls, a group of elderly men in tuxedos show up, Jamie Oliver grates an orange and The Snowman is projected onto the side of a barn. This, apparently, is the ‘perfect christmas’ you could win for you and your neighbours. God, I can’t wait to see what they did to number 42 Wetflap Close in Little Sniddington that year.
For John Lewis we have Ellie Goulding singing Elton John (remember that name). Two adults creep up the stairs with a stuffed horse, as a little boy and girl watch telly. My god I hope they’re their children, otherwise this is a truly awful scene to witness. A poorly-wrapped watering can is cradled by a child in the backseat of a car, looking every inch like a modern rag and bone man. A mechanic wipes either engine oil or cupasoup off his overalls before wrapping a teapot. A little boy hangs a red sock outside his dog’s kennel as it literally shivers in the howling snow. ‘For those who care about showing they care,’ says the slogan. Care to wrap annoyingly-shaped presents, presumably.
For M&S that year, the X-Factor finalists all came together to sing When You Wish Upon A Star from Pinocchio: a song that could make a brick well up. A woman unwraps a pink bra the shape and stiffness of a set of cooling towers before a set of men in satin tuxedos come in with perfect harmony (and very shiny lapels). Holy shit, there’s Little Mix, between a set of silver shoes and couple necking infront of either an open fire or a burning sofa (the focus is so soft it’s hard to tell). A classic of the sparkling, singing, misty interiors variety.
2011 is also the year John Lewis went full indie with a Jonny-Marr’s-signature-jangle-guitar-free version of The Smiths song Please Please Please. I may sneer, but watching this back - now with a son of my own - I’ve absolutely bloody lost it. Tears everywhere. A little boy eats all his peas, stares at the clock, counts down the days, only to walk in on his sleeping parents with a present he’s been hiding in his wardrobe like a stash of stolen porn mags. ‘For gifts you can’t wait to give’. Help me.
For ASDA, we see a woman who seems to accrue more and more unexpected children throughout the advert, wrestle with a big tree, some short fairy lights and a recalcitrant, bone-idle partner. Until at last, she gets to drink a glass of wine, laced I presume, with valium and some powerful hallucinogens, on Christmas evening. ‘Behind every great Christmas, there’s mum, and behind mum there’s ASDA’ it says So, feminism didn’t happen in 2012. Ah well.
You know this one. It’s a the John Lewis Bear and The Hare cartoon. A bear tries to do the sensible thing and hibernate through the whole snow-topped nightmare of Christmas but some manic rabbit shows up with an alarm clock and a pine tree covered in lights, as Lily Allen covers Keane, of all things. I suppose escapism was the order of the day.
For Tesco, it’s only Big Uncle Rod Stewart rasping along as we wheel through various pretend home videos from the days of yore: huge 70s collars, 80s polonecks, bad moustaches, some killer 90s curtains (hair not haberdashery). We end with some extremely unlikely prosthetics and whitened hair to show that the protagonists are now old grown ups with a whole life behind them.. ‘There’s nothing better than Christmas’ spells the slogan, presumably written by someone who’s never had a nap.
It’s War Christmas over at Sainsbury’s! In some suspiciously mud, rat and bone-free trenches we witness a recreation of the famous, heart-breaking time that German and British forces played football in No Man’s Land one Christmas. If only we could have prevented the senseless slaughter of 16 million people with some supermarket own brand cava and pacifism, eh?
John Lewis are out of the starting blocks with Monty The Penguin and a Tom Odell song. You see, some penguin wants a girlfriend. Acting like a lovelorn teenage boy mooning around the bus at Christmas we see the heartbreaking possibility of being single at Christmas (dear reader, I’ve been there: it’s glorious). The slogan? ‘Give someone the Christmas they’ve been dreaming of’ which in this case is, presumably, penguin sex?
Meanwhile, M&S have a group of sassy fairies, clocking in at the Christmas factory to then go out to deliver sparkly clothes and shiny underwear with just the click of a finger. It’s a bit like that Kylie section in Moulin Rouge only without the legless, syphilitic artists.
The title of this year’s John Lewis advert was Man On The Moon. You may, I think, see why. A little girl in a Roald Dahlesque nightie sits in her bedroom and stares through her telescope at - you’ve guessed it - a man on the moon. A plaintive female voice sings the ladsnlagernonions Oasis hit Half The World Away. Sometimes the art to selling Christmas is just to be really, really literal. She tries to send him a letter by tying it to an arrow and firing it out of her velux - something that will prove a real treat to the builder who has to clear the guttering next Autumn. But don’t worry friends - thanks to some very Up the movie-inspired technology she gets a telescope to him using a lot of balloons. Because we should all ‘Show someone they’re loved this Christmas’.
Sainsbury’s upped their game with Mog’s Christmas Calamity created in collaboration with the laureate of my childhood Judith Kerr. I mean, Christ people, this is the woman who wrote The Tiger Who Came To Tea. In this little film, a CGI version of Kerr’s much-loved cat Mog basically manages to burn down a family’s house on Christmas Eve, so the neighbours have to step in and sort out this shitshow for them. Because #ChristmasIsForSharing (tell that to the neighbour whose Amazon deliveries I keep trying to hijack for myself).
M&S have a sexy Mrs Claus. Like a Lapland Diana Rigg, dressed in the all-red outfits usually associated with Virgin air stewards. Of course she has her own bat cave, with a motorbike and helicopter from which she delivers a single present with surely the highest carbon footprint known to man. What we’ve gained in female recognition we’ve lost on climate change, I’m afraid.
John Lewis had Buster The Dog. It’s probably worth noting that this advert is double the length of the same offering just four years previous. The behemoth has begun to roll. Anyway, a dad builds a trampoline in the garden, after which a load of small furry critter scamper in, like a soft play version of The Animals of Farthing Wood. Because this year is all about ‘Gifts that everyone will love.’
This was the year that Amazon really got involved in the heady Christmas Advert scene, with a jangly cover version of Give A Little Bit. Sure, why not cover Supertramp when selling a global corporate monolith. A bunch of laughing, singing, incredibly happy parcels fly around the Amazon warehouse (not pictured: the scandalous, exploitative and soon to be legally-challenged working conditions of Amazon employees) before being flown across the planet to arrive at some toothless child’s door. This is more UPS than uplifting but at least it gives a huge shout out to the sturdiness of brown cardboard.
M&S had Paddington & The Christmas Visitor voiced by Ben Whishaw himself, as the duffle-coated bear embarks on a reverse burglary of some idyllic London suburb, until the grey-haired thief at his side learns the errors of his ways.
This year, John Lewis has gone, well, as camp as Christmas with a star turn by none other than Elton John himself. Doing a little stroll through his sequined back catalogue and life we finally find little Elton, unwrapping a piano some nonspecifically long ago Christmas morning. Because ‘some gifts are more than just a gift’ as the slogan says. Presumably they mean the gift of writing the Lion King soundtrack while simultaneously wearing pink tinted spectacles? Or perhaps the gift of a not letting a giant duck costume get in the way of your royal memorial single? Either way, Merry Christmas Elton, you tiny dancer you
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