David Reviews

 "You're not an artist, Peggy. You solve problems." Don Draper.

CHRISTMAS CATCH-UP
3 December 2023

Due to an untimely and rather severe bout with Covid, DAVID team member Syd is one of the few people in the UK who's managed to avoid seeing a single Christmas ad in 2023... something which is about to change.

What follows are his unvarnished first reactions to some key seasonal offerings, accompanied by a more analytical take after viewing the whole crop. It's impossible to include them all, so here are ten of the scores of festive ads which have come through DAVID HQ this year.


1. John Lewis - Snapper




Let's get the big one out of the way first and kick things off with John Lewis's tentpole offering - the first after they made the switch from adam&eveDDB to Saatchi & Saatchi.

First impressions: Well, I wasn't expecting it to barf the presents back to them. This feels like a strong JL offering with a bit of a twist, going for humour and cheekiness rather than pure heartstring-tugging. It's fun, and that's been missing from some of their previous, more earnest, Christmas outings.


2. Tesco - Become More Christmas




Tesco's 2023 outing comes courtesy of directors Alaska, and sees a family get into the Christmas spirit in a very literal fashion.

First impressions: Sweet! That's one way to embrace the fact Christmas starts on the first of November these days. The creeping infection of festive cheer on the reluctant son was nicely handled, and I particularly enjoyed the mini-fight over the radio in the car. Strong musical choice for the soundtrack, too.


3. Sainsbury's - One Big Question




Sainsbury's seasonal effort was put together by New Commercial Arts, who won their business earlier this year.

First impressions: This really felt like a Christmas ad, rather than a piece of film ostensibly linked with a brand for the occasion. The cameo from Rick Astley was a bit random, but the earnest performances from the shop workers gave things an authentic tone. The well timed balloon bursting was probably the most effective part.


4. Shelter - Good As Gold




Taking things into more heart-wrenching territory are Shelter, who present the story of a young girl with a special Christmas wish.

First impressions: That was really effective. Great soundtrack choice, it kept the momentum going throughout the 'being good' montage and established a really hopeful vibe… which made it all the more upsetting when it came crashing down. The little puffs of breath in the cold air at the end were a horrible (and very impactful) detail.


5. T K Maxx - Festive Farm




Ulf Johannson directs T K Maxx's seasonal offering, which suggests animals of all stripes can sport fashionable togs this winter.

First impressions: Another really strong musical choice here, accompanied by the sort of wacky humour we've come to expect from T K Maxx. This was charmingly silly but also a bit low key - they don't talk themselves up too much, so it feels like a joke everyone watching is in on.


6. Marks & Spencer - Love Thismas (Not Thatmas)




Marks & Spencer's Christmas cracker features RAY BLK's cover of 'I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)', alongside a gaggle of celebrities including Hannah Waddingham, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and Tan France,

First impressions: Celebs galore in this one. I enjoyed the concept of breaking free from traditions, which feels like a change of pace for M&S, and seeing the Christmas cards go up via blowtorch was satisfying. I would've liked to see her toss that bloody elf in the chipper at the end, though.


7. Waitrose & Partners - It's Time For The GOOD Stuff




Saatchi & Saatchi's first Christmas ad for Posh Supermarket puts food in the foreground, and features party antics galore.

First thoughts: Silly and fun, this definitely established a party atmosphere. Graham Norton almost got lost in the shuffle, but then he is playing second fiddle to a pudding. The food took centre stage without compromising any of the comedy, and 'Just Can't Get Enough' was a memorable, and fitting, song choice.


8. Boots - Givers




Sam Brown delivers an epic festive journey for Boots, reminding viewers that the retailer's shelves are replete with diverse gift options.

First impressions: This was super enjoyable. The earnest performance from the central kid was well drawn, and I liked the more incongruous and unexpected gifts (the bloke presented with a kit of pink body wash was particularly funny). Santa's final gift inspired a laugh too - something practical for the big man!


9. Smyths - We Really Wanna Go...




No Christmas round-up would be complete without including a toy shop, and Smyths will be hoping the holiday season inspires kids to bully their parents into their aisles.

First impressions: If I never hear this song again, it'll be too soon.


10. Asda - Chief Quality Officer




Asda rounds things out with a winning performance from Canadian singer Michael Bublé, who's been put in charge of ensuring the quality of their seasonal products.

First impressions: I didn't expect Bublé to be quite so charming, despite his reputation, but his performance was great here. "Well jingle my bells" is the line of the season, and the script's cheeky sense of humour shone through while still focusing on quality food. The little details were entertaining too, like the badges on the unfortunate fishmonger's uniform.

And on the whole lot...

The right soundtrack is essential in 2023, with strong musical choices all round (discounting Smyths, for obvious reasons) suggesting that sonically sticking in viewers' heads has been a major preoccupation for retailers across the board. There's not a lot of Christmas cheese on display (barring, of course, all the festive platters showcased during the ads), with even brands known as notorious heartstring-tuggers adding a bit of humour into their narratives. This was particularly effective in Shelter's touching offering, which focused on fun before its emotional twist and gave the mood change tons of narrative impact.

It feels like people are ready to party again this winter, with brands counting on their urge to shake off what's been an overwhelmingly dire year and let their hair down. There's a prevailing sense that we've earned a bit of festive frivolity, whether that comes in the form of discounted designer gear, indulgent desserts, or simply putting up the deccos far earlier than we should.

'Make Christmas Fun Again' could have been the tagline for the whole crop, and brands will be hoping it'll inspire shoppers to splash their cash for the occasion.

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