Guerillascope's Twelve TV Ads of Christmas 2016

We’ve been listening to the same 10-20 songs on loop for over a week now, with carpets across the UK covered in pine needles. A huge crowd has gathered on Oxford Street to watch Craig David flick a switch. You can now find drunk people on the Tube at 3pm on a Tuesday, and impassioned debates over which festive sandwich is better are widespread. Pret or Paul? Simply put, Christmas is upon us.

The clearest indicator, of course, is the launch of the cultural phenomenon that is John Lewis’ annual festive TV commercial, and the inevitable pandemonium it triggers. This year has been no different, with a multitude of brands responding to the challenge set with their own Christmassy assaults on heart strings. So, who’s won 2016’s Yuletide showdown? Without further ado, let’s cast the eye of scrutiny over Guerillascope’s twelve TV ads of Christmas.

Have we missed any? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook.

12. Ebay - Survive the Disco

Harking back to those awkward school days – stood around at a disco in a decked-out gymnasium trying to look at ease when you're anything but – the eBay Christmas TV advert reminds us that you really can find anything on the e-commerce platform. Whether it be that magic 8-ball that gives you a short-lived confidence boost to ask out the girl of your dreams, or the latest smartphone to ensure you get all your blemish-free selfies uploaded to Instagram; eBay has something for everyone. While the nostalgia element did leave the Guerillascope team chuckling, it wasn’t quite enough to place eBay at the top of the tree this Christmas.

11. Very - Get More Out of Giving

In terms of originality, Very’s festive TV campaign for 2016 doesn’t exactly uproot trees—the lone happiness ranger sprinkling Christmas cheer around town has been done, done again, and then done again. It’s impossible, however, not to be whipped up in the sentiment at the ad’s core: the joy of gift giving and making other people happy. Crammed to the brim with festive joy and bursting at the seams with colour and zeal, Very brings a Santa's sack-full of energy and sparkle to the season. If a brand can achieve that, they’ve conquered Christmas.

10. Waitrose - Home for Christmas

Is a mince pie from Waitrose worth trekking across vast mountain ranges, stormy seas and dangerous, hawk-infested woodland for? Absolutely not, but getting home for Christmas is – if Chris Rea had wings, he’d do the same. Waitrose has gone for an all-out attack on the heart strings with its 2016 festive opus, opting for a cute, feathered protagonist and poignant narrative to emphasise the importance of family – and of Waitrose in said family life.

Whilst the campaign treads ground we’ve all seen in Christmas campaigns from recent history, what elevates ‘Home for Christmas’ is the immersive natural photography, a strong narrative and irresistibly festive atmosphere. It ticks all of the boxes, but nothing more. 

9. TK Maxx - The Sing Song

You know that point in the evening on Christmas Day when, after a jeroboam of sherry, one relative kicks into a haphazard rendition of a carol and militantly insists on the rest of the family joining in? TK Maxx has based its festive TV advertising campaign on it.

Mercifully, the brand has foregone the worst elements of the common scenario – specifically, the carol itself, terrible singing and slurred/dribbled lyrics – and replaces them with something altogether more wonderful. Based on the theme of Christmas surprises, a family gathers around a piano and, for one quiet moment, hoodwinks viewers into thinking a good old fashioned carol is on the agenda. Nope – joke’s on us.

Instead, the troupe hurtles into a vibrant acapella rendition of Misirlou – a traditional Eastern Mediterranean folk song made famous by Pulp Fiction – and turns all expectations on their head in the process. Offering a much-needed contrast to the more saccharine efforts of certain brands, TK Maxx adds a charitable helping of fun and energy to the festive landscape. Like a freezing, wet snowball to the face, ‘The Sing Song Commercial’ leaves you in a state of temporary bewilderment – and Christmas is all the better for it.

8. M&S - Mrs Claus

If you have siblings, then at some point you will have experienced the feeling of guilt that leads a young boy to write directly to Mrs Claus, the protagonist in this year’s festive extravaganza from M&S.

Sleek, stylish and charismatic, Santa’s better half is on call to save Christmas for Jake and his sister, whose favourite trainers have been fed to Tiger, the family dog. With Santa safely out of the way, Mrs Claus opens a secret stash of last-minute requests, reads Jakes’, and climbs into her secret red helicopter. Empathetic, funny and so festive you don’t know how to handle it, M&S has simultaneously delivered a big crowd pleaser, whilst successfully revitalising its brand after a difficult year for the retailer.

7. Sainsbury's - The Greatest Gift

If you’ve seen James Corden doing his car pool karaoke thing on The Late Late Show, then you’ll be privy to the fact that he has a passable singing voice. If you didn’t know about this, then you will after having watched Sainbury’s animated feel-good bonanza, ‘The Greatest Gift’.

With the big day high on the horizon, a family man finds himself with so much to do, and so little time. There’s the fixtures of the season that we can all readily identify with: Queuing to join queues snaking up the high street; the boss’s embarrassing dance at the work party; sitting in freezing train carriages waiting for delays to subside; the festive jumpers at every twist and turn. Then there’s the ad’s key message: the most important gift you can give to those you love this Christmas is your time. Yes, it can be a hard gift to find – but that makes it all the more special.

6. Burberry - The Tale of Thomas Burberry

Did you know that Burberry invented the trench coat for British soldiers in World War I? No, neither did we – not until seeing what can only be described as a mini period epic from Burberry, that is. Directed by Academy Award-winner Asif Kapadi and featuring a stellar cast list that includes Domhnall Gleeson, Dominic West and Sienna Miller, ‘The Tale of Thomas Burberry’ is an exercise in how to tell your brand’s story – provided you have multiple millions of pounds to spend on a creative!

The ad centres on key historical events that have shaped the brand’s history: from providing protective clothing for expeditions to the Antarctic and a world-record aviation attempt; to supplying the uniforms for Britain’s soldiers; Burberry’s story is one that resonates deeply with the nation’s past and psyche. It positions itself as a brand deeply woven into the fabric of the nation’s historical identity, and succeeds with gusto. It’s a story with a timeless quality, and one that viewers can really believe in – powerful brand currency indeed.

5. John Lewis - Buster the Boxer

What is it about the festive John Lewis ads and wanting to hug the first Christmas tree you see after watching them? No Yuletide top ten would be complete without including the brand’s annual dose of giddy schmaltziness. Regarded as the benchmark against which other festive advertisers are measured, 2016’s campaign once again sets the bar high.

Why is it not further up, then? It simply boils down to the fact that viewers now largely know what to expect: adorable animals exhibiting human qualities; a child wide-eyed with wonder; and a syrupy, twinkling soundtrack – none of these elements are a surprise to the audience. And yet, every year, we’re reduced to tearful mush. For this, John Lewis should be commended: it’s established a formula that works, and nurtured it into the biggest TV advertising event of the year.

The UK’s version of the Super Bowl? You bet. We’ll gloss over the fact that the reality of foxes, a badger and squirrels sharing a trampoline would be total, horrifying carnage.

4. Aldi - Kelvin the Carrot

"Twas the night before Christmas, a carrot gazed at the sky, thinking 'I could meet Santa when he gets his mince pie," begins Aldi’s 2016 Christmas offensive. Little does the viewer know they’re about to be immersed in a food-themed mini action adventure involving close shaves with graters, runaway potato boulders and fallen carrot comrades.

Trekking across a treacherous – though undeniably delicious-looking – festive spread, Kelvin the Carrot lays it all on the line for the prized mince pie at the other end of the table. What he didn’t envisage was being taken for a ride on Santa’s sleigh; waking up to find himself dangling precariously from an antler as one hungry reindeer eyes up a light snack. Thankfully we know Kelvin is alive and well.

3. Heathrow - Coming Home for Christmas

Heathrow airport has been no stranger to scrutiny from social media and the press this year – Zach Goldsmith has seen to that – though, with the launch of its ‘Coming Home for Christmas’ campaign, the ‘brand’ will be delighted to receive attention that doesn't revolve around a third runway this time around.   

The ad centres on the joy of being reunited with loved ones for the festive holiday, with Heathrow cannily employing an aging teddy bear couple to transmit its message and set those tear ducts off. Humans are fine – they do the job – but cuddly, sentient toys just ramp things up a notch on the cuteness scale, don’t they. Coming complete with a memorable soundtrack courtesy of Chas & Dave, the ad perfectly captures the moments that make Christmas such a special time of the year.

2. Alzheimer's Research UK - Santa Forgot

Bold, poignant and at times heart-breaking, with its 2016 campaign Alzheimer’s Research UK movingly raises awareness about a disease that does not discriminate. Narrated by Stephen Fry, ‘Santa Forgot’ tells us of the suffering experienced by a Father Christmas with dementia, and the pain of those who care for him. The ad delivers an acute reminder of just how tragic a condition Alzheimer’s is, and the importance of research in tackling its harrowing effects.

Of crucial importance to the charity was delivering campaign that educates viewers on the reality of dementia and Alzheimer’s. It’s a call-to-arms; a powerful advocacy of the role research must play in defeating a disease that affects over 850,000 people in the UK alone. It succeeds with aplomb, highlighting the plight of sufferers whilst making the viewing population sit up and think about what’s truly important in life. The key takeaway? Never take for granted the love of those who care about you.

1. Amazon Prime - Old Friends

Simple can be beautiful. Yes, a brand can spend multiple millions of pounds on CGI effects, celebrities, soundtracks and set designs. It’ll likely wow viewers up and down the country, generate a colossal number of video plays and trigger a catalogue of social media posts, too.

Yet, burrow down to the bedrock of what Christmas is supposed to encapsulate, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better, more touching message than the one communicated in Amazon Prime’s 2016 effort. A priest and his friend, an Imam, meet for a catch up. They share their news and a moan about sore knees over a cup of tea, then part ways, each with a lightbulb flickering in their head. Turns out, it’s the same lightbulb: support for those troublesome knees. This is Amazon Prime’s moment to shine, and it doesn’t disappoint, making the lives of both men that little bit more comfortable as both order the same product for the other.

The beauty of this advert floats through its key message, and the context behind it. In a year particularly tainted by political and social tension, Amazon Prime delivers a timely reminder of what truly matters. Strip away faith, politics and ethnic origins, and what you’re left with are human beings. All different but very much the same; all capable of love and kindness. It teaches us a lesson about tolerance, peace and friendship with a powerful simplicity – and that, dear reader, should be what Christmas is all about.


Allegro - 'English'

Allegro doesn’t sell productions in the UK. Few Brits – if any – have even heard of the brand. And yet, this year, the Polish auction website has come mightily close to fully commandeering the Christmas bragging rights.

There’s a good reason for this: it’s a delight of a festive TV advertising campaign. A poignant ode to the culture of migration that pervades through much of Poland – and the impact it has on families – ‘English’ follows an elderly man and his attempts to master the language. Bringing humour and warmth in spades, the ad leaves viewers guessing at the motivations behind his travails: ‘why is he giving death threats in English to a rubber duck’, many a social media update will enquire.

All becomes abundantly clear when he packs his bags and touches down in the UK: our protagonist has spent months struggling with a foreign language, just so that he can say hello to his young grandson in his native tongue. Little did Allegro know it would consequently have squadrons of social media users eating out of the palm of its hand.