A Definitive Ranking of British Holiday Adverts
Christmas has, without fail, become a commodified holiday. I could speak on my qualms with the holiday’s dependence on credit card debt, environmental damage, and overconsumption for hours. The ways stores will absolutely milk a holiday which, mind you, was initially viewed as a strictly pious celebration, in order to sell as much as possible frankly makes me feel a bit nauseated. However, I am only human. I cannot help it if I have been conditioned, not unlike Pavlov’s dogs, to believe that the sound of jingle bells equals wrapped up toys, hot drinks, and warm cookies. For this reason, I absolutely adore a good Christmas advert. As much as they go against any anti-corporate, anti-consumerist ethic within me, they are one of my favourite Christmas traditions and I feel it is time we stopped denying this and took some time to highlight some truly great Christmas advertisements.
I must first establish what, in my opinion, constitutes a “great” Christmas advert. I am not interested in a career in business or advertising so the efficacy of an advert in selling a product to me is, at least to me, obsolete. The ads will be judged on the following categories: 1. Emotionality (Does it make me cry? What kind of tears? Did it continue to make me cry after the first watch?); 2. Durability (Does it stand the test of time? Does it rely too heavily on pop- culture moments of the year it was released? Is it memorable?); 3. General Christmas spirit (Is it immediately clear that it is meant for the holiday season? Could it be an advert churned out for any point of the year minus the jingle bells?). Further, for the sake of not being overly ambitious and unintentionally omitting some truly great adverts, I will be narrowing my search strictly to the United Kingdom and ranking British Christmas adverts.
5. IRN-BRU The Snowman (Christmas 2006) Co-opting the classic Christmas story of The Snowman, this Scottish staple takes us on a cross-country trip over Scottish landmarks like the Glenfinnan Viaduct, Loch Ness, and the Eilean Donan Castle as a little boy flies over Scotland trying to recover his stolen Irn Bru can from a cheeky Snowman.
Emotionality: A feeling of eagerness for Christmas bubbles within me while I watch this advert. Of course, I also feel a deep sense of elation each time I recognise a Scottish landmark and can completely understand why any proud Scot would place this advert at #1 on their personal rankings. That said, , while this advert is endlessly charming, it does not necessarily make me cry in the way some of my favourite commercials on this list do. Durability: If any advert on this list has been proven to survive the test, it is this one. Twelve years after its release, it came out with a sequel which was just as adored as the original. It is an absolute classic amongst Scots and for good reason. Having said that, I am not sure if the reach of this advert would extend past people who do not have the same cultural knowledge of Scotland like many of the other adverts on this list. General Christmas spirit: On the face of it, this story of theft, kidnapping, and then attempted murder (?) is perhaps not all that festive, but this perspective might have to do with the fact that I was only introduced to this advert upon moving to Scotland for university two years ago. I can understand why its association with The Snowman film and this special time of year would make any Brit excited for Christmas. Further, the lovely animation and glimmering lights are perfectly festive.
4. John Lewis - Monty The Penguin (Christmas 2014) Monty The Penguin tells the story of a young boy and his pet penguin Monty who he takes everywhere. However, we and the boy notice that the penguin is looking for a special someone in his life, a mate to compliment him. The advert culminates in the boy surprising Monty with a new penguin friend on Christmas morning, his special mate and it is revealed that Monty is the boy's stuffed animal. Emotionality: This advert will make me cry about 80 per cent of the times I rewatch it. From the background music (a cover of Real Love by Tom Odell) to the adorable plotline, this ad never fails to tug at my heartstrings without relying on any sad plotline — they are tears of absolute joy that only few things, including penguins in love, can instill in me. The absolutely lovable Monty the penguin, the way he cheerfully waddles in Victoria Park, and his joyous little hops on the trampoline, could make even the hungriest leopard seal second guess his dietary choices. Durability: While the advert is certainly memorable, I would not say it is necessarily the first one that comes to mind when most think of Christmas adverts. The plotline is simple enough to be memorable but perhaps this simplicity also makes it forgettable. General Christmas spirit: This advert is not only memorable but, regardless of your age group or the time of year you watch it in, this advert is sure to make you smile and feel excited for the twinkly lights and gift-giving of the holiday season. It gets extra points in my book for turning a song that is not even about Christmas into a holiday classic.
3. John Lewis - The Bear and the Hare (Christmas 2013) This animated ad, featuring Lily Allen covering ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ by Keane shows a hare dealing with the fact that his best friend, a bear, is slowly getting sleepier and will soon be in hibernation for the winter. The hare, devastated at the idea of his friend facing Christmas alone, gifts the bear an alarm clock in order to help wake him so he can join the festivities with the other animals.
Emotionality: Another absolute tearjerker, this advert clings to the low-hanging fruit of the “unlikely animal friendships” trope, but boy, am I glad it did. This advert is deeply emotional as we watch the hare’s sad little eyes as he watches the bear get sleepier and sleepier as the other animals prepare for Christmas. The little hare’s success in including the bear in the holiday festivities, allowing him to experience his first Christmas, fills me with a rush of glee (as if any other outcome was possible in a cheesy two minute advert). Durability: The creative animation of the advert turns it into an immensely memorable live storybook. The lovely simple story is greatly memorable and turned the short ad into a Christmas classic that I will certainly be rewatching for years to come. General Christmas spirit: The snowy atmosphere and the animals creating their makeshift Christmas tree is just too sweet. It gets extra points in my book for, much like the Monty The Penguin advert, turning a non- holiday song into a Christmas classic.
2. M&S - Love From Mrs Claus (Christmas 2016) The advert tells the story of a young boy called Jake who can’t help but cause trouble with his older sister, constantly trying to get on her nerves and ultimately ruining her special pair of trainers. While they quarrel however, he “loves her a lot” and wants to do something special for her. He enlists the help of Mrs Claus to help him give his sister a special gift for Christmas. After Santa leaves to deliver gifts, we see Mrs Claus flying in her helicopter from Lapland to London, ready to help Jake show his sister how much he cares.
Emotionality: In preparation for writing this article, I decided to run a bit of a test. How much of this 3 minute advert can I watch without crying? Dear reader, I found I cannot even watch 37 seconds of this advert without absolutely cracking, mascara running, bottom lip quivering, and all. Once we hear Jake’s adorable raspy voice, the dam breaks and I cannot stop the tears from coming for the next absolutely precious 2 minutes and 23 seconds. My bias towards this advert is likely found in the fact that I too have a little brother who reminds me all too much of Jake but I do believe absolutely anyone with a shred of sensitivity will be touched by this commercial. exchanged gifts and played football. Durability: The advert has all the makings of a film. Not only is the acting and set of the advert brilliant, but having Mrs Claus come in as the main character is a very clever move. It is yet another story that if it is not already considered a classic, it should be. General Christmas spirit: Not only is it my favorite kind of Christmas story — a night before Christmas plotline, — but it highlights all the lovely parts of the holidays. On top of just making my heart absolutely melt, the mince pies, cozy fireplaces, and sledding in the snow make for a 3 minute masterpiece, akin to a film in memorability.
1. Sainsbury’s 1914 (Christmas 2014) This 2014 commercial recreates “the Christmas Truce” moment in our history books in honour of the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. It tells the story of Christmas Day 1914, showcasing opposing British and German soldiers emerging from the trenches for a truce where they exchanged gifts and played football.
Emotionality: This advert perhaps has a bit of a leg-up as the subject matter it is dealing with is not only based on true events, but truly tragic events. It is a devastating portrayal of war, loss, and our common humanity. The acting is truly incredible for a 3 minute 40 second advert, from the palpable fear demonstrated by Jim, the main character of the advert, when he rises from the trenches with hands- up and introduces himself to Otto, the German soldier he later gifts a chocolate bar to. The advert will, without fail, make anyone cry. While it was criticised for its commodification of the atrocity of World War I, I believe if there was to be any Christmas advert marking a century since the war, this is a great way of paying tribute without being cheap and allowing the focus of the advertisement to fall on Sainsbury’s as a company.
Durability: The fact that just about anyone in the UK will know what you are referring to when you say, “the Sainsbury’s Christmas ad”, despite it having been released seven years ago now, is strongly telling of the way it has stood the test of time. I still recall watching it for the first time when I was 13-years-old and it continues to be a classic I rewatch each Christmas. General Christmas spirit: Not only is the chorus of the British and German soldiers singing ‘Silent Night’ enough to make anyone feel the childlike excitement of the night before Christmas, but the spirit behind the advert is very endearing. It highlights some of the most magical elements of Christmas, from pleasure gift-giving to the way we care about each other just that bit more when December rolls around.