Christmas Campaign Review: The verdict on the best and worst Aussie Christmas ads of 2018

In this Christmas Campaign Review special, Mumbrella invites two of the industry's most senior creatives to offer their views on the biggest Australian Christmas advertising campaigns. Mumbrella invites Jon Burden, former ECD at Naked Communications, and Carl Ratcliff, chief strategy officer at DDB Sydney, to share their views

Brand: Myer
Agency: Clemenger BBDO Melbourne
The Verdict: Charming, brave and innovative but with little long-term value

Jon Burden, former ECD at Naked Communications, says:

Burden says the TV ad is “charming enough”

“For the last six months I’ve been trying to get my lad to behave, by telling him Santa is watching. The Myer bauble builds on the parental tradition of using the festive period to pull your little darlings into line.

“The TV ad itself is charming enough and drives people in-store, but the bauble isn’t a traditional TV-shaped solution; they’ve created a product to sell, rather than just an advert. The bauble is an idea which can be ignited across PR and social media.

“From my quick desktop research, I can see it has been discussed on many mummy blogs. Nice. And I’ve just this moment read the baubles have sold out. Boom. Myer are struggling and in challenging times it can make sense to try a different approach, rather than follow the competition.

“But it takes bottle to actually swallow the brave pill, especially during your most important time of year, so kudos to Myer. And kudos to the creatives too. Innovation and product development from advertising agencies can be a bit dubious, but the bauble hasn’t been created just for award jurors, it’s a genuine thing, for a mainstream brand, launched in a highly visible way and it promises to do good things.”

Rating: 10/10

Carl Ratcliff, chief strategy officer at DDB Sydney, says:

Carl Ratcliff Mumbrella CommsCon Conference

Ratcliff says it has been touted as “brave” and “playful”

“This idea has been touted as brave and playful, from reading the PR. I’m less convinced. It’s a PR idea (nothing wrong with that) that seems to have taken centre stage for their Christmas campaign (again nothing wrong with that). I question the substance of it though. Will it really earn attention at a time in trading where and when it needs to? Does it capture the spirit of Christmas, or is just a bit naff, possibly even a bit mean spirited? I gather the app is a bit wonky too when it comes to changing the colour of your bauble. Christmas cheer may risk becoming a grumble…

“Without doubt, there’s a cute insight amidst this idea. ‘The naughty list’ is a thing that parents use and very young kids worry about. But, to frame a season of gifting and cheer on the basis of a ‘naughty or nice’ bauble seems a missed opportunity to me. The lengths kids will go to, to avoid the list – as the ad intimates at the end – feels far more fun to watch.

“In terms of long-term value, I struggle to see this as something additive. Rather, it’s a PR stunt versus a genuine brand building idea with PR at its heart. Something which Clems know all about given the awesome canon of work that comes from them.”

Rating: 5/10

Brand: ALDI
Agency: BMF
The Verdict: Beautiful story, perfect execution and sheer class

Burden says:

“Another year and another great ALDI Christmas advert – a beautiful story executed to perfection. From the very first frame this entertains, with Santa crashing down into the outback like Arnie in the first Terminator. Thankfully Santa isn’t butt naked, in fact he’s styled to perfection, traditional looking but rugged, a completely different man to the Westfield camp Santa who makes children cry.

“Everyone involved in this advert knows what good film making is. I reckon even the catering people on set can hold their own in a discussion about Citizen Kane. This is why this piece of work is the result of many right decisions being made. From casting to sound design – it’s impeccable.”

Rating: 9/10

Ratcliff says: 

“Who’d have thought that a German discount supermarket would become the quintessential Australian retail marketer? This is sheer class. And not just because it looks beautiful (which it does), but because it extends and pushes the boundary of Good Different. I feel festive and excited when I watch this 90 second spot. The obligatory celebration and food sequences are seamlessly woven into the story of rescuing Santa and his sleigh. Stunning.

“In my humble opinion, this is as good as – better than, perhaps – the John Lewis extravaganza or the super smart Iceland/Greenpeace ‘banned’ ad from the UK. How so? For the simple reason that it possesses humility. And frames the principle of Christmas generosity with just enough magic to keep me glued. This is unlike any Christmas I’ve experienced, and yet all the familiar cues are tucked away to reassure the client. Love it.

“I’d imagine that – if Aldi desired – it could emerge as Australia’s version of John Lewis, in advertising terms. And quickly become – or perhaps not so quickly given BMF’s great work to date – the one to watch at this time of year. I’ll be shopping there this Christmas for my festive dose of Good Different.”

Rating: 10/10

Brand: Coles
Agency: Big Red
The Verdict: Forgettable, weak and a little loose

Burden says:

“The singing approach must work for Coles as they’ve been doing it for years, however the creative standard has been progressively going down, down. This execution feels lazy to me. It’s compiled of fake stock footage-like moments with Curtis Stone chucked in for a forgettable and pointless cameo, plus the song isn’t a brain worm which sticks in your head like some of their other examples, but a relentless media schedule should help to hammer it in.

“I understand this brief wouldn’t be carte blanche to really push things, but within the world of singing you can hit higher notes – Discovery’s Channel’s ‘I love the whole world’ as an example. I would have worked harder to find moments based on human insights to land a real connection and then worked the overall treatment to get something that’s more entertaining with Christmas sherry warmth rather than a sickly sweet advocaat tipple.

“Also ‘Good things are happening at Coles’ doesn’t grab me, it feels weak and defensive.”

Rating: 2/10

Ratcliff says:

“This feels like a soft launch of a bigger brand idea. Good Things feels a little loose to me, as a brand platform, versus a returning-to-form Woolies and an outstanding Aldi. But, for a retailer with lots to sell and lots to say, loose might be precisely what’s required moving forward. When Amazon gets its act together, the notion of a physical place may well prove useful.

“As a Christmas ad, Winter Wonderland has been done in a far more refreshing (and award-winning) way by Air New Zealand last year. If you can’t beat them, join them, might run this execution’s maxim. It doesn’t offend; but neither does it excite or disarm. It is precisely what I’d expect Coles to do. And whilst that may reassure both client and agency, I’m convinced Coles could offer something other at Christmas to its customers than just the obvious.

“Ultimately, into 2019, I can anticipate Good Things working its way through all media – beyond TV – to help frame a sense of positive experience. And whilst that makes practical sense, I can’t help but feel that the thought falls somewhere between a proposition and a campaign idea versus an organising spark for the entire business. It’s a far cry from Good Different or even Every Little Helps…”

Rating: 6/10

Brand: Target
Agency: AJF Partnership
The Verdict: A generic thought but the tone works hard

Burden says:

“This is a high energy affair which is clambering for my attention. The premise of the idea is a bit daft and the film isn’t likeable enough to pull it along. The protagonist forgetting his mum’s gift doesn’t nail ‘give a little love’ for me, despite the endeavours of the do-gooders. The high energy of the film against the emotion of ‘give a little love’ doesn’t work, it’s a bit too Pepsi Max. Focus on ‘giving’ and I feel you could get something far more emotionally rich off the same platform, even without an Elton John budget.”

Rating: 4/10

Ratcliff says:

“Target has been on the ropes these last few years. And it has been taught a huge lesson by its sibling – and once poorer cousin – Kmart. The new (ex-Kmart) team in place have their work cut out to drive space between the two brands. Recent advertising effort has been a breath of fresh air versus the drab of previous years. This execution is a continuation of an improving and more dynamic marcomms effort. Target should indeed be the cooler, more dynamic sibling vs Kmart.

“Whilst gifting might be the ultimate act of love – according to the PR around this spot – it remains a generic thought. So it’s good that the tone works hard to distinguish and frame a story with some festive magic and originality within. It’s an action spot, in many respects, and holds my attention as consequence. (Almost) full marks.

“What the world needs now is indeed a little love, as the ad suggests. Will that love reignite brand love for Target? It remains to be seen, but if their improving creative is anything to go by, I’d imagine there’s hope yet! Credit to a team in turnaround.”

Rating: 8/10

Brand: Sheridan
Agency: TBWA\Sydney
The Verdict: Establishes a brand voice but is heavy handed

Burden says:

“Christmas is landfill in waiting, which is why I love Sheridan positioning itself as the antidote to disposable Christmas presents. It’s a really strong and relevant point of view, from a brand which has seemed far more recessive in the past, despite the quality of the product. Suddenly Sheridan have a brand voice aka The Sheridan Choir who sing and sell their hearts out, it’s like dirty retail went to choir practice and has loads of cut through as a result.

“The social and digital elements with daily updates add to the magic. If the choir re-forms with a few new cast members of different diversity it would be good to see. I noticed the POS of this campaign and it did look absolutely stunning.”

Rating: 8/10

Ratcliff says:

“There’s something ever so slightly sinister about this campaign, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Too many white people singing at me, possibly. I’ve always thought listening to a choir is more joyous than watching one, up close. There’s too much strange face movement going on. I feel like I’m being told to take this brand seriously. It’s heavy handed, therefore. Over the top. I get the need to position the brand as one of substance, but don’t scream at me with your Aryan choir. It’s Christmas after all.

“I applaud brands seeking to play differently at Christmas. And full credit to this campaign for working through the shoppers’ journey, into store. But, I reckon I’d back away and nip into the John Lewis concession in David Jones to get my bath robe and towels.

“In terms of long-term value, Sheridan has its work cut out. It’s a premium retailer with a craft story to tell. If it lets that story play out, in an original manner, it may well be with us for another 50 years. I’m just not sure that this Christmas campaign helps on that journey in spite of its enthusiasm. In my honest opinion, it feels ‘quirky-weird’, not ‘quirky-good.’ And I’m not sure that any manner of ‘quirky’ is quite where either client or agency intended to land.”

Rating: 4/10

Brand: St George
Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi Sydney
The Verdict: Honest and charming

Burden says:

“Whilst some banks have been searching for a higher purpose that’s more than money, St George have stuck with this little fella who essentially flogs you something in his own unique way. I like the honesty of this approach, including this latest Christmas addition. The little dragon is just the right amount of wrong, which stops things being too corporate and it brings a bit of humour and personality to the brand.

“This commercial talks about how St George helps people in a genuine and no nonsense way, without pulling on the heartstrings.”

Rating: 7/10

Ratcliff says:

“There’s something good at work here. It builds on previous creative strategy, and maintains the charm of the dragon. Not so cute as to be an irritant, falling the right side of Scrappy Do… (didn’t think I’d be writing that today.) It’s a hard working retail spot. At Christmas. Honest work.

“St George has missed some of the ray gun exposure from this year, within its category. The big four have taken the heat. Meanwhile, keeping track of your spending is helpful utility at Christmas. Will it convert into consideration for the brand? I’m less convinced, but then that’s the point of our little dragon friend – to drive structural branding cues through ongoing, myriad product communication.

“Come rain or shine. And there may be showers ahead for some of the banking community. I guess this is what folk describe as bretail – brand and retail combining together. Some marketers swear by it. Some agency folk too. This is a decent attempt at it. But it’s not the king of bretail that is Aldi. A brand that manages to communicate with not just a sense of value for money, but one of values for money. At Christmas. And all year round. Something that St George might take a closer look at, if they want to maintain growth for the years ahead.”

Rating: 6/10

Brand: Stockland
Agency: CX Agency Lavender
The Verdict: Lacks authenticity and a connection to the brand

Burden says:

“The ambition of Stockland to build better communities not just through bricks and mortar but by encouraging people to pass on kindness is noble but completely flawed and the commercial doesn’t help. Needless slow motion shots and a slow paced track, really drag it out as we watch delighted models being nice to each other. It’s all very fake. Beyond the commercial itself, I wonder if this approach is money well spent? I’m all for building better communities, but I’m confused about why Stockland are investing in this message when I can’t seem to recall seeing much communication from this brand at all.

“I read the ambition of this campaign was to start a social movement, but I question if you can do this with just a TV commercial, especially a poorly-executed one. Stockland should have focussed on something that’s a business driver rather than a CSR side-show.”

Rating: 2/10

Ratcliff says:

“‘Pay it forward’ is one of those all year round sentiments that comes and goes throughout the year. I don’t quite buy the festive connection other than of course you should be nice to your neighbours, come Christmas. And I struggle with the Stockland connection. The campaign is so soft focused, figuratively and literally. Something that any discerning Australian is going to see through. It’s Neighbours, without the grit.

“Wherever the campaign sits – in owned and paid media – I struggle with its lack of authenticity. Everyone is white. Everyone is beautiful. There is no life or living or belly laughs. It’s a sugar-coated dream sequence. And that’s fine if that’s what the client and agency both wanted. But I’m sure each hoped for more.

“I’m not sure that selling the dream of a new house or community is that hard. Especially if you lean into the truth of people, and their diversity (or similarities). This spot makes heavy work of any insight around new relationships or communities. And it certainly crushes the truth of Christmas. Check the Aldi spot for how you can embed every convention into a Christmas campaign and still feel fresh and different.”

Rating: 2/10

  • As told to Abigail Dawson. If you’re a senior creative or strategist who would like to take part in a future Campaign Review, please email abigail@mumbrella.com.au

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