Christmas Campaign Review: The verdict on the best and worst Aussie Christmas ads of 2019

In this Christmas Campaign Review special, Mumbrella invited two of the industry's most senior creatives and strategists to offer their views on the biggest Australian Christmas ads of 2019. DDB Sydney's chief strategy officer, Carl Ratcliff, and Special Group's executive creative director, Tom Martin, share their views on the Christmas offerings from Coles, Woolworths, Myer, ING, Australia Post and Sheridan.

Brand: Coles
Campaign: Thank you for being a friend
Agency: Big Red
The verdict: Emotional storytelling that is authentic to Coles’ brand

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

“The Christmas campaign is always a tricky nut to crack, and very easy to default to bland syrup. Last year, Aldi smashed it and showed other retailers the benefit of a personality. This year, Coles’ offering is better than its previous festive fare and seeks to find a different nook. One that reflects on positive legacy and gracious sentiment. Brands don’t say thank you often and rarely at Christmas. Executionally, I’m left wondering where the craft is, but I get the idea. In a world of festive fake and take, a brand that remembers its ps and qs is a brand that’s a little more deserving of my attention. The music – whilst not a classic Christmas ditty – somehow underpins that sincerity. Will this worry Woolies? In and of itself, probably not. But, as evidence of a brand prepared to trade on an emotional advantage, rather than a price guarantee, the competition should be wary at least.”

Rating: 6/10

Tom Martin, executive creative director at Special Group, says:

“This might just be me, but Coles has done an amazing job of owning the discount, so I’m not sure I can just pivot to Christmas with this supermarket. And for this reason I’m not sure Coles is a brand that I have enough of an emotional connection too to feel much when I see a montage of the last 100 years. But I have to say in a time, when nearly every other brand is doing a similar type of emotional storytelling this will definitely have cut through, and it does feel authentic to what Coles offers at Christmas. Many of the other brands doing Christmas ads feel a little unrelated to what they actually contribute to this time of year. Also, the track is a nice touch. I mean come on – who doesn’t love the Golden Girls?”

Rating: 6/10

Brand: Woolworths
Campaign: Picked for Christmas
Agency: M&C Saatchi
The verdict: TV execution lets it down

Ratcliff says:

“It would seem the big retailers are undertaking a serious charm offensive this holidays’ season – perhaps thinking that charm equates to personality. There’s a massive dose here with all the happy, smiling worker elves on display. This too is a better effort than Woolies’ work from last Christmas. There’s an idea within. I like the print and OOH elements especially. They possess a touch of unexpected style – full of pride and flair. But, the idea bloats with too much sugar in TV. With so much going on I feel a little queasy from all that budding, blooming fresh food. This said, good to see Fresh Food People being used as the creative idea, rather than just a sign-off. As an idea, I’ve always thought that the business risks relegating its best brand muscle to a full stop.”

Rating: 6.5/10

Martin says:

“The overlaying of Christmas ‘Magic’ on the food growing and preparing moments, such as fruit popping up instantly on a tree is interesting, but I wonder does it accidentally undermine their positioning of ‘The Fresh Food People’ as it all feels a little fake? I’m just not sure I want Christmas Modified Food.

The ad is also a bit lacking in strategy from my point of view, as it just feels like a Christmas ad we’ve all seen before. I’m afraid I have to at least admire the authenticity of the Coles ad over this.”

Rating: 3/10

Brand: Myer
Campaign: Christmas is where we are
Agency: Clemenger BBDO Melbourne
The verdict: Charming, modern and courageous

Ratcliff says:

“A big TV spot with good use of ancillary channels, including the store. Also, a better story than last year. Then, I wasn’t as taken by the Christmas bauble as many other creative minds and awards were. For me, this campaign is richer in narrative, merchandise, technology, and, heck, appeal. Kids do indeed worry about Santa’s drop off. So, a tracking stocking is just the ticket. The desire to track Santa’s delivery runs high in my household, at least, and my brood are in their teens. ‘Christmas is where we are’ is a decent enough platform. The right side of inclusive for Australia’s largest department store. I’d like to see Myer surprise me a little more in 2020 than it has done to date, and I’m not sure that this campaign is the start of that surprise. Like every other retailer, the charm quotient runs high, which is fine because mainstream Australia likes to be charmed. But, I sometimes wonder if that wisdom is as wise as it common. All charm and no bite can make Christmas a little too ho hum.”

Rating: 7/10

Martin says:

“I’m not sure if the client asked for a more traditional piece of film this year to go with a smart innovation – but two for two, they are both nice. The film is a classic piece of Christmas storytelling that’s beautifully made and although the GPS stocking doesn’t feel quite as useful as last years Christmas Bauble – it’s still a strong insight and something parents will probably use. I also really like that Myer is again putting their Christmas budget towards a more modern type of work. Courage is definitely something we need more of it in Australian advertising at the moment.”

Rating: 8/10

Brand: ING
Campaign: Give Me Something Good
Agency: VCCP
The verdict: A Christmas message with cut through

Ratcliff says: 

“How refreshing. A festive campaign that plays a little differently and manages to deliver a message-for-good without feeling too saccharine. A strong insight in terms of people throwing crap presents out, leads to a problem-focused creative idea, with an execution that is determined to be original. But entertaining. I like. (Who doesn’t enjoy a singing troupe of garbos?) In this instance, sustainable gift-giving arrives as a solid call to action. A brief that could have resolved in bland sugar elicits a foot tap and my leaning forward. With this PR flavoured idea, the agency has given their client something good too. I’d anticipate it working relatively hard through owned and earned.”

Rating: 7/10

Martin says: 

“The execution isn’t amazing as the change of lyrics feels heavy handed at times. But I really do like that they made it in such an authentic way, using real members of The Rubbish Choir, and the message of sustainability is something we should all discuss at this time of year. The ad is also very different to everything else here and for that reason it will stand out. It also made me look at Dreamstarter, which in the end was their intention.”

Rating: 6/10

Brand: Australia Post
Campaign: Spread the Merry
Agency: The Monkeys
The verdict: Should have leaned into the post service

Ratcliff says: 

“If there’s a service I want to love at this time of year, it’s the post. There’s something nostalgic and awesome about it. It puts me in mind of delivering the Christmas post back in Blighty, bracing the misery of winter. Back here, the relationship we have with Australia Post feels tested and strained. There’s a danger that we take it for granted. The desire to focus on the retail element of the brand feels a little forced, but not incredulous. The film looks stunning. They story travels well. The charm is seasoned just right. And yet, I’m left feeling a little non-plussed by its end. Possibly because I’m not sure why Australia Post is telling me a story about this little boy and his grumpy, elderly neighbour. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Scrooge, but I’m left wondering huh? rather than ahhhh.”

Rating: 6/10

Martin says: 

“I like how the story is told and it has a nice twist that pulls on your heart strings. I’ve seen many people do the ‘Ohhh that’s nice’ to this one. So heart strings pulled, which is hard to do. Huge tick. I do however can’t help but wonder with this ad, if Australia Post could have told a more authentic and emotional story about what they really contribute to Christmas? They’re a business that connects us  with cards, letters and presents from friends and family and I do wonder if they could have found a new way to tell that story (instead of a novelty disco ball?).”

Rating: 6/10

Brand: Sheridan
Campaign: Don’t get me anything
Agency: TBWA Sydney
The verdict: Cut through in a cluttered sector

Ratcliff says:

“Again, a fairer go than last year’s effort. ‘Making Memories That Last’ works hard across multiple 15-second executions. A gift that keeps giving across channel and other media. For my money, this is the best of an over-sweetened bunch. There’s a sense of personality and fashion working though the idea, which is a hard ask given the category. I find myself drawn towards Sheridan at a time of year that I wouldn’t ordinarily think of it. I kind of like the wee kink too between gifts that aren’t disposable and creative vignettes that are. A sustainable idea to form the bedrock of this brand moving forward. Good retail work at a time that demands just that.”

Rating: 8/10

Martin says:

“The art direction is nice and by all right should have given this campaign cut through. But… I think when you add the over stylisation to the lack of real insight in the Christmas collections, it leaves you not feeling that much. To really cut through I believe the collection names needed way more thought so they could really get past the obvious Christmas cliches. But strong effort.”

Rating: 5/10

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

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