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Christmas Campaign Review: The verdict on the best and worst Christmas ads of 2017

In this Christmas Campaign Review special, Mumbrella invites two of the industry's most senior creatives to offer their views on the biggest Christmas advertising campaigns from across the globe. For this edition Mumbrella invites Andy DiLallo, chief creative officer at TBWA Sydney, and Darren Spiller, chief creative officer at Host/Havas to share their views.

Brand: John Lewis (UK)
Agency: adam&eveDDB
The verdict: The ad misses its high benchmark as it fails to provide viewers with something surprising

The high-end department store located in the United Kingdom released its #MozTheMonster Christmas campaign in November with a ‘monster under the bed’ theme, telling the tale of a little boy and the monster who sleeps under his bed.

Befriending Moz the Monster, the little boy stays up all night playing with his new friend and subsequently falls asleep in strange places during the day.

Andy DiLallo, chief creative officer, TBWA, says:

DiLallo says John Lewis missed the mark this year

“The gold standard of Christmas advertising, John Lewis is probably most responsible for turning this time of year into the global Superbowl shoot-out it has become.

On the surface, their track record would have them in quite an enviable place. That is until you consider having to stare down the barrel of your sixth or seventh Christmas campaign, where the expectation is that you have to outdo last year’s work, all the while with the eyes of the world firmly fixed on you. But enough of the pity party.

Unfortunately, this year it looks like they have been knocked from their perch. All of the hallmarks from years past are here, with the exception of a couple of things:

The first, simplicity. This film loses quite a few people in the edit and its train of logic. Which sort of leads to the second problem, it’s missing the magic moment of discovery. They also mixed things up in the director’s chair, passing the reins from Dougal Wilson to Michel Gondry. In hindsight, a choice they may be regretting.

Although Gondry is a visual genius, for me he feels out of place in having to deliver the sentimentality these spots have become synonymous with.

For other brands this might have been a high point but let’s face it, John Lewis is not any other brand.”

Darren Spiller, chief creative officer, Host/Havas, says:

Spiller says it is time John Lewis gave viewers a suprise

“I think the John Lewis campaign has become part of Christmas tradition in Britain, which is no mean feat. The tone for this brand has really been established through this type of advertising and occasion.

John Lewis definitely gets a lot of bang for its buck with this approach. Big, beautiful production values just like an expensively wrapped Christmas present. Quality. I would say though, it is time to surprise me with the present. It has got to that point where I know what I am getting. A little bit of the Christmas joy is taken out of receiving almost the same gift for the last few years.

Next year I am hoping for a little surprise from John Lewis.”

Brand: Amazon (UK)
Agency: Lucky Generals
The verdict: A perfect ad which was magnificently on brand

The online retailer launched its Christmas ad in November which features Amazon delivery packages singing as they travel the world on their way to their final destination.

The ad is backed to Roger Hodgson’s anthem ‘Give a Little Bit’ and sparked some controversy across the globe as some parents believed the advertisement removes Santa from the Christmas narrative. 

DiLallo says:

“This is just so well done. Honestly, this feels pitch perfect for such a global brand. It’s fresh, it’s fun, it’s inclusive, the music couldn’t be more perfect and the branding somehow ends up all the way through without feeling heavy handed. If I’m the client on this one, I’m sleeping well.

The film clearly demonstrates the role of the brand in delivering joy to people’s faces. It gives a promise of service, and it definitely opens up an enduring platform for as long as they can keep it fresh.”

Spiller: 

“I loved this spot. I wouldn’t change a thing. It didn’t over-bake it at all; it was the right length, and the right amount of Christmas cheer without a Christmas bauble in sight. No snow, no Christmas lights, and no earnest Christmas message for us to contemplate. Yes, the story was about giving (which is firmly entrenched in Christmas) but it was Season’s Greetings done in an Amazon everyday kind of way not an artificial Christmas kind of way.

Everyday is what Amazon is all about, every day supply and demand, yet running it at Christmas made that everyday seem special and even more relevant at this time of year. The brand was smack bang in the middle, which made me love it even more. Did I mention? I love this spot.”

Brand: Myer (Australia)
Agency: Clemenger BBDO Melbourne
The verdict: A safe bet with an “ambitious storyline” that’s too complex

Australian department store Myer brought back its three iconic Christmas decorations Angel, Reindeer and Mouse, for the third year in a row.

The ad is centred around Elf’s journey to find other Christmas decorations who take Christmas more seriously than his other two friends.

DiLallo says:

“The third instalment of Myer’s Christmas ad has me leaning in a little too far to follow what’s going on. As a result, the complexity gets in the way of being able to simply enjoy what should be a very simple message of togetherness.

After watching the film a couple times, I was able to follow the ambitious storyline, but was still scratching my head as to what Myer is really trying to say: family, love or hate them, you’re stuck with them?

For me the work feels like it is trying way too hard. Although the craft is amazing, I somehow end up not really liking any of the characters. They feel a bit too passive aggressive and mean for Christmas.”

Spiller says: 

“There’s a good moral in the story for this Christmas spot by Myer. That moral helps you relate and find empathy. It gives a little depth to what would be otherwise just a simple, cute, animated piece. We all know that people love inanimate objects and animals with human traits and personalities. Disney have been doing it brilliantly forever.

It is one of those fail-safe platforms and clients love a guarantee. However, another John Lewis type spot for another department store is not going to win Christmas for a brand. People will like it, what’s not to like? But will they remember it, talk about it, and celebrate it? They are the important questions a brand like Myer needs to ask themselves before they gamble on a safe bet. Again though its nice.”

Brand: McDonald’s (UK)
Agency: Leo Burnett
The verdict: Tells a simple story but is uninteresting

This year’s Christmas ad for McDonald’s in the UK, Reindeer Ready, shows a child keeping a carrot she got in her Happy Meal for the reindeers. The little girl carries the carrot all the way home.

After her brother bluntly points out she will need more than one carrot, the little girl and her dad travel back to McDonald’s to get another bag of carrots.

DiLallo says:

“I imagine the strategy was to find a role for the brand at Christmas by reframing McDonald’s carrot packs as reindeer food, giving kids a healthy and seemly innocent reason to get mum and dad in store. A pretty smart starting place.

Although I like the simple story telling in the film, it feels quite laboured and passive. Obviously, this season is full of sentimental work aiming to pull at the heart strings. So, the real challenge here is how do you stand out while running the same play?

This work never really finds the answer to that question, or new ground for that matter. It ultimately runs the danger of being drowned out in a sea of sentimentality, sprinkled with cute kids and ‘aww shucks’ moments.”

Spiller says: 

“Again, nice production values and casting for this McDonald’s Christmas spot. The brand has woven itself into the idea well and doesn’t feel like a pariah hanging onto Christmas for dear life; a faint hope of some relevance rubbing off onto it like a good sprinkling of Christmas dust.

The honest to goodness McDonald’s family values definitely come shining through here and this is definitely the time of year to play it up. The fact is, that it is this time of year where we crave or, dare I say it, look forward to a bit of schmaltz. It has become an acceptable tradition. However, I keep asking myself ‘Just because it is Christmas, is it acceptable to be clichéd?’ Resting on the last 50 years of our Christmas laurels and doing what has been continuously done just feels a bit uninteresting.

I think Christmas patrons are crying out for a Christmas surprise from their brands and as long as brands keep doing this type of Christmas advertising, the patrons are not going to get it.

Lets settle on, it’s nice.”

Brand: Woolworths (Australia)
Agency: M&C Saatchi
The verdict: The brand knows its audience but the ad is forgettable

In this Christmas ad by food giant Woolworths, the supermarket asks Australians to ‘share the spirit of Christmas’ by highlighting the reality of families and friends having to share during the festive season.

DiLallo says: 

“A clear extension of the ‘Why I pick Woolies’ platform; this Christmas film lands the season of sharing brilliantly well. Filled with wholesome, honest, and relatable moments throughout, you can understand why Woollies picks Tom Mac.

Quite the opposite of the Myer work, this film feels effortless. Woolies has a clear understanding of who they are talking to and pays little mind to impressing the types of people asked to review their film from an industry perspective.

Clearly not a social film, this work is a hard-working brand tale, backed up with a media plan that will ensure everyone will see it at least twice.”

Spiller:

“There’s no doubt this Woolworths spot fits very comfortably within the current campaign. But honestly, who wants to be comfortable. Comfortable is forgettable, and this spot is very forgettable. The Christmas season for advertising is fast becoming a Super Bowl equivalent, and the competition is stiff. So if you are going to put something out there, make sure people want to engage with it, talk about it, and watch it again and again. Otherwise, it is a waste of money. Unless you are going to entertain us, this type of communication should stick to a more appropriate Christmas
food catalogue.

For some reason clients feel the need to make all of their communications a moving image. This sort of behaviour is prevalent on Facebook and Instagram. However, just because you can does not mean you should. We have to stop making noise and the only way we are going to do that is to be respectful of our medium choices. I think this spot is out of its depth in this medium, but I am sure it will have plenty of company.”

Brand: Air New Zealand
Agency: Host/Havas
The Vvrdict: The clear winner of Christmas ads which can’t be faulted

The New Zealand airline used humour in its Christmas campaign as it showed Santa struggling with the Kiwi accent.

The ad shows Santa and his elves creating “Biscuitballs”, “earplanes” and a “puggy bank” after misunderstanding the accents of Kiwi kids.

DiLallo says:

“For me, this is the clear winner. Building on the playful spirit of the brand, they simply aim to deliver a moment of pride for their nation and joy for the rest of us.

“There really isn’t anything I would look to change, the casting, dialogue, performance, art direction etc. etc. could all be different, but not better.

“This is the only work from this list that I have heard anyone outside our industry talk about. And after all, isn’t that what it’s all about?”

Spiller says:

NOTE: Darren Spiller was one of the creatives who worked on the Air New Zealand Christmas campaign.

“I’m not going to say too much about this Air Zealand spot because it is from my stable. I will say, that it is a refreshing brand that can laugh at itself. And this work is a fine example of breaking the Christmas mold that I mentioned earlier in my critique of the other work.

“This communication was unconventional, surprising, and created a lot of talk around the brand. I have at least put my money where my mouth is.”

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