Jesamine Harvey • Nov 21 • 7 minutes

Christmas ads 2021 – Top Trumps

With Christmas swiftly approaching, many brands have released their ads for this year. The promotion of Christmas ads is a great time for brands to showcase their personality, their values, and occasionally, they’ll mention what they are selling too.  As a lover of all things Christmassy and working as a marketer within a creative design agency, strategic brand moves in Christmas ads don’t go unnoticed anymore. 

In this article, I’ll be ranking 2021’s Christmas ad contenders, considering how each brand positions identity, values, and product in each ad.  

For the benefit of keeping this very important scientific study objective, I made sure that I did not see the brand names of each ad (where possible) and tried to keep my thoughts as objective as possible.  

I have also purposely omitted the cringy Christmas TK Maxx advert from this ranking, for my sanity, and because I couldn’t finish watching it.   

So, from worst to best, here are the Christmas rankings… 

5. Selfridges 

Being the briefest ad on this list (39 seconds), there naturally isn’t too much I can comment on, other than my belief that this was an odd direction for Selfridges.   

Whilst it was fun to see a less traditional approach towards Christmas, squeezing a drag queen, a man dressed as a Christmas tree, and Jane Horrocks all into one ad felt a bit much.  

A typically prestigious and creative brand in their design, the ad bared no resemblance to the current Selfridges brand identity. 

Furthermore, it takes the last place position on this list, as it left the weakest impression in my mind, and for a brand with a status like Selfridges, that is tough to do.

 

4. John Lewis

With pared-back soundtracks and emotional storylines John Lewis’s Christmas ads take a show, not tell approach, communicating through simple visual stories that can be easily understood by all ages.  

They have curated their own Christmas ad formula, and in doing so have shaped their brand identity and created mental availability around Christmas each year, with their annual ads being the most anticipated of this list. 

Their ad this year received a lot of hate and okay, it is not the best, but it is certainly not the worst offender on this list. 

The ad in question showed a young alien coming to earth for its first Christmas. After befriending a young boy who shows them all the seasonal fun that can be had, they give him a small kiss and say goodbye as they are lifted back up onto their spaceship.  

Was there a pared-back version of a popular song? Yes. 

Was there an attempt to pull at the heartstrings? Yes. 

Was the ad conveyed primarily through visuals? Yes.  

So why didn’t it work?

I believe my criticism can be credited to its muddled messaging. Did the boy love the alien? Did he want a friend? His motivations are never clearly communicated, visually or verbally. 

In previous ads, John Lewis has tapped into the universal desire and joy in giving to others during Christmas. In this ad, the young boy passed on his knowledge of the holidays. However, as the alien gets lifted into its spaceship we are left with no joyful resolution, and are instead left to ask ourselves ‘What is to be learnt from that story?’   

Ultimately unclear communication made the ad take too long to decipher and as a result, it lacked the simplicity and seasonal warmth of past John Lewis ads.

3. Boots 

So, the Boots ‘Bags of Joy’ ad had a positive reception from the public.  

When Joy (Jenna Coleman) receives a bag from her grandmother, she is surprised to realise the bag can provide her with an endless supply of goodies. She initially indulges herself, but the ad concludes with her gifting her grandmother a perfume that ‘smells like love’.  

This ad positions the value of the products very highly, bringing focus to the commercial aspects of Christmas. And in doing so, it effectively shows the seemingly endless variety of products that Boots has to offer.   

Aside from appealing to the mass public by showing the wide variety of products, in the ad’s inception, Boots perfectly communicates with its target core audience of health and beauty-conscious 25–55-year-old’s when a shower of cosmetics spills out of Joy’s bag.  

Through glowing lights and festive colours, the Boots ad encapsulates the magic of Christmas. Although the ad could have benefited from a more giving rather than receiving message, it still ranks highly on my list for the way in which it communicated the value of great products. 

2. Sports Direct

This was a top contender for the best Christmas ad this year, and there’s a good reason for that. 

Admittedly I’ve never bought anything from Sports Direct. I’m certainly not their target audience. But since seeing this ad, I have a lot of positive things to say.  

In the ad, a huge host of sports stars (including Jack Grealish, Emma Raducanu, and more) go head to head in a snowball fight, each using their own unique sporting abilities to fight it out. It’s not overly sentimental, and admittedly there are some parts that edge on cringeworthy, but it felt warm, and it played the role for a Sports Direct ad. 

The standout aspect of the ad is how it aligned with Sports Direct’s mission of “aspiring to be a leading sports and lifestyle retailer internationally.” ‘Internationally’ being the key word here. The ad perfectly encapsulated Sports Direct’s global and local values in showing sports stars playing in a quaint English street, only for the camera to pan out and show the globe. It conveyed the global message of Christmas, not just as a religious holiday but as a universal experience – a position which the previous ads on this list neglected to acknowledge. It has a larger scope and a seemingly bigger mission, and that is why it cinches second place on this list.

1. Marks & Spencers

Here we have it, my winner for best Christmas ad 2021.

In the ad, a little fairy (Dawn French) makes Percy Pig (Tom Holland) come alive. Percy proceeds to run around the empty M&S shop floor, shocked at the array of tasty M&S delights.  

The ad doesn’t stumble into the same pitfalls as the John Lewis ad, instead keeping the story arch, simple, cute, and on-brand. And speaking of being on-brand, the inclusion of Percy Pig is also to be noted. Percy Pig is almost as big of a brand as M&S, having it’s own Facebook page with over 200,000 followers. The pig-shaped gummies have been synonymous with the M&S brand ever since they first appeared on the shelves in 1992. 

The Christmas food that M&S sells also has its place in this ad too. Once Percy becomes actualised he excitedly runs through the aisles, gushing over Panettone and smoked salmon. In masterful brand storytelling, M&S craft the narrative of a little pig seeing Christmas food for the first time in combination with the promotion of their products and purpose.

So this ad takes first place on my list, narrowly almost missing out, as I couldn’t stop myself from worrying that Percy was going to pay a visit to the bacon aisle.

So, what do you think? We’ll be asking our followers on our socials. So don’t miss out if you’d like to have your say in your favourite Christmas ad of 2021. 

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