The best and worst Christmas ads of 2012

26 Nov 2012  |  Dominic Mills 

Dominic Mills judges - at a time when the public mood is decidedly cynical - who this year's winners and losers are in the battle for the best Christmas ad.

We all want honesty in advertising, don't we? Consumers would say they do. Nine out of ten people who work in advertising say they do.

But maybe not at Christmas. Here we have a festival based on a myth and social norms (giving and receiving gifts, entertaining the family, seeing old friends) where dishonesty is the essential social lubricant.

And, of course, Christmas advertising has traditionally reflected this. Happy families, helpful, adorable children, snow machines, celebs selling their souls, tinsel, fairy lights - none of which bear much relation to most people's reality - and that's before we even get to the perfume ads.

And then there's the traditional talking points: surely that's not Myleene Klass in that Littlewoods ad? Who's that cover version by? Where does Heston get those glasses? And why does Iceland's Christmas party food resemble irradiated dog turds?

But things aren't so clear-cut this year.

Overall the mood is subdued. You can see it in the storylines: 'Christmas-is-crap-but-we're-on-your-side' for Asda and Morrisons; the 'no-need-to-go-over-the-top' message from John Lewis and Boots and the more restrained production values exemplified by a celeb-free M&S and a no-frills Waitrose.

You don't have to be a genius to work out that no advertiser wants to be on the wrong side of the national mood, Christmas or not. And they have collectively judged that mood to be at best cautious, at worst negative.

But is that right? Maybe we all need a dose of fantasy to cheer us up.

Now let's look at some of the more interesting efforts...


Dear old Fathers4Justice, who could pick a fight in a phone booth, have gone in all guns blazing on this ad for its supposed sexism. For those who've missed it, it features mum who does all the work for a family Christmas while the men mean well but do nothing.

"Behind every great Christmas there's a mum, and behind mum there's Asda," says the ad. Me, I'm with Asda all on the way on this: it's an ad that tells a fundamental truth, but also spot-on for the Asda target market. And if it annoys Fathers4Justice, well, so much the better.

One-word verdict: Honest


This ad shares the same space as Asda with another harassed mum doing her best to keep it all together for the family. Yes, it's beautifully made with touches of the surreal (the mum actually wrestles a rubber turkey) and the true to life (the needles that fall off the tree the moment it goes up).

But no, it won't do enough to reverse Morrison's recent dire trading performance. Long-term, however, it could help build a real connection with shoppers. Shame the 'For your Christmas' line is so feeble.

One-word verdict: Entertaining


Waitrose is giving the £1 million it didn't spend on a fancy TV ad to good causes. It's certainly different from last year's Hogwarts-style extravaganza (pine-scented sugar, anyone?), but clearly there's no point being good unless you are seen to be doing good - hence a mighty media budget and accusations of hypocrisy.

However, taking a holier-than-thou stance at Christmas is risky. And why has Waitrose been running unWaitrose-like ads pushing three-for-twos on party food? Maybe they're having a panic.

One-word verdict: Marmite

John Lewis

How does John Lewis follow last year's blockbuster? Stick to the formula, that's how: pull those heartstrings and chuck in a soundtrack that's a modern version of an 80s classic.

Snowman goes on seemingly endless quest at the end of which he finds a scarf and gloves for his snow-girlfriend. The message: making the effort for the one you love is what counts, not the size of the gift.

One-word verdict: Slow


At last, a good old-fashioned Christmas ad with all the clichés in one: woman takes long journey from city to snow-covered country cottage, changes clothes many times; also features cute child, snowy landscape and fairy lights.

Bet you thought it was for John Lewis. "Fabulous for Christmas", it says, and indeed it is.

Two-word verdict: Gloriously retro


There's nothing specifically Christmassy about this ad, but it's getting heavy airtime and this is proper Kindle and tablet buying time so to my mind this is a Christmas ad disguised as corporate wank.

The 600lb gorilla of online retailing is putting itself about with the subtlety of a behemoth. That's because the ad is all about itself and its achievements, and entirely lacking insight into, and empathy for, the customer.

The self-regard is breath-taking: "Connecting your mouse to your front door was our moon landing. Creating Kindle was our four-minute mile."

No thank-you, Mr Bezos; get with the true spirit of Christmas - and pay some more tax while you're at it.

One-word verdict: Solipsistic

Dominic will write for Newsline every Monday.

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