UK advertisers are predicted to spend a record £9.5 billion during the 2023 festive period – up 4.8% from 2022 – according to latest figures from the Advertising Association (AA). Despite one-third of Brits planning to cut back on Christmas spending due to the cost-of-living crisis, retailers have pulled out all the stops to dazzle consumers with their festive campaigns. After all, a recent AA survey found 48% of adults think holiday adverts help inspire gift ideas.
Rather than the usual tearjerkers, ads this year tend to fall into two categories: high-profile cameos designed to drive visibility or joyful, animated narratives. Interestingly, both types of campaigns feature nostalgic pop tunes.
Here’s a rundown of some of this year’s best Christmas adverts: Asda tapped Canadian singer Michael Bublé as its chief quality officer, singer Rick Astley appears in Sainsbury’s advert and presenter Graham Norton has a cameo in the Waitrose ad. Sports Direct’s campaign features an array of athletes including footballer Mason Mount and boxer Conor Benn.
Morrisons features singing oven mitts while Aldi’s beloved character Kevin the Carrot stars in its Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-inspired story, which has received more than 3.8 million views on YouTube in eight days. Meanwhile, actor Dawn French returns to screens to voice an angel in Marks & Spencer’s food commercial with Wrexham A.F.C. co-chairmen Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney as animated mittens. Argos features favourites Connie and Trevor (a doll and a dinosaur toy, naturally) and its video has received more than 2.4 million views on YouTube.
Standout Christmas advert
This year’s standout campaign is for JD Sports, which champions youth culture while celebrating 25 years of its JD duffle. In three days, its ad has received more than 4.5 million YouTube views. The Fitting Room founder Charlotte Mair named it this year’s winner because it “hits the sweet spot of culture”. While it does feature familiar faces such as singer Cat Burns and rapper Central Cee, this is “less obvious and more ‘if you know, you know’”, she says.
A particularly divisive ad was for Marks & Spencer’s clothing and home. It encourages people to only embrace what they love about the holiday in its star-studded advert, which features presenter Tan France and actor Hannah Waddingham. The retailer removed the original video and reposted it, although one commentator said it has been edited.
However, that’s not what made headlines. The business received backlash after it posted an outtake from the video on Instagram, which appeared to show hats in the colours of the Palestinian flag burning in a fire. The Advertising Standards Authority received 112 complaints about the ad and 48 complaints about the Instagram post. The company apologised and removed the image.
In other news, John Lewis’ advert (its first with Saatchi & Saatchi as its creative marketing partner) has received mixed reviews. Titled Snapper: The Perfect Tree, it is a story about an abandoned Venus fly trap and how family traditions evolve. The campaign has more than 1.6 million views on YouTube and people have described it as “unexpected”. One commentator said: “Did not expect Little Shop of Horrors [to be] turned into a Christmas commercial.”
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Holiday campaigns are being rolled out earlier every year. In 2022, Very unveiled its advertisement in mid-October. The Drum’s opinion editor John McCarthy recently criticised brands for releasing their videos ahead of November and called it “disgraceful”.
According to Coca-Cola, “nearly half” of Brits say its ads cue the beginning of the holiday season – it should be noted that its 2023 ad was released on 7 November. Brands don’t need to push out campaigns weeks ahead of everyone else – JD Sports’ commercial has the most views and was published in mid-November – and companies such as Tesco and Footasylum have yet to put out their festive offerings.
It’s not just supermarkets and retailers that are creating festive ads. London’s West End musical Mrs Doubtfire released its video Poppets to celebrate the season and former footballer Peter Crouch teased his plans to release an ad. During the past few years, Barbour has released Christmas films and its latest is a collaboration with Shaun The Sheep. In an interesting move, Iceland will not release a festive advert. Instead, it plans to invest money in keeping its prices low during the cost-of-living crisis.
2023 has been about star appeal and unexpected narratives. Retailers’ outlandish marketing efforts are a way to break into the social media stratosphere and impress consumers. Celebrity cameos don’t always reap rewards and creating culturally relevant or nostalgic ads is always key to impressing the court of social media.
By Caroline Edwards, CORQ news and features writer. Picture credit: Asda