So, here we are again. It's still six weeks before Christmas Day, but the phony war starts earlier and earlier every year now. Christmas provides a unique and irresistible opportunity for brands to give themselves a boost going into the next year - a little bit like striking the first metaphorical blow at the press conference that precedes a bout of boxing, or invading Belgium.
In light of the collapse of Western civilisation that the Big Four supermarkets losing market share apparently constitutes, brand equity and brand power is ever-more important as our beloved high-street (not to mention out-of-town industrial estate) goes through a fundamental structural correction. Communicating what makes you different, better or cheaper than your rivals - and getting people to buy into that idea - is where it's at these days and television adverts are the primary weapon.
The money that buys prime advertising space - charged at up to £250,000 per advert for the best slots in the week or so before the big day - could probably fund a medium-sized African dictator for a year, so high are the stakes.
We live in the age of the multi-platform campaign so the power of the hashtag - not to mention multi-million quid cinematic featurettes - have been deployed this year amid a massive social media push to engage the yoof with ahh! and LOL! and WTF! moments: a penguin in love; fairies delivering bribes to Twitter users; a global war in which 20 million people died...
2014's Christmas adverts are the opening salvos in a new campaign - the campaign to see who lays the most convincing claim for the ground they want to inhabit for the next few years. Fittingly - but also tastelessly - many newspapers and blogs describe this as a battle of the Christmas adverts. Fittingly because it undoubtedly it is a battle, possibly for survival for some players; tastelessly because this year Sainsbury's has decided that it will use trench warfare as its setting for its Christmas advert.
It's a little bit like bringing a live grenade to a custard pie fight - poor old Monty the Penguin looks a bit stupid when you line him up next to the hot young cast of the Sainsbury's advert, whose real-life counterparts - unlike Monty, Jools Holland or Ant & Dec - were largely mown down by machine-gun fire once the cameras stopped rolling.
Similarly, everyone else is rather left in the wake of the Sainsbury's advert, like rubber ducks in a bath bombed by the Enola Gay. As a result of Sainsbury's fearless approach to adopting mass killing as a backdrop to a Christmas advert, I look forward to the supermarkets employing the Cambodian genocide, Balkan conflict, Al Qaeda terrorist atrocities and the Aberfan disaster in their adverts over the next year.
No doubt the likes of Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK, would say call this strategy 'risky' - but on the whole I can only assume he'd approve. In these days, when the only arbiter as to what is considered an appropriate advert is how well it plays on social media, when acceptance on Twitter is the only validation required, it's the logical - the only - conclusion.
I saw the Sainsbury's advert breathlessly referred to as The Advert To End All Adverts, which would be quite witty, if not for its fundamental cuntishness. And it makes me wonder - if they think this is OK, what else is around the corner?
So, Merry Christmas. In the event that you aren't blown apart by a stray advert or simply shell-shocked at the horror of it all, do let me know which is your favourite below.
Christmas Adverts 2014
Aldi's first real misstep when it comes to advertising. The German brand has made a success of its brand proposition and physical offering by explicitly not doing what the Big Four have done since the year dot. Until now, where they sign up to the 'me too' brand of supermarket Christmas advert with a battleship's weight worth of food and a crap celeb (Jools Sodding Holland). There's the Gin Granny from a very early ad, when Aldi ads were still excellent, but fundamentally this is as forgettable as every other Xmas ad out there. Truly, Aldi has arrived.
Who associates hip-hop with Christmas? This chilly, charmless and actively aggravating spot for Argos does at least have the distinction of ditching the unloved Bill Nighy and Caroline Quentin-voiced sperms. A fundamentally horrible advert all told, though.
There's always something a bit no-nonsense about Asda's advertising, which rather suits the brand. Here's an advert that basically says 'if we're shelling out a million quid then we're damn well going to actually advertise stuff'. A little like an Asda shop then: a necessity that you're glad is over the second it is.
Can't argue with this one and as members of my close family frequently find themselves working on Christmas Day - meaning that the extended fam has often celebrated on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day to facilitate the best possible experience for them - I can relate. A nice ad, well intentioned and well made.
Frankly Debenhams only enters my consciousness once a year when I'm compiling these lists, but it is the season of good cheer so they're making an appearance. Verdict: inoffensive.
Call it a concession, an admission of defeat or even a cry for help. Perhaps it's just recognition of what and where Iceland is. Profoundly not aspirational, not middle-class, not classy. Oh, what's that speeding away into the distance? It's Aldi and Lidl. Cheap, cheesy - Magaluf in supermarket form.
As exciting, predictable and emotional as a Stephen Hendry tournament win in the mid-1990s. A triumph of efficiency - and that's all.
An extension of the Lidl Differences series of ads that have been running, where poshos are surprised to find the lovely nosh they've been hoying down their gobs is from that downmarket place near the estate. Minus points for the almost-subliminal smattering of words like 'value' throughout, which reminded me of this.
Myleene Klass and Christopher Biggins as brand ambassadors. Crikey - what statement is being made there?. At face value there's nothing particularly wrong with this; look closer and Myleene is busy turning beautiful, original, interesting wares at what looks like a Persian bazar into the sort of cheap and tacky shit with which you'd associate Littlewoods. Which isn't a great message, really.
Marks and Spencer
An expensive checklist of Christmas advert staples rendered as efficiently and lovelessly as a wall in a Barratt Home is plastered.
Utterly forgettable which, given that Morrisons is by far the least visible of the Big Four, is something of a problem. Just like their stores, I don't know what's supposed to set them apart. And if you employ the original cheeky chappies of television in Ant and Dec, why isn't your ad a little irreverent, like it was last year?
A beautiful slice of exploitative, offensive supermarket propaganda.
Tesco has never done Christmas ads well - coming as it does in the midst of the supermarket's biggest crisis in decades it just serves to enhance the suspicion that it's lost sight of what it is, what its strengths are and what the core message is.
Waitrose generally bucks the trend and this sets it apart from the rest of the pack nicely. Giving, showing resolve, employee stakeholding - there's a message I can get behind at this time of year. Truly abysmal soundtrack, like, but you can't have everything.
• Refresh your memories of the best and worst Christmas adverts – sob pitifully at advertising or enrage yourself to vein-throbbing standards – of previous years
It's hardly a novel observation to suggest that we take leave of our senses a little at Christmas. Certainly we do, but this is just the icing on the cake. We live in a system that is totally, undeniably insane. Christmas is just the slicing-off-an-ear height of the insanity, but in years gone by - and in years to come - people would and will look on in disgust at the orgy of consumption that Christmas means for us this year.
Advertising is merely the most obvious expression of this particular mania. Advertising is designed to make us consume more, in a system whose very model is ever-increasing consumption. It hardly takes a Marxist to point out that, at some point in the future, we'll run out of stuff to consume. Possibly in the next 50 years when it comes to the fossil fuels we're utterly dependent on.
Probably in terms of virtually every other natural resource - minerals, food, water and other similarly boring stuff - in a century or two, assuming that rising tide levels and natural disasters wrought by climate change, caused largely by our rapacious consumption of said fossil fuels, don't finish us off in the meantime. In the run-up to that sort of societal apocalypse we can expect to see increased, desperate competition for those resources. War, famine - fun stuff like that.
Our response to this pant-fillingly frightening realisation seems to be confined to shrugging and having a Big Mac Meal. Yawning and opening another 2-litre bottle of Coke. Scratching ourselves and ordering another DVD box-set off the internet (an act that seems increasingly close to a voluntary version of the Matrix-style cosy stupefaction of the masses in tanks filled with spermy gloop).
Consuming more stuff.
By any measure this amounts to either a gigantic shared delusion that Everything Will Be Alright or a bored acceptance that we're fucked either way and might as well go down with smiles on our fat, vacant, chocolate-smeared faces.
And the harbingers of this are Christmas adverts, ensuring that we continue accelerating towards our own doom and shovelling food and booze down our gullets all the while. I find the spectacle of what Christmas seems to have become increasingly grotesque to the point where I ask people not to buy me presents. I've been buying up stuff over the year for the few people I intend to give a gift to: art, crafts, old books I think they might enjoy. I'll make the rest - jars of jam or chutney.
I don't judge people going a bit mad at Christmas, particularly those with kids. I just wish it wasn't all so horribly, nakedly, graspingly commercial - and connected with consumption. There's a Hogarthian excess implicit in many Christmas adverts - so much so that I'm surprised the supermarkets haven't started selling emetics.
This is another factor of our mindless retail splurging. Alienation. Owning stuff doesn't make us any happier. Oh, it perhaps offers us some relief from our shit lives - like a palliative offers us brief respite from chronic pain - but it doesn't change anything. Realisation of this is the first step to making your life slightly less shit. Advertising doesn't want you thinking about that too much, because you might stop spending hundreds of pounds on stuff you don't care about for people who don't want it every single year.
I'd gladly swap every present I might receive this year for a short Winter break with a few loved ones, a low-key party with group of friends, a phonecall from some people I love and haven't seen for a while, Christmas Eve in a pub with my old muckers in the North East. Oh, sure, I'll buy the missus something nice and spend Christmas Day stuffing my face, drinking some port, watching Doctor Who and dozing off on the sofa. I might even give the cat some bacon fat. But the receiving and sending of stuff won't make me - or anyone I know - happier.
Sorry if this all comes over a bit Good Life, but I find it genuinely depressing that we've commodified everything that's precious in our lives, wrapped it up in a multi-million-quid campaign and sold it back to ourselves. We've prostituted something that's synonymous with charity, good will and togetherness. I saw a newspaper refer to this year's John Lewis advert as a festive comfort blanket. It's not, it's a sugar pill at best - and a dangerously addictive one at that.
There's nothing wrong with an X-Box, or a crate of beer or a nice DVD. But you know what's better? Friends, family, your Significant Other. Company, conversation, laughter, love. Spending time with them, breaking bread with them and huddling together around the fire to hide from the season's icy grasp.
Adverts aren't the first exciting sign that Christmas is coming; they're just the first - and best - reminder that we've fucked up everything that's good about it.
Vote for your favourite
Marks and Spencer
A couple of models, everyone's favourite batshit kooky actress, an Alice In Wonderland theme. And, quite possibly, the latest M&S messiah's last chance to save his job.
There's a point in the film Big, a film of which I'm very fond, where the juvenile-on-the-inside Tom Hanks watches a product pitch, at the toy-makers where he works, with puzzlement.
"I don't get it," he says in a way that's taken as needless, needly snark. But it's not - he genuinely doesn't understand what the toy is supposed to do.
Well, I don't get it.
I don't really know what Very.co.uk is, apart from the fact that it seems to be aimed at aspiring chavettes, given that Fearne Cotton is its representative. It's worth pointing out that Cotton, someone with no discerning talent to speak of, has nearly five million followers on Twitter. Five Million. if that's not enough to give you nightmares I don't know what will.
Anyway, this advert is kinda interesting; the music and the offbeat visuals are refreshingly different from the rest of the Christmas fare. I guess it's aimed at young women, but there's something a tad unfortunate here. It feels cold, stilted and the women in it look like they've been freeze-dried; Stepford Wifettes represented only by their domestic duties.
I think that's rather problematic. It's a chilly vision of Christmas: Jerry Hall's quote about women as "cook in the kitchen, lady in the parlor, whore in the bedroom" made real.
In last year's AdTurds run down of best and worst Xmas adverts I suggested that if they wanted my Christmas pound, UK retailers should spend their ad cash on taking a load of old folks and homeless people for a slap-up Christmas party with loads of top nosh.
Imagine my surprise when, this year, Waitrose unveiled an advert featuring an advert where they spend their Xmas ad cash on taking a load of old folks and homeless people for a slap-up Christmas party with loads of top nosh.
My invoice is in the post.
Nice to see Carol Vorderman playing up to her popular image as a filthy MILF. Still, I prefer to remember her as a shrill, foaming, utterly inept right-wing whackjob informed only by Daily Mail editorials and Tory party briefing notes who made a total arse of herself on Question Time a couple of years ago, fulminating about the kind of things that people who join UKIP are annoyed by and proving to be largely misinformed, hysterical and thick as pigshit.
I'm looking forward to the second part of this ad campaign, in which the celebrity adder-upper - and erstwhile peddler of debt consolidation companies - gets sloshed on cheap white wine and starts bawling at an East European, makes a pass at someone 30 years her junior and bursts into tears before being put to bed.
A beautiful young woman stalking through the moneyed boroughs of central London, eh? There's a novelty. Debenhams is increasingly the person at university who you befriend on your first day only for them to start dressing like you and buying CDs by your favourite band.
As a rough approximation of what the client wanted it's probably ticking all the boxes but really this is as memorable as the November 14th episode of Neighbours in 1994.
Keane made a good song once, believe it or not - it's this one sung here by Lily Allen and is called Somewhere Only We Know. A bear and a hare are having a romance, by the look of it. Wonder how that works.
This is getting ridiculous now. Forget reality shows, this is the most absurdly exploitative television gets in the 21st century. Where do we go from here?
The last time I wept at anything I saw on television was about ten years ago, watching a Simon King documentary about two orphaned cheetah cubs that he'd rescued. After two years of raising them by hand King decides that they should have the chance of the life they were born for, and releases them into the wild. Shortly afterwards one of them is killed and King is distraught when he finds the body, the twin cheetah mewling in confusion. It came at a time in my life when I'd recently lost someone and I cried my eyes out for about half an hour.
Next year John Lewis will just be showing that clip, accompanied by Leonard Cohen singing I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry - with a picture of a cashmere scarf at the end of it.
I wonder if the people who do John Lewis ads are starting to believe their own press. The media starts frotting itself every November when the very notion of advertising, television - Hell, art itself - is shaken to its core by another 60 seconds designed to make us sad and then spend £250 on stuff we don't need in John Lewis.
But really I don't they're that good. I could come up with something like that in 30 minutes if I had a strong cup of tea and pack of Jaffa Cakes. Animals, sadness, snow, anthropomorphism, love. Shake them up with some nice visuals and a cover of a sad song and you've got something that's as easy to put together as pound cake. And a good deal more bittersweetly nauseating.
Oh dear. What is this? An attempt to go upmarket? A response to last year's lukewarm response the festive efforts? A rebrand? Whatever it is, it's not very good.
A dreadful soundtrack, courtesy of everyone's second-favourite geriatric shagger that instantly prevents this really connecting with anyone under 40 years of age. A advert that tries to convince you that it's possible to age someone 50 years by putting a white streak in their hair. And, more fundamentally, an advert that just doesn't really mean anything.
Why 50 years? Why literally no mention of any product or brand, bar a Tesco logo at the end? I sincerely doubt anyone has an answer to these questions. Does this really align in any way with the brand, the product? I don't see how it does.
This might seem to run contrary to my opening gambit here, but really this is so naff, so unbelievable and so empty that it's just 90 seconds of nothingness.
Boots had a pretty decent ad last year, which I enjoyed because it featured real people. This year that's not the case but I do like this one. Similar to the John Lewis ad from a couple of years that baited-and-switched - leading us to believe that a young lad was waiting to open his presents on Christmas Day, only to surprise us by enthusiastically delivering a gift to his Mam and Dad - this one subverts our initial expectations rather nicely.
He's wearing a hoody! He's moody! He slammed the door! He's running away and banging on shutters! Oh, look, he's giving them a pack of smellies. He must be a good lad after all.
Still, I'd find it harm to warm to a gift of toiletries and the choice of soundtrack - Smalltown Boy, about a young man coming to terms with his sexuality in the provinces - is a bit of a puzzler. It instantly made me think of an episode of Brass Eye where a gay sailor is pictured walking down a street in grainy monochrome, with his shoes highlighted in pink.
Overall, though, I think this one might be my favourite.
Asda has never seemed to quite understand the difference between inexpensive and cheap. It's always seemed a little more downmarket, low-rent when compared to the other main supermarkets and that's something that Asda has courted a little.
Brave move this year, anyway, tackling the other supermarkets head on and referencing them fairly openly with a price promise effort. Not very seasonal, charitable and not especially pleasing to be honest. A bit cheap, if anything.
As someone on Twitter put it: Why don't the asda av a fuckin scruff ma screamin the gaff down with her 5 snotty nosed kids in the Xmas tv advert be more realistic la.
Asda hasn't uploaded this one yet
Everyone's favourite cheeky chappies Ant And Dec sit down for a repaste that could feed half of Nyercastle pet. I quite like this though, and the suggestion that And Or Dec might be about to eat the singing gingerbreadman is rather droll - positioning Morrisons quite differently to the other, rather earnest, offerings.
"Go on, it's Christmas," says Ant Or Dec to Ant Or Dec, justifying this Yuletide slaughter. I'd like to see this used as an excuse in broader terms. Fraudulently embezzling the Christmas Club cash, having an extra-marital affair or developing a crack habit, for example.
Go on, it's Christmas.
NB. Incidentally, it's always possibly to tell And And Dec apart because they always sit in visual order of their names - Ant And Dec; left and right. Vaguely depressing, but true nonetheless.
Argos is still sticking with its alien sperm family thing, it would seem. This is a series that I find wholly unlovely, fairly irritating and simply rather baffling. Initially I thought it would make sense to have the family bemused by Earth traditions but accepting of the Argos back-to-front shopping experience, but this has never happened.
So, it just sort of exists. There are a few things of note here, I think. Firslty, how horrific does Santa look without a beard? Score one for sending the kids screaming from the room. Second, a joke about little people? Hmm. Lastly, a gift of a satnav. Merry Fucking Geolocationary Accurate Christmas.
Time to retire this campaign I think. If I want sperm all over my screen then I'll <edited by the Advertising Standards Authority>.
There's always a macabre fascination to see what grisly 'party food' treats Iceland comes up with next - this being the outlet that gave us King Prawn Spoons, a Baileys Dome Gateau and mini Yorkshire-pudding-with-roast-beef efforts that looked quite a lot like vaginas (see right).
I've not really caught this year's advert, but since Iceland is clearly making some sort of attempt to dodge the sort of horrors of 2010 with a Michael Buble song (albeit terrible) and a focus on one of its delivery drivers romancing a lady with ready meals, I expect it's not as ghastly as Icelands of Christmas Past.
Still, since we're here let's dream up a few. Mini Chicken Rifles? Bacardi Breezer Dipping Sauce? Langoustine Roundabouts? Pontefract Pizzas? Boummus? The possibilities are - I feel - endless.
Iceland has yet to upload this one
So, that's it for the big hitters. Make sure you vote for your favourite at the bottom of the page.
Lidl, Aldi, Matalan, Sainsbury's, TK Maxx and a couple of others have yet to release their own versions or aren't especially interesting - so I'm not including them here. The TK Maxx and Aldi ones are quite nice.
Not currently publicly available