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
Have you been down the Aldi recently? I ask because the chances are you have. Last time I went they were handing out free lobsters and washing your car with the tears of Cheryl Cole. Head over to Tesco and you can literally smell the stench of desperation on their staff, pleading with you to throw one extra BOGOF into their trolley, lest their kids go hungry this Christmas. Like George McFly in Back To The Future, knocking out the school bully with a fist of righteous fury (early drafts had him shooting up the school with a semi-automatic assault rifle), the worm has turned. Not only has it turned, it's kicked Tesco in the nuts. We're shunning Tesco, Asda and the rest - and we're enjoying twisting the knife.
Several things are happening here. Everyone knows that Aldi and Lidl are cheaper, though you get much less choice (of shopping receptacle until 2012), less flashy displays and an altogether more chaotic environment. You also get much less of the open chicanery that UK supermarkets have been dealing in over the last several years over offers and pendulum prices.
But interestingly, something is happening in the case of Aldi and Lidl that runs contrary to all known laws of free-market capitalism - an economic system that's been discredited but we continue to use, a bit like X-Factor. These supermarkets offer us less choice, and having been swindled, baffled and bewildered for years we've realised that we're kinda happy with less choice.
More choice has made it easier for our supermarkets, privatised utilities and car-makers to blind us, to make the cheaper options more difficult to find. There are websites - many websites - that exist to explain these systems to us, so deliberately labyrinthine have they become. Simply put, the free market has been fucking us up the arse when it comes to choice. And punters have decided that they've had enough of being fucked up the arse, thanks very much.
You might suspect that I welcome the advent of Lidl and Aldi - and the end of the monopoly of the big four. But not really - while prices are being driven down at the moment they will rise again when Aldi and Lidl inevitably move upmarket. This is an observed phenomenon in the car industry when, every two to three decades, a shedload of budget cars hit British shores and start undercutting the established brands.
30 years ago it was Honda, Datsun (Nissan) and Toyota - now three of the biggest-selling brands in the UK; now it's Hyundai and Kia - in actuality scarcely cheaper than the like of Ford or Vauxhall these days. Next it will be Dacia and some Chinese brands, then someone else will be nipping at their heels, probably the Indians or South Americans. The wheel turns.
Of course, another factor of driving down prices is the much-feared race to the bottom. And if you want to know what that looks like, look around right now. Wages are going down - not just against inflation, they're actually decreasing in nominal and real terms. Jobs are scarce; demand for jobs is high, so as the value of jobs increases, the reparations decrease.
20 years we'd not have thought this possible. Again, it runs contrary to everything we've been led to believe about how capitalism works. But to find this unfathomable is as ridiculous as being surprised that Tesco is finally getting its just desserts - just ask Francis Fukuyama.
Aldi and Lidl will fuel a race to the bottom among supermarkets who, desperate to cut costs, will drive down the value of goods. Farmers will take another hit on the value of their yields and harvests, so they'll cut their overheads too. That means lower quality products, lower ethical standards, corners cut and standards slashed.
This will also mean that those high-street stores that are left clinging on will be unable to compete - imagine what a year-long price war between supermarkets will do for your neighbourhood grocer, assuming there is one. Our obsession with paying less is destroying genuine choice and quality - Aldi and Lidl are more symptoms than causes, though the two are not mutually exclusive.
Here's what happens next. The big supermarkets adapt or die. Sainsburys has space to go upmarket and fight Waitrose; Asda can move downmarket and take on Aldi and Lidl; Tesco has little choice but to accept the squeezed middle. Morrisons and the Co-Op... well. How do I know this? Because it has happened since time immemorial - or at least since we fucked off our friendly butcher, greengrocer and baker for the shiny lights of the out-of-town supermarket.
We killed our high streets, then we killed our town centres. Now it's the turn of the massive abandon-all-hope hypermarkets that dot the edgelands and border the light industrial estates that now encircle our conurbations.
The increasingly pitiful adverts from the Big Four - and the genuinely innovative and engaging adverts from Lidl and Aldi (although the latter are nowhere as near as good as they used to be) - are not the last gasps of a dying system, they're the sclerotic coughs from a economic framework that destroys value in the name of cost.
Having said all that, Aldi does a remarkably good line in cheap Malbecs and Riojas. Cheers!