Time was we’d judge the start of the Christmas season by the appearance of crackers in shops; nowadays it’s the appearance of the first Christmas adverts.
With fully 50 days before 2011’s Yuletide there were Christmas adverts on our tellies; filmed in the unseasonally pleasant September and October across the country. Freddie Flintoff in a duffel coat, surrounded by fake snow, santas and mince pies. In St Albans. In September.
So, what festive delights await us this year? M+S had ditched Twiggy and Danni; the Sainsburys ad constitutes Jamie Oliver’s swansong; what would John Lewis come up with this time?
Absurdly, Xmas adverts for the big supermarkets and department stores have become event television. But how big – and shit – have these events been this year?
By my money they’ve mainly got it right. Iceland has backed away from the insanity of last year’s Donovan adverts; Marksies has ditched its middle-class smugathons; the overall tone is of restraint, when compared to last year anyway.
It’s not all good. The Boots girls are still coming – perhaps due to the entry of Ann Summers into our advert marketplace – and there are still two truly diabolical efforts here.
Familiarity – and you can bet you’ll become very familiar with these ads – is sure to breed contempt, even fury. By the fifth time you’ve seen the new Littlewoods or Toys R Us ads you’ll be ready to hurl your chestnuts at the telly.
But with any luck this year’s crop of Christmassy ads should leave you relatively unmolested come Christmas morning. Just pray no-one has a Halfords-style reaction when unwrapping presents.
It seems to be John Lewis’ modus operandi to make viewers cry these days, with their ads ploughing a fairly shameless furrow that seems to work for them.
I think the strategy pretty canny. It’s a rich seam of nostalgia, sentimentality and general warm fuzziness – all the stuff that makes Christmas what it is.
Next year’s advert will apparently feature a sickly kitten being stroked in front of an open fire by Terry Wogan for a full 120 seconds, while Gary Jules’ Mad World plays in the background.
Turd rating: One
Celebrities: Jamie Oliver
“Goto Sainsbury’s for a magical Christmas feast,” says this last effort from Jamie Oliver on behalf of the upmarket supermarket.
Nice idea, nice execution. Minimum Oliver. Good work.
Turd rating: One and a half
Celebs: Stacey Solomon
Where was there to go after last year’s Xmas Iceland offering, featuring Jason Donovan as a perverted ringmaster? Well, back to basics really. Christmas parties, finger food, Stacey Solomon’s enormous face – I’m fairly unsure Stacey and her family will be tucking into gammon over Xmas, mind.
I take exception to the horrible new Solomonised recording of Driving Home For Christmas – a song I always make sure I have on a CD when actually heading home on Christmas Eve.
Not especially egregious then – and a thankful step back from the Lynchian horror of last year – but I doubt any celebrity would ever be seen dead entering Iceland, which seems to be ever closer to some sort of underclass shopping experience every time I hazard upon one.
Turd rating: Two
Celebs: Delia Smith, Heston Blumenthal
I’m a bit nonplussed by this one, featuring Delia and Heston. It hinges everything on four distinct products and doesn’t really compel me to find out more.
It looks a million bucks – a bit Downton Manor via Heath Robinson and Tim Burton – but it doesn’t feel especially cosy.
A bit chilly, all told, like a Heston artichoke and air-dried Haribo truffle in liquid nitrogen.
Turd rating: Two
Celebs: Andrew Flintoff, Bruce Forsyth
Hmm. Jury’s still out on this one. I suppose Freddie still has enough goodwill from the Ashes in 2005 and 2009 to get away with this – and some good decent, honest, thick Lancashire shtick probably doesn’t do any harm, although it’s a bit much that they actually correct Flintoff’s awkward delivery.
Nice cameo from Brucey at the end and a fairly strong message – Freddie like pies! Legend! Meat! Christmas! Pastry! Brulliant! – unlike many of the ads featured here.
Turd rating: Two
Marks and Spencer
Celebs: X-Factor cannon fodder
It’s fairly apparent that M+S and John Lewis are competing to be the winterval shopping experience and Marksies has really wheeled out the big guns for this X-mas effort.
Riding the X-Factor bandwagon has brought its own problems that rather trouble me (the singers either got a paltry £3K each or nothing, depending on who you listen to – Merry F’ing Xmas) but as an ad in itself it’s well executed and reasonably inoffensive.
I just find it hard to shake the feeling that we’re all implicit in an evil plan to make berks like Simon Cowell even more filthy rich than they are already. From somewhere in Brighton comes the sounds of Johnnie Robinson gently weeping.
Turd rating: Three
Celebs: None that I’m aware of
A novel, decent conceit but I’m not sure why a family of sperm are striding around shopping centres looking for Christmas presents.
There’s one extremely strange – and rather disturbing – aspect to this. “Mmm, eggnog,” says Father Sperm, Homer Simpson-style, absent-mindedly.
“Mmm, Bieber,” says Ma Sperm, appreciatively. Actually, more than appreciatively. Lasciviously, you could almost say.
Now, I suspect Bieber is legal, but probably only just. What’s more he looks about four. Just imagine the Dad lusting after Hermione Granger and see how you feel about that.
Turd rating: Three
Nice idea, nice execution but this is a terrible assault on the senses – the sort of thing the CIA used to blast at Manuel Noriega.
Turd rating: Three and a half
Celebrities: None that I’m aware of
I find it hard to believe that the Here Come The Girls tattoo doesn’t have some sort of Pavlovian effect on half the population these days – its very presence like the foreshadowing of some horrific catastrophe.
Personally I’m inclined towards punching myself in the neck, but voiding of stomachs, noses, bladders and bowels are all empirically-proven side-effects of hearing this tune.
Since this one has a clear Great Escape theme to it I’m hoping there’s a bonus ad that involved them all being taken out to the woods and machine gunned.
Turd rating: Four
I wonder if the Wachowski Brothers ever thought that their revolutionary Bullet Time trick photography invention would ever be used to shill a discount supermarket chain in a bizarre Christmas advert.
I’m guessing not, just as I’m guessing that no-one would have foreseen the inclusion of a mind-spinning Inception-style telescopic reality setting for an advert selling trouser-vendors.
I just find this confusing – and I don’t get what it has to do with Matalan. Presumably all the people feature in it are asleep, bald, pale and nude – possibly in a gigantic monster-feeding embryo chamber.
Turd rating: Four
Toys R Us
Why, when you have a much-recognised and much-loved Christmas advert in the form of the ageless “There’s a magical place; We’re on our way there; With toys in their millions; All under one roof” ad, would you piss all that brand equity down the drain with a vile American rap waffling on about coupons?
Appalling. Inexplicable. Appallicable.
Turd rating: Four and a half
An absolute fucking disaster, unless the aim was to reposition Littlewoods as the most low-rent outlet on the marketplace.
The ASA has actually been moved to an issue a ‘we don’t like it, but we have to go along with it’ rebuttal to complaints that this ad is killing Santa. And replacing it with what? A bloody credit card.
If this were Japan some ritual boardroom suicides would be going on about now. Possibly metaphorical, possibly not.
I never want to see this ever again.
Turd rating: 245,835,585,299,001
So, there you have it. The best and worst 2011 Christmas Adverts. A rotten bunch to be sure, but this could have been so much worse. No-one would ever pretend that Fukushima was a good thing – but the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.
And, just in case you think I’m overcooking things somewhat, take a look at this – and never, ever forget.