Twilight of the Gods: Asda, Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsburys

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!


Best And Worst Xmas 2013 Adverts

ant and dec

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.

table of food

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.

archetypal xmas image

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.

vorderman isme

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.

• Read the 2011 Xmas ads and 2012 Xmas ads lists – vote and read on for this year’s.

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 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.

John Lewis

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 Christmas advert, 2013

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

Bubbling under

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.



TK Maxx



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