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23 Nov 2017

The battle of the Christmas adverts – who are the real winners?

The World Retail Congress gave me a random selection of 2017 Christmas and Holiday commercials to review from around the world and insisted I be polite but honest!

These days no one fundamentally sells anything that can’t be bought elsewhere. Success therefore demands, if what you’re selling isn’t unique - the way you do it had better be! This is why winners love what I call an ‘emotional edge’ – it’s easily understood, it sets them apart and it gives customers a reason to choose them. It’s also the only thing a retailer can truly own. I therefore acknowledge the emotional component in each review where appropriate.

And rather pointedly, in general but particularly at this time of the year, I believe most brands fall short in keeping their marketing promise. All the amped-up multi-media glitz is not matched at a Cx level. So the very least a brand must do is make their most important customers feel very, very special at this hectic time of year.

Where can these most important customers be found? …they’re on the payroll.

Why are your teams the most important customers? Well if the workforce doesn’t ‘get-it’ and ‘buy-into’ what is uniquely and emotionally trying to be done, there’s no way the shopping customers will ‘get-it’. This is why I comment on the suitability of the ‘creative idea’ for influencing Cx when reviewing. Wow I’d love to syphon off larger chunks of the budgets to really pump-up and engage the workforce. Passionately reaching out to thoroughly engage them, making it an exciting and joyous time of the year, not just a seriously busy, dreaded trading episode …and I’m not just talking about store teams!

So who are the overall winners for me?

John Lewis - takes overall top prize

Aldi - refreshingly different

Farmers - most surprising

North America


There’s a huge emotional reward factor when you finally work out what’s happening. But I had to cheat and read the blurb to understand it. Wonderful soundtrack and cinematography. I hope the Cx is not just reliant on cardboard lighthouses and strategically placed baseball lamps in-store/on-line but more about gifting bringing people together. Overall, I’m reminded of the UK’s long-standing John Lewis approach to Christmas.

JC Penney: 

So here’s real people, buying real stuff, at a real discount with a customer wearing a Santa hat! Not a lot of dream factory input but I guess it’s true to the brands current heartland. For me ‘Challenge Ads’ are now old hat with limited appeal. Can’t help feeling this is a missed opportunity for a brand looking to rediscover itself!


Great brand recognition from the get-go. I’ve always loved the concise promise of the Target logo. Children, talking toys, turkey – which is no big creative leap for the Holiday/Christmas season. It’s kind of different but for me, it needs lifting with a much funnier script. Clean, on-brand and oozing multi-media opportunities.

United States Postal Service: 

Now I’d really like to know what the brief was: Trust us at Holiday/Christmas time. Just-in-time delivery? We do small things well? …or not everything needs to be Amazon-despatched! It feels so familiar to me …where’s the delivery drivers knowing smile, Santa hat and sprig of holly on the radiator. Well shot, boasting a touch of emotional edge.

United Kingdom


An old fairy tale brought to life acknowledging the multi-media world of today. Relevant if a little soppy, I kind of enjoyed it for what it is. The tag line ‘You shall’ somehow doesn’t over promise yet gives a credible emotional and promotional hook for Cx and multi-media. Well made with a big-budget feel.

John Lewis: 

A flatulent (Moz) monster under a child’s bed at Christmas time; this exquisitely made commercial is not easily understood! Spoiler alert: buy a special night light from John Lewis and peaceful sleep ensues. Brave but polarising, for me this emotionally-laden commercial falls short of previous years’ but still sets a ridiculously high standard. Cx demands lots of naughty noises and giggling from the workforce and kids in-store. Generating masses of social chatter.


A no-brainer. M&S riding on the coat tails of Paddington Bear by converting a villain into a Santa figure. A beautifully executed piece of escapism, appropriately heart-warming for this time of year. It’s fun with massive Cx and multi-media opportunities. A symbiotic coming together of two huge brands …or maybe an ad for the new Paddington movie with an M&S logo stuck on the end?


This self-proclaimed ‘Everything Amazing’ brand has created a fresh masterpiece of animation about a carrot called Kevin. Showcasing delicious food complete with ladles full of emotional edge and humour, for me the clichéd music and rhyming voice-over sucks some charm out of it. But bags of Cx, in-store and multi-media opportunities if this low-price supermarket spends the money!


A low-price supermarket advertising Christmassy food at Christmas with people eating and serving Christmassy food, happy to do it their own particular way. All wrapped in a series of voice-over alliterations in an attempt to make it different. Lacking real emotional edge, for me the creativity will at least offer merchandising and signage opportunities in store.



Ironically promoting ‘No celebration without love’, this Christmas commercial for the German supermarket stars a robot gliding around the aisles advising customers on the perfect produce for their recipes. There are also tips for stress-free Christmas meals in the campaign. A robot fronting an emotion-based theme? I confess the campaign has lost a lot in translation for me – or maybe that’s the point.


Beautifully shot and enthrallingly confusing, the campaign packs a heavy punch with a poignant message. This German supermarket has chosen Christmas as a perfect time to champion relationship reconciliation. Full of emotional edge, for me it demands deep thinking that feels at odds with Christmas - even though coming-togetherness is at the heart this time of year!


David Jones: 

A shopping list of wonderfully curated gifts from around the world. It has great production values and I’m sure it’ll make viewers feel like Christmas has arrived. Warm but without a point of view, it feels like it could come from any brand – only it didn’t, it came from another upscale department store. Hopefully the gingerbread characters will hold the shopping list together across the stores, Cx and multi-media campaign.


What a wonderfully refreshing take on Christmas, complete with a perfect sting in the tail. I’m not sure how the grumpy old man can be used to inform Cx, in-store or multi-media but I’m sure some clever creatives will have had a ball trying to crack the problem. Wonderful production values with just the right amount of emotional edge.


An interesting take on Christmas and for me just saved from all the genre clichés by some lovely character animation and script. With some nice touches, this commercial effortlessly sets the theme for a multi-media campaign. Let’s hope this department store group delivers as promised with its special way of celebrating Christmas - Cx would then be a doddle!



It feels big and kind of pleased with itself – as it should do! Nudging people to use Amazon to ‘give’ a little bit this festive season. Not particularly Holiday or Christmassy but simply showing and promising customers how their special parcels will be delivered to make someone happy. For me it all feels rather corporate. A bit more charm and wit over and above animated lips could have lifted it to another level.

Martin Butler​About Martin Butler

Born into retail, Martin Butler is a true hybrid – part retailer, part marketer. During a 30 year career dedicated to understanding the modern customer Martin has worked in top international agencies and became one of London’s youngest ad’ agency owners by launching his own company. He stood down from his agency 10 years ago to concentrate on his research and writing into winning the war for the modern customer.

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