Christmas ads: The good, the bad and the bizarre

It may still be six weeks until Christmas, but that hasn’t stopped high street retailers, supermarkets and food and drink brands going on the festive attack, launching campaigns making sure we spend our hard-earned money with them this Christmas. Sales will be the ultimate test of how successful these campaigns are. In the meantime, we take an unscientific look at the winners, losers and downright bizarre.

The Winner


Sainsbury’s is pulling out all the stops this year. It has teamed up with Oscar-winning director Kevin McDonald to create a 50-minute feature film that aims to show how Britain spends Christmas day using home videos sent in by customers.

The campaign is part of a wider trend for brands to use content to create buzz and interest on social media. Nevertheless, the supermarket has taken a risk here by moving away from the usual ads bonanza and focusing its Christmas attention on a film.

This isn’t the first time the supermarket has gone with an engagement-led marketing strategy. It sponsored the Paralympics last year and launched a campaign over the summer aimed at helping stressed parents over the school holidays.

This approach, together with its “Live well for less” strapline is clearly resonating with consumers. The brand is riding high and sales and market share are on the up. With its Christmas ad it also has a campaign that will pull at the heartstrings and make people see the brand as a supermarket that is all things to all people.

The Runners Up

John Lewis

The launch of the John Lewis ad has become an event in its own right, rivalling Super Bowl ads in terms of expectation, hype and social buzz and chatter. This year it even managed to convince Simon Cowell to reschedule the X Factor to allow it to take over a whole ad break during programme and created a projection on the South Bank.

John Lewis is also succeeding in building up an industry around the ad, launching merchandise ranging from bear and hare onesies to cuddly toys. The single by Lily Allen is riding high on iTunes.

Positioned around “thoughtful giving”, John Lewis has managed to convince the British population that spending money on the perfect gift is the way to a successful Christmas. A marketing coup if ever there was one.


Like rival Sainsbury’s, Tesco is trying to portray the reality of Christmas for families, rather than a “perfect airbrushed one”. It focuses on one family, using cinefilm and videocam footage to show their experience of the festive season over the past 50 years.

The idea isn’t particularly new, but it is well executed and manages to create an emotional connection with the viewer. The supermarket will be hoping the ad helps it continue its recent modest sales revival.


The Waitrose ad stands out from the crowd because it’s about “giving something back”, rather than buying gifts or products. This is the second year in a row it’s gone down this route and while it may have been seen as a risk last year, an underlying sales rise of 4.3 per cent last Christmas suggests it paid off.

It’s a remarkably understated ad that eschews glitz and glamour and makes a boy in a bobble hat the star of the show. It is also in direct contrast to its rival in the high-end food market, Marks & Spencer, which has gone all out on a luxurious fairy tale-themed campaign.

The Losers

Marks & Spencer

M&S has spent millions creating an ad that looks expensive, feels luxurious and showcases its finest products across both its clothing and food divisions. It also has celebrity appeal, with Rosie Huntington-Whitely, David Gandy and Helene Bonham Carter taking starring roles.

However, it is the celebrities that are the problem. No one really believes that models like Huntington-Whitely shops at or wears M&S clothes.

As with much of M&S’s marketing, its style over substance. The retailer needs to put focus on finding out who its audience is and playing to them than trying to win people over with glitz and glamour.


The Boots ad is a nice idea. A hoodie-wearing lad sneaks out of home clearly on his way to cause some trouble. What he’s actually doing is delivering gifts to people that have done something special for him.

The problem is the music the ad is set to. Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy tells the story of a young boy from a small town forced to leave due to abuse because he’s homosexual.

That doesn’t really tie in with the wider message of the Boots ad. Marketing Week has received complaints that its use in the ad trivialises an important track for the gay community.

The Bizarre


The best thing that can be said about Morrison’s campaign is that it’s an improvement on last year, when it was investigated by the ASA for sexism and cruelty to dogs. This year it has returned to form, featuring Ant & Dec and an all-singing all-dancing gingerbread man to wax lyrical about its food.

The problem is most of the food on the overladen table looks like its made of wax – its weirdly glistening and unappealing. Plus at the end it appears Dec is about to eat the gingerbread man. What a way to go.


Does Santa actually work for a sofa retailer? DFS wants us to think so.

One of its Christmas ads show him working in a factory and delivering sofas for people who order in time for Christmas. Another shows him going into a DFS store and noting down what’s available, before again becoming a delivery driver.

This seems like a disappointing way to end Santa’s previous career delivering gifts to kids. Has Christmas been cancelled?

Readers' comments (7)

  • I’m surprised that you have picked your winners and losers already. Surely the mark of any campaign is the impact it has on sales; be that immediate or slighter longer term.

    The Sainsbury’s advertisement only broke last night!

    What is your judgement based on?

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  • I wholeheartedly agree with your comment on the Boots Christmas ad, in particular the use of Bronski Beat's Smalltown Boy (and in fact commented about this on your earlier post) - can you contact either Boots or their marketing agency to get a response? It's been bugging me since it was launched...

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  • @carl weston In our defence, we did have a disclaimer at the top of the article that "Sales will be the ultimate test of how successful these campaigns are." The piece is meant to be a conversation starter as much as anything.

    Russell Parsons
    News Editor, Marketing Week.

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  • The Marks & Spencer advert is utterly ridiculous and reinforces the point that the company is trying to be something it isn't. It's traditional core market are absolutely fed up with the clothing ranges in recent years. M&S should stop trying to be a fashion outlet (it simply can't compete and gets it wrong every time - poor quality & terrible designs) and refocus on what it does best, i.e. well cut, classic clothes. Only then will it regain its core audience.

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  • Thank you for your comment, Russell. And I apologise, clearly I should read in more detail before I give opinion.

    Going back to Christmas advertising, the advert that no one seems to be talking about is ‘The Moment’, by TK Maxx.

    I think it is shot in a way that conjures up the emotion of Christmas and arouses curiosity. When I saw it, I thought “what’s going on their?” Then of course saw it was TK Maxx at the reveal.

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  • @anonymous totally agree. Expand the Best of British UK made, or UK fabrics range, focus on their English classics, good quality well made clothes. Their customer base both here and abroad would love them for it. In their absence from this space, many other brands like Lands End, Joules and Boden to name a few have stepped into the space (although, granted few of their clothes are actually made in the Uk either!). Meanwhile M&S food is looking good in store, and is hard to beat at Christmas.

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  • Nothing festive about the Tesco ads all over the bus stops in this area. One very bored looking young lady in horrid beige bra and pants. Not a great family friendly advert Tesco. No wonder local press have also given these posters the thumbs down.

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