Battle of the Christmas Adverts, 2014

In Commentary, FILM, THEATRE & TV, HOME by Hannah Oliver

Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, the tradition of decadent, extravagant, expensive Christmas adverts is here to stay.

It seems Christmas advertising is now a festive institution, to rival the tropes of Quality Street, the drama from the Eastender’s Christmas storyline and the likelihood of an X Factor contestant haranguing the top of the charts. We’ve assimilated these little nostalgic tit-bits into the bevvy of our Christmas experience, and they seem so intertwined with the season that we’re unable to imagine one without the other.

The same can now be said for these breath taking Christmas campaigns. Indeed #montythepenguin and #christmasisforsharing were twitter trending nationwide within moments of broadcast (guilty, tweeted them both) cementing their place in the psyche of the British public over the festive season.

John Lewis was among the first of the big names to launch their Christmas effort into our living rooms. Coming in at an eye-watering £8 million, this campaign hasn’t come cheap – the costs incurred from the CGI animation of the eponymous Monty the penguin and buying the rights to the Beatles’ 1979 classic Real Love must have severely dented whatever profits the company hopes to gain.

Following recent speculation that Christmas advertising doesn’t alter revenue too noticeably in either direction (it’s Christmas in our consumer driven society, people will spend oodles of cash regardless of adorably cuddly penguins) it leaves us wondering, why do they do it? The only logical explanation seems to point to create an association between our beloved Yuletide memories and a particular high-street chain, ensuring brand loyalty for years to come.

Whilst I certainly think of John Lewis with fondness following Monty’s arrival in my life (fondness puts it mildly, I cried like a child) I’m not sure if that equates to forgoing other department stores in their favour.

Dougal Wilson, veteran ‘John Lewis’ ad campaign director, has been responsible for the outfit’s last seven tear-jerkers and has obviously gotten to grips with what makes the British public tick rather well.

Whilst remaining original and featuring an endearing Christmas twist (spoilers) Wilson seduces the British shopper straight in to the aisles of John Lewis by including all the hall marks of a traditional Christmas – last minute shopping on the bustling high street, unwrapping presents under the Christmas tree in pyjamas, it snowing about 2 inches and everyone LOSING THEIR SHIT (so British). Furthermore, the love Monty’s human pal feels for him speaks to the innocent child who lies dormant in us all.

So I know it’s all about money, and I know ‘John Lewis’ probably doesn’t really care about the mental state of slightly chaotic 20-somethings, like myself, but surely re-immersing yourself in some of the childlike magic of this holiday season would provide some welcome relief to the cynical soul?

John Lewis Christmas advertFrom the not too controversial world of the penguin we plough ahead into the super controversial depiction of the First World War by Sainsbury’s. It’s such a touchy subject that I feel a wave of trepidation at the thought of confronting it at all (let’s talk about Monty some more? No? No one?). That in itself surely speaks out in condemnation of the advert in the first place – surely a Christmas campaign should leave us feeling warm and fuzzy, not tongue tied and uncomfortable?

It cannot be denied that the scenes recreating the fabled 1914 Christmas truce are breath-taking and beautiful. The cinematic composition featuring the little robin sitting on the barbed wire gave me goosebumps, as it seemed to carry the message that the joy of Christmas penetrates even into the most harrowing of situations. This powerful avowal of the magic of Christmas, as well as the obvious tag line of ‘Christmas is for Sharing’ seem like positive beliefs to be endorsing this holiday season.

The sale of the now iconic chocolate bar in all Sainsbury’s stores will be used to support the Royal British Legion – this charity, which supports veterans and their families, was involved in the making of the advert and have very publicly spoken out in support of the supermarket following the advertisement’s broadcast.

Similarly to John Lewis, undoubtedly the advert cost a huge sum of money to shoot in such a cinematic and stylised fashion. Could Sainsbury’s have been wiser and opted for a safer topic and donated some of the revenue saved to the Royal British Legion instead, if they felt so passionately about this charity?

The tiny, cynical corner of my heart which I try to starve of attention and encouragement suggests that perhaps Sainsbury’s seeks to sway customers to support a British company, in a high street flooded by cheaper, foreign imports (especially in the year of the Referendum and Royal Baby Number Two).

130819180155-01-royal-baby-0819-horizontal-galleryThe sensible individual in me recognises that although based on a true story, the advert does not realistically represent the horrors of the First World War – there is no trace of the reality known to Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen present here.

Then the sentimental optimist speaks up, and seems to justify that surely any profits to the Royal British Legion are admirable and worthwhile, whilst placing the First World War, however romanticised, at the forefront of the psyche of the British public at a time when people often find themselves fixated on material possessions is to be commended?

It’s not for me to trademark the campaign ‘acceptable’ or ‘disrespectful’ and the diversity of public opinion will prevail, but it would be unfair not to admit that the campaign is beautiful, emotive and powerful.

Sainsburys-2014-Christmas676Despite the obvious differences between what could be considered as the two biggest Christmas adverts of the year, one commonality remains – the lack of dialogue. This is implemented for various practical reasons, namely the emotive power of the music which accompanies both productions, the inability of penguins to speak and the language barrier between British and German soldiers.

From a commercial stand point, the mass appeal of the advertisements is undoubtedly increased – they are free from accent, language and age restrictions.

Aside from this, there is something direct and unavoidable about an appeal based on non-verbal communication, especially in a season as busy, noisy and chaotic as Christmas. Perhaps that is the greatest Christmas message of all – talk is cheap (cheaper if you buy it at John Lewis or Sainsbury’s, allegedly) so this Christmas, we should  show friends and loved ones that we value them all year round, not only when the tinsel is strung from tree and the harmony which surrounds our turkey dinner is at stake.

Merry Christmas.

Aisling Press

Aisling moved from Disney summer internship Orlando to year abroad St Petersburg within the space of a month, leading to much suitcase, very confusion. When not obtaining visas she studies English Lit and Russian at good ol’ Edinburgh. Currently she is methodically working her way through a sack of 600 British tea bags which were smuggled across internationally waters. Hobbies include cats, onesie cuddles and cheese with peanut butter in a variety of combos – try to have an open mind. 

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