Ian Burrell: Hard-sells robbing Christmas of its wonder... and a little boy who tugs at our heartstrings

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The Independent Online

Never has so much been spent by so many in the hope of luring the so few of us who, if pessimistic pundits are right, might defy the austerity gloom that looks set to make this Christmas the most frugal in years. So we have cast our eye over just a few of the retailers' festive commercials. Let us know what you think: i@independent.co.uk

1. Littlewoods

You don't have to look far to see why this has wound people up. Forget the shock revelation that mum, not Santa puts presents under the tree (hey, what about dads), or the truly horrible rap song, or even the nativity play about the most desired brands; it's the stripping away of the pretence of Christmas that's the problem. The only reason we all go a little barmy at this time of year is we choose to maintain the fantasy. Without it, all we have is naked consumerism delivered by cutesy-voiced pester power. And a plea to stick it all on credit! Oh dear.

2. Sainsbury's

"Sainsbury's is bringing you all the ingredients for a show-stopping Christmas" in Jamie Oliver's farewell performance. Here he prepares a Christmas feast for a gaggle of pantomime actors in costume. It's a mess of a minute. And the George Formby soundtrack is a festive-free flop. George Formby?! We zap this in the i office as soon as it comes on.

3. Tesco

Tesco is helping us "Keep Christmas Special". We know this through a series of bland Christmas scenarios filmed around the country. The slo-mo is annoying, but the incongruous waste of the Pogues' "Fairy Tale of New York" is worse. There's not one memorable scene.

4. Marks & Spencer

M&S has abandoned celebrities for a gang of wannabes known to millions of X Factor fans, and a mystery to the rest of us. It feels more downmarket than we're used to from Marks. Working out who's who very much detracts from the products. "May all your Christmas dreams come true" feels like it could have been for any retailer.

5. Iceland

Stacey Solomon is a more likeable spokeswoman than Kerry Katona, and she might even shop at Iceland. But, apart from Hoisin Duck Christmas trees, the food isn't that great, nor is Solomon's version of "Driving Home for Christmas". Check out the bling lights on the house. So TOWIE!

6. Argos

It's different! Aliens in a shopping centre observe how "stressy" everyone is while Christmas shopping. They wonder why we don't just shop at Argos online. Some dry humour and the aliens are cuddly. The "but"? Collecting from Argos has to be one of the more stressy shopping experiences many of us will ever have.

7. BootsWe like the "here come the girls" Boots ads, and this has its moments – like the woman stamping her partner's "signature" on their friends' cards. However, it asks us to follow a plot that's not worth the effort, being at heart just a play on the "men don't do anything at Christmas" riff.

8. WaitroseDelia and Heston are teachers at the Waitrose School of Christmas Magic. The Hogwarts theme is laboured – if well executed. It's fine telling us to "serve up some Christmas magic" but, Heston, we're not sure we want mince pies to smell like Christmas trees. Delia is jolly Delia, but how is her cranberry and orange sauce "made by you" (us)? Like many of the ads, there's too much going on, but you can almost taste the quality.

9. AsdaIt's obvious what this is trying to do: associate Asda with the high-end excellence of Leiths cookery school at a time of year we all feel we deserve treats. It's a long way from Asda's usual pricing strategy. Oddly, in this austerity Christmas, "why pay more?" has been replaced with "extra special". The thought is not exclusive to Asda, and more like a boring Waitrose me-too. A Christmas fail.

10. John LewisThe reason why we, like so many of you, have embraced this ad, is because it does the opposite of Littlewoods. It maintains suspension of disbelief: in this case that a little boy would believe it is better to give than receive. It also builds the tension to what adland calls "the reveal" wonderfully, as the director inverts the notion of impatience to have the boy be desperate to give his parents a present. Smiths fans have grumbled about the use of a Morrissey song, but they wouldn't be Smiths' fans if they didn't like a moan. And yes, the gift was probably looted in the summer riots, because where else did he get the money for a gift? But, seriously, it's impeccably done, and features a bravura performance from seven-year-old Lewis McGowan from Hamilton, Lanarkshire, that – uniquely in this year's crop – tugs at the heartstrings.