'Tis the season for thrifty TV ads

Des O'Connor and Ant 'n' Dec star in this year's big Christmas campaigns. Sophie Morris finds out why

What a difference a year makes. In the run up to Christmas 2007, the good folk of the British Isles were preparing to splash their cash on another no-expenses-spared Christmas. Why not, eh? Credit was easier to come by than a kiss under the mistletoe.

At the best of times, the big retailers face an annual struggle to persuade shoppers to spend in their store, rather than the one down the road, and the key to persuading consumers that their chocolates, Brussels sprouts and fizz should be bought at Marks & Spencer rather than at Tesco (or vice versa) rests on a reliably camp media event: the Christmas telly ad. Get it right, and shoppers should be queuing round the corner. Broadcast a turkey, however, and your profits will slump.

If 2007 was the year of frivolous abandon in the ad-breaks, 2008 will be remembered as the year of frugal caution. Take Tesco for starters. Last year, it engaged the services of all five Spice Girls to star in a festive advert rumoured to cost £5m. Viewers were treated to scenes of the five glamourpusses browsing iPods and flat-screen televisions and arguing over whether they would feast on lobster or goose. This year, in stark contrast, Tesco unveiled Des O'Connor as its Christmas cracker. The golden oldie of entertainment television stars in a clip set in a family home with a decidedly retro aesthetic. O'Connor croons a classic Christmas song as Tesco's cut price offers are displayed around him.

So is Tesco too strapped for cash to afford the A-listers this year? Far from it. Its attempt to reach out to consumers watching their pennies is lost on no-one, least of all Brand Strategy editor Ruth Mortimer. "Tesco is very deliberately choosing to look like it doesn't spend much on its adverts," she explains. "It wants to send out the message that it isn't spending loads on its ads, but on making things cheaper." O'Connor is a good fit for thriftier times. "He appeals to all generations," says Tesco's commercial director, Richard Brasher, "and sets the tone perfectly for the feel-good Christmas our customers want this year, at the prices they need."

Economic anxiety is turning consumers into bargain hunters, engendering a mood of nostalgia and the need to seek comfort in the home and hearth. M&S has hired the Take That boys to help Twiggy and Myleene Klass prepare the perfect Christmas, which, Mortimer believes, will attract an important market. "Take That are a good way to make people in their thirties feel like M&S is relevant to them," she says. Sainsbury's uses the same trick, putting Ant and Dec alongside Jamie Oliver, who were almost as popular 15 years ago as they are today. "They're seen as cheeky chappies, and a bit like you and me," says Mortimer. "Ant and Dec make Jamie and his messages about sensible eating seem a bit more blokey and a bit less preachy."

Asda has cut its celebrity cast in favour of people from a village in North Yorkshire. "We have chosen to return to traditional community values, which remain at the heart of our business," says Asda's marketing and brand director, Rick Bendel.

Iceland has stuck by former Atomic Kitten Kerry Katona, a celebrity chosen because her image aligned perfectly with the average Iceland shopper, who had a limited grocery budget before the credit crunch hit. "Kerry is the perfect spokesman for Iceland because she seems so accessible," says Mortimer. She sums up how things can go wrong for you and people relate to her really easily. She's not being used as a role model, but because people genuinely believe that Kerry would shop at Iceland." Not only that: "The way Kerry has been spending money [Katona filed for bankruptcy earlier this year] is the way that lots of people have been living their life, on permanent credit."

And what of Woolworths, famed throughout the Eighties for persuading the most popular British stars of the time to dress up as elves for its ads? Its Christmas campaign seems to have been axed just as the plug was being pulled on the retailer itself. Shame: Woolies encapsulates nostalgia more than any other store on the British high street. If the current festive ads have got the mood right, it might well have been this Christmas's store of choice.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
The spider makes its break for freedom
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer / Front-End Designer - City of London

£27000 - £33000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End Devel...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Recruitment Genius: Junior PHP Web Developer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Guru Careers: Front End Web Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: Our client help leading creative agencies ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot