'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
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Publishing

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Guru Careers: Report Writer / Reporting Analyst

£25 - 30k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Report Writer / Reporting Analyst is nee...

Guru Careers: German Speaking Account Manager / Account Executive

£24-30K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A German speaking Account Manager ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own