Claire Beale on Advertising

It's the time for tinsel, humbug and celebrities adorned in sequins
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The Independent Online

I t can't have escaped your notice that 'tis the season to stuff your ad campaigns with celebrities who have nothing better to do than ham up the Christmas cheer way back in the summer (when most of this stuff is shot).

Be honest: we love a bit of camp, tinsely Yuletide gaiety don't we? And if it comes with a cheesy celebrity in a sequinned frock, all the better.

Of course, every year the crop of celeb-fest Christmas ads get a real hammering by adland's bah-humbug twitterers. This season, though, the adland Christmas Turkey is a rare breed.

Even the Yule celebrity ads you really-really hope will be stinkers manage to scrape by with a bit of wit and warmth. Take Tesco. Signing up the Spice Girls for a Christmas push coinciding with their reunion tour smacks of mutual commercial opportunism and makes the ad feel less affectionate than it otherwise might.

And the idea that each Girl got paid £1 million a pop makes it all less charming. Despite all that, though, it's not a bad ad. If you can get over the idea that any of them would be buying prezzies at Tesco then you'll find it's a well executed ad with a nice light touch.

Morrison's has had a bit of a cyber kicking by the adland bloggers for its work this year. But its Christmas campaign strikes a cosy note. Lulu's inoffensive enough and the ad does a neat job of packing in celebs from the Morrison's advertising oeuvre (don't snigger now).

Anyway, Morrisons gets full marks for conjuring the ideal Christmas scene ...all warm twinkling lights and crisp, snowy winter. Perfect.

Oxfam has also dipped into the celebrity pot for its seasonal offering, and has come out with a nicely wry, neatly written campaign with, surely, the best cast list of them all. Helen Mirren, Helena Bonham Carter, Rob Brydon, Will Young. Mock-serious, it's about the pain of receiving awful presents. But "it doesn't have to be this way". At you can find useful presents like fertiliser ("the gift of dung") or tools for farmers.

But the number one ad for camp celebrity Christmas cheer must go to Marks & Spencer for its shameless Christmas Belles. A stylish but awfully silly pastiche of those technicolour 50s movies, full of glamorous women (Twiggy, Erin O'Connor, Elizabeth Jagger) and chisel-jawed men (Antonio Banderas). It's spot-on the genre, looks like it was loads of fun to make and gives you a nice warm Yuletide glow.

There is one celebrity Christmas ad turning adland stomachs, though. Strictly speaking, it's not about Christmas, it's about parties. And strictly speaking its not advertising, it's TV sponsorship.

Who cares? When the work's this bad it deserves a beating. Kerry Katona and Jason Donovan gurning through the I'm A Celebrity sponsorship idents for Iceland is enough to bring your canapés back up. Bad acting, bad scripting. It's the sort of Turkey you don't want for Christmas.

Ad agencies love telly (see above). If you're a creative – even one born into the age of digital – , film is the aspirational medium: a 30-second step away from Hollywood and the ultimate creative opportunity.

So ad agencies want to make TV ads and advertisers want to buy TV ads. If you're a marketing director of a financial services company, going on an ad shoot (Argentina anyone?) is probably the highlight of your year.

But TV is not the easy advertising sell it once was. There are more channels, more outlets for TV content, more opportunities for selling advertising packages across media (on-line, off-line, everything in between).

It's complicated stuff these days and selling TV content to advertisers requires imagination, creativity and sensitivity.

The old bruiser TV salesmen whose job involved little more than being a bastard over the negotiating table and a bastard on the golf course have long gone (ish).

But what have they been replaced by? If you were a guest at last week's Media Awards, you might wonder.

Advertising sales teams from across the media spectrum - press, radio, digital, outdoor - were all vying furiously for the Best Sales team accolades at the awards. Except TV. The TV industry could only muster a single sales team with the confidence, chutzpah and results to enter the TV sales team of the year category.

They won it, though not by default: Viacom Brand Solutions sells advertising opportunities across the MTV, VH1 and nickelodeon brands and has notched up scores of innovative commercial deals as well as a sterling track record in promoting the role of television as an advertising medium and as a force for social good. Only last week VBS announced it is offering to offer price incentives to "pro-social" advertisers such as those promoting healthy children's food and environmentally friendly products.

So the award was well deserved. But how telling is it that at such a vital point in the medium's history, and at a time when other media are more commercially innovative than ever, television could not muster more of a sales case?

Advertising and football are wedded. Scan the terraces at Chelsea, Arsenal, West Ham... you'll find a fair portion of the business there most Saturdays. But the relationship between the beautiful game and the beautiful ad industry isn't just about sport and fans; this is business.

And last week's footie disaster (3:2 to Croatia, in case you've been on another planet) will cost the ad industry big. Yes, yes, there won't be all those lovely opportunities for freeloading at the European Championships in the guise of client entertainment, but it's even more serious than that.

The emotional cost is one thing, the financial cost is something else. England's failure to qualify could 'cost' adland around £300 million in lost revenue alone (that's what UK advertisers spent advertising around last year's World Cup).

Then there's the loss of merchandise revenue (Umbro issued a statement last week saying it was braced for "substantial reduction in expected sales volumes"), which will have a knock-on effect on marketing. And what about all those extra pies and pints, newspapers and strips that won't be sold now we haven't made the grade

The broadcast media will be hard hit: ITV and Setanta have paid £150 million deals for the overseas TV rights, which will now be worth a lot less than they might have been.

All this at a time when the communications industry is in an extremely fragile state of recovery and needs all the fillips it can muster. With an overall estimated £1 billion cost to the UK economy and the dent to our national morale, not making the UEFA grade could just be a trigger for downturn. Bring on the Christmas cheer.

Claire Beale is editor of Campaign magazine