Nauseatingly earnest Christmas ads are back – but will John Lewis be in the game for much longer?

How well do these ads really work today now that every retailer is jockeying for attention?

James Moore
Saturday 09 November 2019 15:04
Amazon releases Christmas advert 2019: 'Everybody needs somebody'

The mere mention of the word “Christmas” has me responding with a loud “bleeuurrrgh”.

Can you blame me? We’d barely got into November when the nation’s retailers and consumer product-makers are already in full-on campaign mode.

Walkers Crisps, Ikea, Costa Coffee, Aldi, and Lidl – they all sashayed onto the Commercemas Christmercial catwalk. Amazon and Asda too. That pair’s offerings are, however, just a teensy bit problematic if you care to think about it.

As well as its smiling boxes, Amazon’s ad zeroes in on a smiling delivery driver, who gets home to a loving family at the end of the day. It’s dark when Dad and the kids open the door, and if you’ve seen Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You focussing on the dark side of the delivery industry, you’ll know why I shuddered when I saw it.

As for Asda, well, it’s promised a magical Christmas for customers while playing Voldemort with its employees. Their real gift, away from the glitz of ad campaigns, is a festive lump of coal in the form of a sign-it-or-get-sacked contract that eliminates paid breaks and makes bank holiday working mandatory.

Now you know who the real grinch is.

I’ll grudgingly admit that for once I quite liked the M&S offering, this time featuring House of Pain’s oft sampled 90s hit “Jump Around” until it dawned on me that it’s destined to become such a pestilential ear worm that I’m probably going to want to go all Reservoir Dogs on my lug holes by the time December rolls around.

But these and the others are really playing the role of the undercard before the main event, when the undisputed heavyweight champion of the advertising world enters the ring.

I speak, of course, of John Lewis.

There are Hollywood movie producers who would kill for the sort of buzz that this retailer’s short film urging us to buy stuff creates every year. It’s the advertising Avengers and Star Wars combined, and it’s guaranteed to get almost as many column inches and reviews as the all conquering Disney franchises.

These releases have become such an event that bookies even have a slate of odds on who’s going to be doing the singing and suchlike.

As an idea, I love John Lewis. It’s what business ought to be but rarely is: an employee-owned enterprise that uses a multiple of its workers’ pay to set its bosses’ so there are no controversies about stupefyingly stupid executive packages when the annual report is released.

But wouldn’t it be a great Christmas present if someone collected on the 200-1 Paddy Power is offering on Lewis saying this year is the last year they’ll do one of these ads?

I suppose the more sickly than Christmas pudding schmalz it coughs up every year is almost worth it if it sends people its way. If there’s any retailer you want to avoid the bombs Amazon’s been chucking at the high street, it’s this one.

But how well do its ads really work today? You do wonder. Sure, when the Partnership unveiled its first “wow” commercials, the ones that got people talking around the water cooler before they achieved event status, the business must have reaped a rich return.

Times have changed. Now everyone has to have their own version and now they’re all jockeying for attention, they’ve rather ended up cancelling each other out.

Still, maybe there’s a reason to thank the unrelenting diet of saccharine-coated snow-covered sing-a-longs we’re all going to get heartily fed up with.

Corporate Christmas ads might be icky, but at least they’re regulated in stark contrast to the blatant and cynical lies Facebook says that politicians are free to run on its platform in the run up to the Christmas election.

The budgets of the companies that push them out are such that they might just combine to drown out Boris Johnson’s insufferable online general election campaign. If they could do that, I could make my peace with the whole exercise.

Getting rid of him would be the best present of all. Meanwhile, there’s always ad-free Netflix.

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