It might seem like a cliché to say it comes around sooner every year, but... it literally does. The John Lewis Christmas advert, always a harbinger of festive marketing, used to be a December affair, but arrived this year on November 4, the earliest date ever.
Regardless of what you think of the whole malarkey, there’s no question that these yuletide ads are now a very big deal. This year, we’ve got Oscar-winners and Hollywood stars involved (you do wonder just how sizeable the budgets are getting).
In the true spirit of Christmas, we’ve decided to give them all a clear-eyed ranking, listed from best to worst. We’ll add in more as they arrive, deciding which ones make us want to go ho-ho-ho, and which ones end up coming across as a bit of a turkey.
The Vicar of Dibley and Spider-Man, AKA Dawn French and Tom Holland, come together as a rather unlikely but entirely likeable duo in this advert. French is a jolly tree fairy, and Holland is a newly sentient Percy Pig. So far, so hallucinogenic, but we respect this advert for the fact that it actually seems to be advertising stuff, rather than the psy-op mind manipulation of the ones that don’t seem even tangentially related to the brand itself. The ad is short, isn’t too sentimental, and gets the point across. Top marks.
2. Sports Direct
Maybe it’s because we’re still desperately, deeply in love with the brave boys who took us all the way to the Euros final this summer, but we’re big fans of this one. It’s got a parka-wearing Jack Grealish doing his best East 17 impression, Jordan “Crazy Eyes” Pickford looking like he’s about to get the rave on, and even the nation’s newest non-footballing hero, Emma Raducanu, serving up snowball aces. It’s an absolute cameo-fest, but there is one glaring omission: where on earth is Bukayo Saka and his inflatable unicorn?
3. JD Sports
We’re well versed in the battle in the charts for the Christmas number one, but who knew 2021 would be the year we saw two sportswear behemoths go head to head for how many zeitgeisty cameos they could cram into one ad? Sports Direct made a sterling effort with theirs, and now JD Sports has hit back — you’ve got your KSIs, your Aitchs, your Maya Jamas, your Jadon Sanchos, to name just a few. It’s not hugely Christmassy (is that a good thing or a bad thing at this point, who knows) but it’s definitely a lot of fun.
Now this is an advert. A good, solid advert. It highlights some of Lidl’s particularly tasty deals without feeling too pushy, has some genuinely funny moments, and features one of the best-worst Christmas jumpers we’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing (if anyone knows where we can get our hands on one, please do get in touch). Well done, Lidl.
If you’d asked Tom Hooper how he’d imagined his life after Cats, he would probably have predicted an addition or two for his collection of Oscars — not directing the Boots Christmas ad. But here we are. In his first major project since that almighty feline f***-up, the director oversees a perfectly serviceable advert, which maybe does go a bit too heavy on the twee. It gets extra topical points for including one of those glowing rings (you know, the ones that made your colleagues look implausibly radiant during 9am Zoom catch-ups during the pandemic), and for roping in Jenna Coleman, a wonderful actor whose talents aren’t exactly used to their full effect here.
6. John Lewis
A John Lewis Christmas ad is a bit like an Ed Sheeran album — it’s going to be solidly made and very popular, but it’s not exactly going to tear up the rulebook. But this is an extremelyJohn Lewis-y ad: an unearthly character who forms a touching bond with a human? Check. A stripped-down cover of a popular song? Of course. And no real mention of the shop? Indeed. The lightbulb-bothering alien does make it feel like a Christmassy remake of Stranger Things set in a semi-rural English suburb, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it all just feels a bit flat.
You can always count on Aldi for fairly priced goods and, as this ad proves, some very good puns. This Dickensian take-off features Ebanana Scrooge (yep, Ebenezer Scrooge in banana form), some punny dad jokes and a brief appearance from Marcus Radishford (Manchester United and England forward Marcus Rashford as, you guessed it, a radish). Rashford’s appearance is for a good cause, helping to promote Aldi’s pledge to donate 1.8m meals to families who need them this Christmas.
This one feels a bit like the punk rock contender: it’s over and done with in just 39 seconds (the Boots ad is a relatively gargantuan three minutes and one second) and it’s pretty bonkers. The pace is manic: there’s a talking Christmas tree, bleeped-out swearing, a drag queen, and Ab Fab’s own Jane Horrocks. Maybe it’ll all make a bit more sense after a few mulled wines.
We have a bit of an instinctive dislike of this advert simply because we know that if we watched it too many times, that song would get stuck in our heads well beyond the 12 days of Christmas. Other than that, though, it’s not bad at all: highlights include the baby dressed as Santa (always a winner) and its happy-go-lucky, don’t-worry-if-you-pickle-your-liver-and-put-on-two-stone approach to the festive season, which will very much be our mantra this year (and every year preceding, for that matter).
2020 was very much the year that we all wanted to give a great big kick in the baubles, so you can imagine most viewers getting fully behind the sentiment of Argos’s ad this time round. It’s one of the more amusing adverts, too — anything that doesn’t zero in on the schmaltz works for us.
11. TK Maxx
This is all just quite pleasant, isn’t it? We love the footwear, but it’s hard to muster any strong opinion about an advert that is as breezily light-hearted as this. The uninterested-to-interested character arc of the trendy teenagers at the back was unexpectedly enjoyable though.
We’ve got a bit of a personal grievance with this one: even the faintest mention of ice skating reminds us of a particularly painful fall at a Year 4 birthday party, but seeing as this advert is based entirely around ice skating, it’s giving us some pretty strong coccyx-calamity flashbacks. Childhood traumas aside, you can’t help but feel that Asda’s effort lacks some of the razzle dazzle that its competitors offer up in stocking-loads.