Before I became a writer I used to work in advertising, for ten long years. Ad agencies are often dysfunctional workplaces, because they’re staffed with creative types – many of whom, whilst talented, believe they should be doing something far more high-profile and glamorous than writing ads for panty liners. This makes them occasionally ‘act out’ in ways that would make your hair curl. When I wrote A Pear Shaped Christmas and Leftovers – both set in agencies – I found myself censoring some of the worst excesses I’d witnessed, because, honestly, you just wouldn’t believe the shenanigans that went on.
It’s fair to say that nowadays I have a fairly low tolerance for most ads – they just aren’t as good as they were in the good ole’ days of Boddingtons, Levis, etc. When I look at an ad, I tend to see the pain and money that went into it – and at no point is there more pain inflicted, or more expense incurred than in the making of a retailer’s Christmas campaign.
Nowadays I don’t watch nearly enough telly – a blessing when it comes to this time of year – as there are very few Christmas ads I can sit through without breaking out in a rash. Most are a generic mix of cloying sentiment, catalogue-cute kids and clichés, which leave a worse taste in the mouth than a Turducken (it’s in A Pear-Shaped Christmas, 98p, it’s not a romance.) You could take the logo off the end frame of one commercial, happily stick it on the end of another, then happily stick them both in the bin.
The obvious exception is of course John Lewis. The John Lewis ad has, rightly, become a hugely anticipated, much-loved, national talking point. I entirely love this year’s ad – partly due to the fact that man hath no greater love than my love for penguins. But also because John Lewis just nails it every time: they seem to have a direct line to one’s heartstrings. There’s always a bit of sadness mixed in with the joy, so quite true to life – plus they don’t try to ram lots of product down your throat, unlike almost every other retailer. As far as I’m concerned, John Lewis can do no wrong. How will they possibly manage to out-endear themselves next year? How can you top that penguin jumping up and down on the trampoline? I can’t wait to find out!
As for the rest of what’s out there this year – I honestly couldn’t find five ads that I genuinely liked, so here are two more I did, and a couple I didn’t. If you haven’t already seen them, you can judge for yourself here:
Waitrose (the one with the girl baking gingerbread, not the Heston one.)
This ad actually made me cry, though I think it was probably a hangover. In fact it was almost definitely a hangover, but still, having watched it subsequently, sober, I still found it extremely moving. It’s based on a very sweet idea – a girl trying to perfect her baking for the school gingerbread stall – and is entirely simple and charming. The casting is amazing – watch that girl, I reckon she’s a