Advert Calendar: Our take on the biggest grocery Christmas ads

The nights are drawing in, the temperature’s dropping, and supermarket Christmas ads are once again lighting up our living rooms.

These marketing campaigns have become a modern tradition, with commentators queuing up to give their take on social media. When supermarkets are such a constant presence in our lives, it’s no wonder that we expect to see something of ourselves reflected back from our screens.

What makes a good advert? Well, the one to beat is usually seen as Sainsbury’s 1914, from 2014, which is set a few months into the First World War.

READ MORE: Sainsbury’s launches 2021 Xmas advert

On a frosty Christmas morning, British and German soldiers emerge from their trenches. The first to move – Jim and Otto – seem on the verge of being shot, but the tension breaks as they begin a game of football.

Returning to his dugout as the guns start firing in the distance, Otto finds a bar of chocolate that Jim has left in his pocket.

More than a century later, and with a global crisis of our own, it’s interesting to see how supermarkets have responded to Covid. Some have done better than others, to put it mildly.

The Grocery Gazette has rounded up some of the more interesting adverts, to give its take on what works and what doesn’t. There have been a few festive treats this year, though nothing steals the show in the way that the Grinch stole Christmas.

Tesco

There’s so much fanfare around this advert you have to wonder how many people have actually seen it. As first reported by this publication, the 90-second clip prompted over a thousand complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority alongside a #BoycottTesco campaign.

Most of this concerns a 10-second episode where Father Christmas is confronted by border officials before whipping out his vaccine passport. Tesco seems baffled by the response.

Beyond this, what have we got?

The opening is slightly off key. When a shop worker asks a woman standing alone in the snow if she needs “a little help” – a neat nod to its slogan – she doesn’t blink, let alone glance in his direction.

“Oh don’t you worry my love,” she answers, through a rictus grin. “This year, nothing’s stopping me.”

For the next minute-and-a-half, it careers through office parties and family meals at a frantic pace while Freddie Mercury belts out Don’t Stop Me Now. Characters and settings appear then get snatched away like a plastic bag out of a car window.

The whole thing is an uncomplicated feel-good romp, a well-meaning attempt to ride the wave of post-lockdown optimism.

Will any of that matter after the recent backlash? Who knows. But I enjoyed it.

Sainsbury’s

Although Sainsbury’s offering looks and feels different to Tesco’s in every single way, both of them nod to last year’s Christmas in lockdown. “It’s been a long time coming,” Stephen Fry intones, offscreen.

Where Britain’s biggest retailer is frenetic and chaotic, Sainsbury’s opts for a “less is more” approach and wraps it up in just 60 seconds. This is a “Christmas to savour”.

A camera sweeps gracefully across a family Christmas meal, to the nostalgic strains of Etta James’ At Last. It arcs over the turkey, drifts under the table, and at one point gets smothered by a champagne bubble.

Apart from that? There’s not much else to say. It’s just a neatly-crafted and understated study in miniature.

Christmas dinners are well-trodden territory for advertisers, but this lingering panoramic brings a fresh look at an instantly-recognisable tradition.

Lidl

Another twist on the family meal. We start in the oven, as a roast turkey is retrieved by a man clad in one of Lidl’s blue-and-yellow jumpers.

The first scene drags a bit: sawing through the turkey seems to take an age, while the conversation is quite humdrum. (“How’s living in Spain Uncle Gary?” “Amaaazing.”)

However, the pace picks up when it leaps forward in time. Every detail and piece of chitchat is swapped for something vaguely futuristic. Uncle Gary reappears with the same tan and a different woman on his arm. 

“How’s living on the Moon?” “Amaaazing.”

It goes even further in the next scene. “How’s living forever?” “Amaaazing.”

The jumper takes a dystopian turn with ridges and shoulder pads, Oggy the dog flirts with veganism, and a woman struggles with a head-mounted camera like some sort of festive dalek.

“Even when we’re carving turkeys with lasers, we’ll always be Lidl on price”, the discounter pledges.

How will the year 3000 cut through for people stressing about Christmas shopping? Lots of customers won’t be able to see past December 25, let alone into the new year.

On the other hand, “Lidl prices” might resonate with those worried about being walloped by inflation.

Either way, let’s just hope that jumper doesn’t last as long as the price guarantee.

Marks & Spencer

“Food porn” enthusiasts look away now. The Marks & Spencer Christmas ad is many things, but mouth-watering is not one of them.

Tom Holland (of Spiderman fame) takes on the role of Percy Pig (of porcine fruit gum fame) with aplomb and a mild oinking intonation.

Percy is accidentally brought to life by Dawn French’s sugar plum fairy, and their dynamic is a fun watch. The two chase around a shop at night, in what feels like Charlotte’s Web meets Night at the Museum.

Yet the food selection is disconcertingly bare, and what little there is (pudding, panettone and smoked salmon) feels charmless and sterile.

Where are the mince pies? The gravy? Those loving, lingering looks at a turkey? Potatoes, cranberry sauce, sprouts, pigs in blankets – maybe a wise choice to leave the latter out, actually – are nowhere to be seen.

The two leads definitely have chemistry but it’s not enough to fill that void for proper festive grub.

“This is not just Christmas food,” says Dawn. “This is M&S Christmas food.” But where is it?

Aldi

A banana, a carrot and a radish walk into an advert. It sounds like a bad joke – don’t worry, there are plenty – but Aldi’s Christmas offering is surprisingly engaging.

The puns come thick and fast as Ebanana Scrooge stalks the streets of Dickensian London, decapitating rows of snowmen with a silver handled cane. 

When he arrives home he’s visited by Kevin the Carrot, Aldi’s “Spirit of Christmas”, and flies with him above the city.

In case the fruit-and-veg jokes aren’t whetting your appetite – Kevin talks up “peas and goodwill” while Marcus Radishford makes a cameo – the pair swoop low over a Christmas dinner.

The curmudgeonly Ebanana starts to see the season in a new light after this food for thought.

It’s a glorious mishmash that probably shouldn’t work but does anyway. London’s Victorian landscape features heavily while Fairytale of New York plays in the background, and the puns conceal a serious social purpose. (Aldi has pledged to donate 1.8 million meals to families over Christmas).

And if you didn’t like it? Well, Aldi has a couple of humbug brands you can try.

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