It is that time of year again, some say the most wonderful time of year. It’s also the time that many retailers put their hard-earned money in Santa’s sack, with Christmas campaigns tempting shoppers with stories of the season.
As these TVCs compete for love and attention, we at The Drum debate what is the best Christmas ad of all time.
Members of The Drum’s editorial staff have weighed in as we try to determine the undisputed champion. Thankfully, there’s something for every holiday ad fan in this list, even if there isn’t a consensus as to which one is best.
Amy Houston – Yellow Pages’ ‘Mistletoe’ (1992)
This short but sweet Christmas advert from the Yellow Pages is one of those iconic moments in 90’s advertising. The ad first aired in 1992 and shows a wee boy standing on top of the phonebook (a relic of the pre-internet era some may not be familiar with) to kiss a girl under the mistletoe. I have chosen this ad as my all-time favourite Christmas ad as it reminds me of my childhood, and who doesn’t love a bit of a Christmas romance?
Ellen Ormesher – Iceland’s ‘Say Hello to Rangtan’ (2018)
Originally created for Greenpeace, this one is perhaps not technically an ad, but what was going to be Iceland’s anti-deforestation campaign caused enough of a Twitter storm last year that I think it qualifies.
Narrated by Emma Thompson, who recites poetry about orangutans better than anybody else probably could, the spot highlights the drastic impact that the farming of palm oil has on the rainforests and its wildlife.
Despite being vetoed for being politically motivated before it ever made it onto screens, it was bold of Iceland to use its Christmas campaign to speak out about an important issue at a time of year when we consume more and less consciously than at any other point.
Imogen Watson (@flaming_meaux) – Aldi’s ‘Kevin The Carrot’ (2016)
Agency: McCann UK
An obvious choice, no doubt – but I don’t carrot all.
Ever since Aldi introduced Kevin the Carrot and his adorable helium gas voice in 2016, he has become a regular guest at each year’s Christmas ad party.
With Jim Broadbent’s majestic voice narrating the tale, the original ad saw Kevin making his way across a festive dinner table to try and meet Santa.
The original ad is a brilliant mix of storytelling and product-placement – you don’t walk away feeling like Aldi rammed its Christmas range down your throat. Instead, your tumble rumbles helplessly, salivating at the delicious spread Kevin must overcome.
And to top it off, the original Kevin the Carrott delivered the discount retailer’s best Christmas performance – leading to a million extra customers plus £1bn in extra sales.
Charlotte McEleny (@charlottemc) – Boots Christmas ad (2014)
Agency: Mother London
Prior to this ad, Boots was all about the glitter and the tinsel. It was about getting ready for the Christmas party with the girls. A year or two before this ad, something funny started happening with UK Christmas advertising, however, and we all got a bit more emotional. In 2014, Boots decided to follow where John Lewis had led and create a story with a bit less glitz and glam, and it worked.
What makes the Boots ad so special to me is that it is perfectly directed – it tells this story so quickly and poignantly. The grandparents’ frosted sliding doors on their 1970s suburban home, the sleeping kid still in his PJs and the teenage daughter coming back from her travels, all just in time to welcome a hardworking mum who missed Christmas. It’s so traditional to a Brit and yet, it’s still modern. Boots didn’t whitewash the ad or make it all about the middle class; it was humble and gloomy in colour but yet you still felt this incredible reminiscent pang. Christmas isn’t always in a beautiful Victorian house, with Nigella Lawson levels of food served to a family of 12 who never seems to argue.
The star on the tree? The mum is a nurse, the ultimate role for a hardworking woman, the supreme double caregiver. We all know someone who is selfless beyond belief and at the end of the advert, you want to pop down to Boots and buy them some luxury bathing smellies. Boots is just very good at knowing the insights that make British women tick – be that looking fierce as hell at the Christmas party, or giving your favourite selfless person a treat.
Agency: Adam & Eve/DDB London
Here a group of strangers improvise a Christmas celebration on an impeccably designed train called the H&M Express. Wes Anderson’s locomotive suffers a ruinous delay resulting in Adrian Brody’s train conductor having to pull every trick in the book to assemble a Christmas Day miracle.
Despite the Christmas now being a train wreck, Brody acquires decorations, gifts and the tree he needs for the big day.
Meanwhile we are taken on a tour of the boxy, otherworldly train to meet the passengers – this includes a disconsolate little boy whose reverse in fortune marks a strong payoff for the four-minute video.
The Little Drummer Boy crescendos until it is usurped by John Lennon’s ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’, making it one of the best-scored Christmas ads ever.
Kyle O’Brien (@kobrie) – Hershey’s, Merry Kisses Bells (1989)
Agency: Ogilvy & Mather
Sometimes simple is simply the best. This Hershey’s Christmas ad from 1989 holds up over the decades by featuring musical chocolates. The ad, where Christmas colored foil-wrapped Hershey’s Kiss candies ring ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ like a bell choir, is an amazing display of how two holiday favorites came together in melody and harmony.
This spot has now been updated for the social generation in the most tasteful way possible. Instead of just watching the commercial, for the first time ever, people get the chance to play the bells themselves, share the videos, and bring some cheer to everyone in their social circles.
On Instagram Stories, people can play and hear new bell sounds associated with Kisses Chocolates – hand bells, church bells, door bells, cow bells, DJ horn, and southern bells are all choices for play. After they put together their favorite sounds, they can share the video with their friends and family and spread the holiday merriment.
Agency: The Leith Agency
I love the Irn-Bru snowman advert. It’s one of the finest pieces of advertising produced in Scotland, with humour and charm in abundance. I went to its premiere in Ashton Lane in Glasgow in my first year as a reporter at The Drum where it was presented in the old cinema there. They screened it three times to the press and it made me smile all the more each time they did. What a lovely idea it is.
But what was just as lovely was the ‘Build your own snowman’ goody bag that was given away afterwards. Carrot, coal and all.
I also remember saying to The Leith Agency’s boss Richard Marsham afterwards it was an ad they could show year-after-year without it ever growing old. Turns out I was right. There’s a rare thing to cherish in itself!
Like the severity of my own hangovers, Harvey Nichols’ Walk of Shame has grown on me throughout the years. Back in 2011 John Lewis hadn’t yet begun its Cry Crusade, so the humour in this cuts through now more than it did at the time of release – a time when laughter was, I imagine, easier to come by.
A smattering of school hymn piano and soft cinematography poke fun at the festive season’s drunken mistakes without slut shaming, and the use of all-female comic cast is grin-inducingly refreshing.
Jen Faull (@jenfaull) – Sainsbury’s ‘The Big Night’ aka. the one with Plug Boy (2018)
Agency: Wieden & Kennedy London
Sainsbury’s spot from 2018 is a stand-out for me. It was, admittedly, a bit similar to the John Lewis Bohemian Rhapsody ad from earlier in the year, but it was better. Way better. Cute (non-annoying, non-actor) kids singing a catchy tune goes some way to making a Christmas campaign a feel-good classic. But really, lets agree, it was the outstanding performance of one particular nativity character that won hearts the nation over.
Yes, Plug Boy’s heroic and gravity-defying leap to launch himself at a wall to switch on the Christmas tree lights has gone down in advertising history. Not least because 35 – yes, THIRTY FIVE – people complained to the ASA over health and safety concerns. He was so loved, Sainsbury’s even managed to orchestrate a return appearance in its new campaign, all the more impressive given it’s set in Victorian London.
After 2016’s pithy ‘Man on the Moon’ spot, for me, ‘Moz the Monster’ finally signalled the end of John Lewis’ grip on the Christmas ad crown. (Not least because the plinky plonky cover of Golden Slumbers failed to segue into Carry That Weight).
However, cliched as it as, my favourite festive film is a John Lewis classic – ‘The Journey’. Telling the story of a lovelorn Snowman traveling over mountains, motorways and muddy terrain to get his Snowlady a scarf to keep her warm.
The soundtrack, a cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood‘s hit ‘The Power of Love’, is just perfect. Yes, it is basic but there’s just something about this ad that makes me feel warm and fuzzy.
Danielle Gibson (@DRLGibson) – Toys R Us (1989)
There have been various remakes of the 1989 Toys R Us Christmas advert over the years, including this year’s CGI, Pixar-esque adventure, but none hold up quite like the original.
Once you heard “It’s a magical place”, you knew it was Christmas. Bum parked in front of the telly, cross legged, eyes wide open; the age of innocence. And they certainly played on that.
For a Christmas ad, it didn’t actually sell anything; no products or prices, just how magical the store is. Capturing the attention of both young and old.
How smart of Toys R Us, leaving kids to nag their parents for a visit to Geoffrey and his helpful employees… And purchase a few presents along the way.
Sam Bradley (@sammbradley) – Coca-Cola’s Christmas Trucks (1995)
Agency: WB Doner
These iconic spots first aired over 20 years ago, heralding the onset of the holiday season long before John Lewis got in on the act.
Created by WB Doner, they drew together the dazzle of Industrial Light and Magic, the FX company better known for Star Wars and Back to the Future, and the classic imagery of artist Haddon Sundblom.
Playing on the excitement and anticipation of Christmas, the spots used a little seasonal magic to transform Coca-Cola’s delivery trucks into the deliverers of Christmas itself. If you can get waving crowds to venture out into the winter to greet your delivery drivers, you’re doing something right.
Danielle Long (@EllieLong) – Edeka’s Time to Come Home (2015)
Agency: Jung von Matt
John Lewis may have mastered the heartwarming Christmas ad, but in 2015 German supermarket chain Edeka took the genre to a new level. This emotion-soaked ad tells the story of a family returning home at Christmas time with the help of a dark twist. Depressing and manipulative, while also heartwarming and uplifting, this emotional advert hits you right in the feels and delivers a strong message about what matters most in life, and at Christmas.
It’s a beautiful piece of work and the perfect festive ad because it wouldn’t be Christmas without a family reunion served up with a side order of guilt, right? Merry Christmas!
Andrew Blustein (@andrewblustein) – Hallmark’s Old Friends (1993)
Yes this spot came out before I was born, and yes I read the headline of this article, but I feel the need to be a contrarian and highlight a Hanukkah commercial.
I don’t remember seeing any Hanukkah ads over the years, and when I scoured the web I didn’t find many campaigns on the festival of lights, but this one from Hallmark holds a candle to any other holiday spot.
The story of a scared yet eager child braving a journey from Europe to America is family lore in almost all Jewish households. To see a grandfather sit proudly and recount his story with a big, happy family makes me think of how my grandparents persevered through hardship to one day look up and see their kids and grandkids smiling back at them.
Simply put: spot-on Hanukkah ad, and we need more of them.