For most major American brands, the biggest event on the advertising calendar is, of course, the Super Bowl. Across the pond, however, it's Christmas that occupies that place of honor. And this year’s crop of British retailers’ festive offerings continues the proud tradition - despite the obvious reining in of seasonal excess that is evident, due in no small part to public sentiment amidst the whirl of government in-fighting, terrorism fears, and the countdown to Brexit that is shaping the national mood.
But real life aside, there was still some Christmas magic on display.
Although it has a strong track record in festive tear-jerkers – such as its 2015 spot in which a little girl gifts a lonely old man after spotting the stranger on the moon through her telescope, John Lewis opted for cute this year with the tale of a little boy and his outsize friend – a monster called Moz who lives under his bed.
Asda went all Willy Wonka with a fantastical tale of a child’s visit to where Christmas magic is made: the "Imaginarium."
Meanwhile, Marks&Spencer’s Christmas ad is a heart-warming tie-in with the new Paddington Bear movie, Paddington 2.
Morrisons went big on blended and diverse families...
...and inclusivity is also Sainsbury’s theme with an ad which, unlike its filmic recreation of the First World War truce on Christmas Day when opposing sides came together over a festive game of football, features a sing-a-long referencing everything that makes a British family Christmas great – including everyone’s favorite Muppet frog, Kermit.
While Tesco humorously lampoons Christmas kitchen nightmares...
...Lidl honours "Cavalier Carvers," "Mince Pie Munchers," and other Christmas mavericks.
And, finally, Waitrose serves up a heart-warming tale of people coming together to make a Christmas meal from what they can fine when they are snowed in at a hill-top pub on Christmas Day where, luckily, the landlord shops at Waitrose.
Despite the creativity on display, the bar has already been set for next season. “British Christmas TV ads this year are a little too steeped in the warm bath of coziness,” believes Caitlin Ryan,executive creative director at Cheil UK. “Technology is a high part of the retail experience and the first brand that cracks combining nostalgia with innovative tech will be the Christmas winner. Maybe next year.”
Meanwhile, one thing UK retailers share with their American counterparts is a love of head-turning Christmas window displays. Like the TV spots, London retailers’ window displays also played it safe...with a twist.
Harrods went for an Italian-themed Christmas Dolce & Gabbana-style, inspired by Sicilian puppet theatre and accompanied by an Italian street market in-store.
Selfridges, meanwhile, opted for a festival of creativity - including an adults-only panto in a specially re-created East End pub performed by Sink the Pink four days a week until December 23, again in-store.
This year’s Christmas ads reflect we’re all looking for a bit of reassurance, according to Nick Rowland, creative director at Grey London. “There’s a focus on taking us to familiar things that evoke happier times, reflecting a desire to escape reality, and a sense of collectively bringing us together around something which is heart-warming against the cultural backdrop of an increasingly polarised society,” he believes.
“The mood, as always, is about togetherness and love. And unsurprisingly we feel the importance of both more than ever in these turbulent times,” adds Leo Burnett London chief operating officer Chaka Sobhani.
Landing “the right emotional pitch” looks to have been a particularly tough job this year, adds Laurence Thomson, co-president and chief creative officer of McCann London.
“Christmas generally gives people and brands a chance to let their hair down. But Christmas is also a time of year when people feel pretty big feelings,” he says. “It’s life on steroids. The highs are higher, the lows are lower. And put simply, the last year hasn’t exactly been a riot (of fun). So in that respect, it’s no wonder that no brand has gone for a Christmas tear-jerker this year.”