At this point, there is nothing new to say about the great global shopping festival that is Christmas.
Back in the Fifties, the brilliant American songwriter and satirist Tom Lehrer lampooned the crass monetisation of the Christian holiday in his “Christmas Carol” (“Angels we have heard on high / Tell us to go out and buy”). More than half a century later, nothing has changed.
If anything, the cheap, tacky commercialisation of Christmas has become a venerable tradition in and of itself. And nowhere is this more evident than in the bizarrely lucrative world of Christmas TV adverts.
Companies such as Coca-Cola and John Lewis have made popular festive adverts for years now, building up a reputation for slick, heartfelt festive shorts that warm your heart while emptying your wallet. Other companies soon followed suit, to the point now where the market is saturated with saccharine yuletide TV spots, some of which have almost no perceptible relevance to the product they are ostensibly advertising.
There’s not even any stigma around it anymore: acclaimed filmmakers such as Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) have put their names to these cloying works of advertainment. (Some might even argue that Waititi’s 2020 Coke ad was a step up from the toe-curling Jojo Rabbit.)
With this in mind, here is a ranking of this year’s Christmas adverts, from the dismally schmaltzy to the surprisingly good…
10. McDonald’s: ‘The List’
There’s some heavyweight credentials behind the camera of McDonald’s latest Christmas advert. Tom Hooper, fresh from the Cats fiasco, directs this mawkish story of a boy whose fancifully long Christmas list catches the wind and flies off into the heavens. He’s cheered up though, because… McDonald’s? The fast food ex machina is meant to signify something deeper about the nature of family, but the ad is so jarringly structured that the sudden reminder you’re watching a McDonald’s advert kills any sentiment stone dead. Maybe it’s the soul-crushing notion of a Christmas dinner at Maccers, but McDonald’s and Christmas just don’t seem natural bedfellows.
9. Marks and Spencer
Upscale supermarket M&S pulled out the stops last year, casting Spider-Man’s Tom Holland as an animated Percy Pig. This year, they’ve hired both Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, playing the Christmas Fairy and “Duckie”, a ropey chew-toy brought to life. Despite the comedy pedigree, the whole thing is devoid of any chuckles, and the advert is unable to disguise its sweaty desperation to contrive a memorable festive mascot.
8. Tesco: ‘The Christmas Party’
The UK’s largest retailer dipped an unsteady toe into political satire with its 2022 Christmas advert. “Britain, there’s a joy shortage,” begins the voiceover, which goes on to lay out a manifesto, of sorts, pledging all sorts of Christmas-specific treats. The jokes aren’t very funny, and the advert cycles through images too fast for any one idea to really stick.
Aldi’s Christmas advert follows a family of anthropomorphic CGI carrots as they travel off for the holidays. There’s a Home Alone parody, a storybook narrator, and a bizarre penis gag involving a snowman – an odd mix of ideas that never really congeals into anything solid.
6. Asda: ‘Have Your Elf a Merry Christmas’
Asda’s effort this year represents a pretty flashy investment; it can’t have been cheap getting Will Ferrell to reprise the role of Buddy, from the popular 2003 Christmas film Elf. Whether it’s an endearing return for a beloved character or a heinous bastardisation of a modern classic is a matter of perspective. Personally, I’ve never quite felt the love for Elf, so this mildly cringy tie-in felt more or less indistinguishable from the real thing.
5. Sainsbury’s: ‘Once Upon a Pud’
Opting for a vaguely fairytale-ish tack, the new Sainsbury’s advert cast This Morning’s Alison Hammond as a queen who is presented with a procession of delicious-looking Christmas food. It’s a slightly off-kilter piece of stunt-casting, and the culinary indulgence on show perhaps seems a little garish amid the UK’s cost of living crisis – but the biggest gripe has to be the inexplicable soundtrack choice: a twee instrumental cover of “Teenage Dirtbag”.
— Sainsbury's (@sainsburys) November 4, 2022
4. Disney: ‘The Gift’
Disney’s tearjerking advert is a relatively impressive feat of digital animation: even 10 years ago, you’d have been unlikely to see CGI this slick in most kids’ blockbusters. But the story – about a child’s feelings of displacement as her parents prepare for another child – is trite and treacly. Add in the egregious Mickey Mouse product placement and it’s hard not to resent the flagrant cynicism on show here.
3. Morrisons: ‘Farmer Christmas’
I’ll say this for Morrison’s 2022 Christmas advert: at least there’s an idea behind it. The film follows “Farmer Christmas”, a tractor-riding interpolation of old Saint Nick who monologues to camera in a buttery Welsh brogue. Beyond the rudimentary farmer/father pun, there’s not really much wit to the execution, however.
— Morrisons (@Morrisons) November 4, 2022
2. John Lewis: ‘The Beginner’
There’s much to admire about John Lewis’s latest Christmas advert, which follows a man as he painstakingly learns to skateboard. In the end, it’s revealed that he and his partner are adopting a child who loves skateboarding; the advert is linked to a charity campaign concerning kids in care. The story is told effectively by way of a well-paced montage, set to a laidback cover of Blink 182’s “All The Small Things”. Those looking for an excuse to cry won’t leave disappointed.
1. Boots: “#JoyForAll”
For my money the best of 2022’s crop of Christmas ads, Boots’ festive offering arguably managed the impossible: finding the romance in a high-street chemist chain. The advert sees a woman try on a pair of glasses that show the world around her ensconced in Christmas cheer – sort of like a breezy, anti-satirical spin on John Carpenter’s They Live. The last shot sees her overlooking a warm Christmas scene in her own home, only to lift the lenses and find that nothing changes. It’s clever, memorable and well put together.