FORGET the switching on of the Christmas lights in Scotland’s cities, or the beginning of panto season, we are on the verge of what has become the official start of the festive season for many people: the unveiling of the John Lewis advert.
Already social media and the internet is abuzz with speculative chatter. Will a George Michael song be used in tribute to the late singer-songwriter? Is the alleged leak that the main protagonist will be “a cross between the Gruffalo and a huge cute teddy bear” actually true?
Are the mysterious clips appearing on Twitter in recent days with the hashtag #UnderTheBed sneaky trailers? What is that furtive-looking creature with the shifty eyes? And, yes, I hear you hecklers at the back: why should we even care?
Either way, it is unlikely we will need to wait much longer. Last year John Lewis ran a teaser on November 7 with a 10-second clip (hashtag #BounceBounce) showing a boxer dog watching a little girl play on a red spacehopper. The full commercial, Buster The Boxer, aired three days later.
Every year I unabashedly lap up this sentimental schmaltz. A lovesick penguin? Cute! The unlikely friendship between a bear and a hare? Squad goals! A snowman going to the ends of the earth to find that perfect knitwear-themed gift for his snowlady? Hello! I’ve got goosebumps, people …
On paper it’s a deceivingly easy formula: soppy cover song, tear-jerking subject matter and the effervescent joy of finding the perfect present for that special someone. Get it right and voila, you have the biggest yuletide talking point since Dirty Den served Angie with divorce papers in 1986.
The fact we are even discussing it is a win for the department store chain. Although does it have me hotfooting it to John Lewis? Nah, I’m more a Lidl gal. But it means I can start humming Christmas tunes under my breath and eyeing the boxes of decorations in the loft.
I imagine that there have been a few sleepless nights for the team involved in coining this year’s theme. The stakes are high because, to be fair, things have gone a little off the boil since their big 2011 triumph (aka The Long Wait when a young boy was avidly counting down the days until he could give his parents their present).
Call us Goldilocks meets Scrooge, but 2015’s offering with the telescope-wielding Man On The Moon was too sad (and a tad creepy), while Buster The Boxer hogging the trampoline last year was not sad enough (and the spoof featuring a gleefully bouncing canine Donald Trump far funnier).
German supermarket Edeka produced a masterclass in pulling the heartstrings two years ago. An elderly man is seen spending several Christmases alone with his grown-up children providing a raft of excuses not to visit each year. Time passes and there comes news of his death.
Each of his offspring laments not having spent more time with him. As they return to the family home to attend the funeral, their father – very much alive – appears in the dining room and says: “How else could I have brought you all together?”
As for this year’s offerings? M&S have plumped for Paddington Bear teaching a naughty (possibly sweary?) burglar a lesson, while Aldi have pinned their hopes on a heroic carrot called Kevin.
Lidl pays tribute to a series of kooky characters: the Cavalier Carver, Mince Pie Maverick and Double Dipper, and Tesco captures the theatre of a turkey roasting in the oven (vegans and vegetarians look away) set to a pared-back cover version of Shakin’ Stevens’ Merry Christmas Everyone.
Dud of 2017? Sorry, Asda. But the little girl and her grandfather sneaking into a Willy Wonka-esque factory for a peek at the supermarket’s festive food ranges just isn’t rocking our world.
By Mark Smith
It’s a kind of test, a little way to check whether you are a sensible, intelligent, well-adjusted human being or an emotionally maladjusted adult/child and the test is this: have you ever, to the best of your knowledge, cried, or welled up, or in any way gone moist-eyed, at a Christmas television ad?
That famous advert for John Lewis from a few years ago, for example. The one about the little boy who’s over-excited about giving his dad a present. It really got to you didn’t it? Or the one about the cartoon carrot. A cartoon carrot! So cute. You’re probably welling up now at the thought of it. Let me pass you a tissue for the tears in your eyes. But only if you pass me a bag for the contents of my stomach.
The point is this: feeling in any way moved by a Christmas advert, or shedding a tear at them, is like feeling teary-eyed at a cash machine or feeling moved by the profits of a fat-cat corporation.
Christmas ads are about money, profits and consumerism, disguised in the most cursory way by a tatty bit of tinsel. Not only that, they are about something worse: they are telling you how to behave, they are keeping you in your place.
This year’s ads prove the point. The Argos one for example. It’s set in Santa’s factory. But oh no! One of the workers has forgotten to load a cute robot puppy onto Santa’s spaceship! The little boy who wants it for his Christmas won’t get his present!
Fortunately, the plucky member of staff saves the day. Get real. A plucky member of staff who didn’t meet their targets in modern Britain would have their zero-hours contract canceled, fall into a depression, start relying on illegal drugs, and then finally kill themselves. Put that in an advert.
The Tesco effort is just as depressing, mainly because it seeks to underline the conservative conventions of Christmas, especially the one that says we should all gather round on a certain day with people who are linked to us by an accident of genetics and eat the flesh of another living creature.
In an attempt to look a bit edgier, they have put a gay couple in the ad, but gay men in adverts have become as conventional as straight ones: it’s a way for advertisers to look progressive without really trying.
And surprise, surprise: is that a woman doing all the cooking in the Tesco ad, as they do in pretty much every other ad? There’s an old TV commercial from the 1960s that features a woman cooing over a vacuum cleaner her husband has bought her for Christmas and ends with the tag-line “a Hoover is a gift for every woman to treasure”.
And here we are 50 years later and we haven’t really moved on. Like her mother in the 1970s and her grandmother in the 1950s, the woman of the 21st century is still doing all the work.
But that’s what Christmas ads do. They show us a cuddly penguin, or a cartoon carrot, and try to make us feel warm about something that is as cold as hell: the process of selling consumer products, unchanging gender roles, personal debt and the shallowness of thinking that Christmas adverts have any depth at all. It is depressing and sad. It’s enough to make me cry.