When you’re snowed under with work, there are a few landmarks to strike fear into your heart in the run-up to Christmas – the first time you hear festive music in the shops, the moment when Halloween and Bonfire Night promotions give way to ‘order now for Christmas’ and, these days, the first telly Christmas ads.
They all mean ‘holidays are coming’, which for many of us means tight deadlines, last-minute orders and out-of-office replies with no warning.
But Christmas ads can also be heartwarming, festive reminders of the true spirit of the season, and at their very best you’re likely to laugh, cry, or both.
We’re steering clear of the usual suspects – Coca-Cola’s traditional ad is doing the rounds again, and John Lewis are selling a million or more stuffed penguins off the back of theirs – to look at some of our personal favourites from the 2014 crop.
First up is the Marks & Spencer Christmas campaign, #FollowTheFairies (because everything needs a hashtag, right?).
It’s a light-hearted take on the magic of Christmas, suggesting that with the retailer’s help, you can get the perfect gift and inject a little extra fun into the season.
There’s a few things out of Marks’s control – they can’t really make it snow, of course – but the general gist is that a bit more enthusiasm can make the season bright, and that’s a message worth remembering when you’re stuck at the office with four hours of late-night shopping ahead of you.
Sainsbury’s have made something more than just an ad – at almost four minutes long, their centenary tribute to the conflict of World War I is a short film in its own right.
The contrast between soldiers hunkered down in trenches and the poppy-red breast of a robin, with voices raised in carol-singing in both English and German, packs a punch from the first few seconds of the clip.
But the fact that it’s a true story (the basics of it, at least) and the simplicity of the piece as a whole adds up to something more than just a commercial.
Well done to Sainsbury’s for not ‘hashtagging’ the caption ‘Christmas is for sharing’, and for working with the Royal British Legion, which helps to stop the ad from feeling like it’s exploiting the emotional impact of the Great War.
Finally, Mulberry’s #WinChristmas campaign is probably the biggest risk-taker, as it freely admits that there’s a materialistic, ugly side to wanting to give the best gift each year.
And then it suggests that the best gift is a Mulberry bag, which unfortunately associates the brand with the kind of loathable snobs featured in the ad.
Luckily, it’s done just well enough to be funny – thanks in no small part to the knowing ‘Grandma knows best’ eyebrow raise right at the end – and that not only rescues the piece by reminding you that it’s a mickey-take, but it makes it a handy antidote to the more schmaltzy commercials which, like turkey sandwiches, we’ll all have had our fill of by December 26th.