Monster adverts could drive away the spirit of Christmas
CHRISTMAS adverts, much like the festive season, itself, used to be a much simpler affair. In terms of production values, the Oxo Family might have pushed the boat out a bit while Woolworths attempted to add some celebrity glitter to its Have a Cracking Christmas campaign in 1981 with a starring role for The Goodies and Anita Harris.
The Coca-Cola truck started trundling across our screens in the 1990s telling us Holidays are Coming and sentencing future generations to annual gridlock on Junction 32 of the M4 as hundreds of small children are conned into thinking a lorry with lights on is an essential part of Christmas.
But mostly, seasonal commercials of yesteryear were rarely more exciting than those Ronco adverts for gadgets that removed bobbles from your woolly jumpers.
The game changer, of course, was John Lewis. Forget the arrival of the Magi, the advent of the John Lewis advert is the major visitation in the run-up to Christmas.
Its £7m PR campaign is as much a part of the festive build-up as picking out the innards of a pomegranate with a pin and covering your ears at the release of the X Factor Christmas single.
The template is set. Modern nuclear familial schmaltz; cute kiddie and a soundtrack of a classic song re-versioned to sound poignant and plaintive by use of acoustic guitar or spare piano accompaniment.
In recent years, they’ve given us a tale of Snowpeople romance; Monty the Penguin; that rather weird lonely old man on the moon and Buster the bouncing boxer dog.
This year we’ve got Moz the underthe-bed Monster in a two-minute narrative scripted by the director behind the Hollywood movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with music from Elbow covering the 1969 Beatles track Golden Slumber.
Lured in by all the social media hashtags heralding the Moz the Monster premiere, I clicked, watched and waited to be amazed. But I was left feeling a bit thick. I just didn’t get it at first. Not that I am unfamiliar with the concept of the monster under the bed.
Indeed, so convinced was I aged four that there was a crab living under my pillow who would clip my earlobes in its pincers as soon as the light was off, I made my mother strip the bed regularly in search of crustacean horrors.
But Moz didn’t seem very monstrous at all – well apart from a nose that bears an alarming resemblance to a geriatric gonad. And notwithstanding the fact his flatulence was keeping junior awake, as night terrors go he looked quite fun to have around.
So why did he give the kid the night-light to get rid of himself? At this point I realised; conceptual analysis of an advert encouraging people to buy more stuff at Christmas masquerading as a profound parable of childhood emotions is futile.
But such is the hold of the John Lewis advert on popular culture. Even if this year proves they peaked with Monty the Penguin, the genie is out of its Christmas box now. Every retailer has been forced to up their game and produce ever more spectacular and filmic commercials.
Marks and Spencer once stuck to a formula as reliable as their knicker elastic – it was basically Twiggy, Dannii and the One in the Underwear frolicking with Take That in their gorgeous snow-frosted manor house.
But last year they created a Mother Claus figure who put the cool in Yule with an ad that looked like a feminist spin on the Bourne Identity. It was too much for some. I remember a less than sisterly discussion of the M&S female Santa on Facebook with one woman commenting tartly: “She just looks so up herself!” Those who can’t cope with the concept of Mother Claus should do some statistical analysis of the gender division of Christmas chores.
This time Marks has just nicked Paddington Bear – in a masterstroke of cross-marketing in time for the release of the Marmalade-loving teddie’s film sequel. In a festive faceoff between Moz the Monster and Paddington Bear there’s only going to be one winner.
So how are the other big names faring?
Tesco’s feelgood “Everyone’s Welcome” campaign which centres around families and food across the festive season has prompted controversy in some quarters for its inclusion of a Muslim family. It has sparked threats to boycott the stores by those who believe the retailer is “disrespecting the Christian faith”.
A tweeter who recognised the campaign for what it is – a celebration of diversity and families gathering together for an annual holiday had the best answer to the distinctly un-Christian bigotry: “If you’re offended by the Tesco Christmas advert then PLEASE boycott the stores so I don’t have to see your racist faces when I’m choosing my Brussels sprouts.”
Siblings are a big theme this year with both Boots and House of Fraser building their ads around the nostalgia of sisters remembering Christmas past while enjoying Christmas present. Morrisons, meanwhile, manage to combine a big plug for their gluten-free range with a brother goading his kid sister into ever more adventurous festive acts by shouting “Go on!” more times than Mrs Doyle in Father Ted.
Asda goes with a grandadgranddaughter pairing and a rip-off of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as they visit a manufacturing base that is rather more fantastical than your average Asda warehouse. There’s something a bit creepy about the Victorian factory vibe but thankfully the slightly sinister visuals are saved by a jolly soundtrack from Fleetwood Mac.
Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot is back in a bizarre odyssey mixing vegetables and the plot of Murder on the Orient Express. Given the misfiring petit pois gag about Kevin peeing himself it’s surely time for the Aldi carrot to get chopped up, sautéed and added to Christmas dinner.
Sainsbury’s offer a karaoke Christmas with Kermit the frog and Ricky Tomlinson among those on song while Peacocks have put a quite hideous spin on the ghosts of Christmas past by resurrecting several X Factor has-beens to put the rap in wrapping.
“Deck the halls with rhymes from Honey,” croon Wagner and Sam Bailey before Honey G and Jedward manically do their thing. It really is the Nightmare Before Christmas.
But thanks to John Lewis every major retailer is just trying too hard. Except one. And in keeping it simple Talk Talk might just be the advert on everyone’s lips this Christmas.
It has a Gogglebox feel with its use of authentic footage inside families’ homes, after fly-on-the-wall cameras were installed and left to roll. It’s unscripted and relatable, as family members text and wrap, pick at leftovers and doze in front of the telly.
Micky Tudor, executive creative director at the ad company that came up with the concept, said: “Being able to get a genuine glimpse of our TalkTalk family as they laugh, love, hug, play and wrap presents incredibly badly over the festive season has been both joyous and oddly humbling for our team.
“We hope this totally unscripted spot delights viewers and reminds them about what really matters, setting TalkTalk apart in amongst the glitz, tinsel, artifice and tear-jerkers that will probably dominate the ad break this Christmas.”
Of course, it’s still about selling stuff too but ironically the simplicity of their approach feels cleverer than all those lavish mini-movies costing millions.
Advertising is ultimately all about getting the message across and this commercial reminds its rivals that trying too hard for a Christmas cracker can leave you with a turkey.
> This year’s John Lewis Christmas advert features a young boy and his imaginary monster under the bed