Mon­ster ad­verts could drive away the spirit of Christ­mas

COLUM­NIST

Western Mail - - WM2 -

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

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