The Christmas ads are back – with John Lewis unveiling their latest stab at vacuous sentimentalism today. It's 'the most wonderful time of the year' if you love generic, cynical corporate marketing – but for others it might be the nail in the coffin of 2017.
Bizarrely, when I search 'John Lewis Christmas advert' on Youtube my first result is titled 'The Soon-coming Antichrist – Unstoppable World Tyrant!', which opens with an American pastor sternly warning me: 'This may be the single most chilling message you will ever hear. Watch it all.'
Whether a message from God or just a sign that I need to adjust my Youtube preferences, perhaps it's an appropriate sentiment for the deluge of festive-themed corporate advertising that greets us once again this year. Lo, the Christmas Ads hath returned, a moving reminder that it may indeed be time for the world to end.
John Lewis – arguably the real muscle, the defending champion of the festive ad contest, today released its 2017 effort titled #MozTheMonster. I'm sadly baffled by 'Moz', whose story left me not with warm, fuzzy feelings inside but a sense of utter meaningless. The kindly monster emerges from nowhere and to nowhere he returns. The flatulent beast befriends a child only to leave him alone again, with a starry night-light in his place.
Is the lesson that you don't need emotional connections if you have technology? Or that even with imaginary/CGI pals we remain inevitably and tragically alone? Several have expressed confusion on Twitter. The ad seems to tick the boxes of cuteness, novelty, kids and festive vibes, but doesn't amount to much real substance. Perhaps this wasn't made for me and I've missed an intended message about sleepless nights, but it wasn't very clear. From Ebeneezer Scrooge to modern animations like Arthur Christmas, there are wonderful stories to tell in this season. For an ad that cost £7 million to make, this seems a wasted opporunity.
Perhaps it's hard to sympathise when you know these works are often crafted by a committee of advertising execs who now know well the formula for securing a viral and lucrative hit. But I don't hate them for it: these films can still be profound. The M&S Christmas ad embraces the bankable charm of Paddington the Bear, who redemptively teaches a rumbled Christmas Eve thief the value of giving and sharing gifts, instead of hoarding them.
I'm biased for the Debenhams Christmas Ad since its narrated by the charming Ewan McGregor, but it also features a simple but nice tale of human connection gained, lost then found again. Previous hits have shown the value of making peace in a time of war (Sainsbury's, 2014), or of looking out for the lonely at Christmas (John Lewis, 2015). These are important messages, not quite the centre of the Christian festival but still a part of it, crucial to affirm.
Supermarkets know that putting Jesus Christ at the heart of their marketing probably isn't going to pay the Christmas bills, and that's understandable. But it's nice when they still try to make something meaningful, that doesn't just feel like a cynical grab but a thoughtful celebration of what it means to be human – at a time of year that's a real trial for so many.
Sorry for not cheering on #MozThe Monster, but I did quite like Paddington. Perhaps there's hope for Christmas (adverts) yet.
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