Tony Clewett: The best and most disappointing Xmas ads for 2021


It’s that time of the year again, the festive season, when all the big global brands turn to “the magic of Christmas” to bring a tear to our eye (and hopefully, a willing gap in your wallet). With budgets many of us can only dream of, there are some goodies out there – big, bold emotional extravaganzas proving magic really does exist. Their endlines all confirm that too.

Posten: 'When Harry met Santa' (Norway)

Favour. If you’re going to sit through one Christmas ad this season, make it this one. Posten, the Norwegian Postal service, has created a beautiful and provocative ad called ‘When Harry met Santa’ (brownie points for the title). It portrays Santa as gay, he ends up kissing another man, and it will leave you with goosebumps at the end. But don’t take my word for it. You’ll just have to hit play.

For a brand to go to market with an advertisement like this that challenges taboos so head-on, shows such self-assuredness and conviction, it has to be applauded. It’s also beautifully executed. And it nails the final and most crucial ingredient – how effortlessly the brand weaves itself into the story. Bravo!

Apple: 'Saving Simon' (Global)

We’re used to seeing Apple ads that are all slick, funky and hi-tech – so this is quite a departure for them to go and get all mushy on us. But there’s a lovely insight driving this charming tale of a young girl and her prized snowman. Christmas acts a bit like a human magnet, pulling families back together once a year (whether we like or not!).

We all generally find ourselves huddled around a table sharing goodwill, tall-tales and far too much of auntie’s fruit pudding. And the fact that the whole ad was created using an iPhone 13 Pro takes it to that level -the perfect product demo. Tick. Cheers, Apple. Keep this up.

Coca-Cola. 'Real magic' (Global)

Well…Coca-Cola. On this list? I must confess to having never been a fan of this fizzy, coin-cleaning drink. But I do acknowledge it’s one of the most successful and powerful brands in the world. Shows what smart marketing can do. But this one’s very on-point. Inclusion. Community. Kindness. Working together for a common goal. Themes we now know all too well.

The kernel of the idea seemed pretty familiar to me (Mitre 10 did their version of a chimney-less Xmas ad a couple of years back), but the sheer scale, quality of production and glorious soundtrack (spot the classic ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’ from Mary Poppins), ensures this one hits all the right notes. Warm fuzzies guaranteed. Makes a nice change too from seeing Coke ads filled with overly beautiful people, doing overly beautiful things. Well done Coke. I like it. Maybe I like you just that little bit more. Maybe…

Amazon: 'Kindness, the greatest gift' (UK)

Amazon’s festive offering is quite unexpected really. Both for the brand, and for its ‘unseasonal’ tone (where’s all the magic?). While others celebrate reindeer, baubles and magic, this one stands out for its quiet, understated, gritty and delicate performance. It’s brave enough to attempt to dig below the surface and deal with themes effecting many young people in 2021. Anxiety. Mental wellbeing. Inner isolation. A direct reflection of the year we’ve all just had.

It may not have been quite what the client expected to see when the ad agency showed up with their festive season ‘killer’ idea, but well done for having the courage to buy it. Because the real power with something considered like this, is how long it stays with you. Shallow is fleeting, thoughtful and empathy lingers. Long after the next ad break.

SuperValu: Share the Magic (Ireland)

Sometimes we all just want to believe in magic, perhaps even more so this year. This delightful, sweetly observed story had me switching off my inner cynic, getting into the festive spirit, and cheering as loudly as anyone for that little reindeer to fly. It may have been served with a huge dose of cheese, but hey, it’s Christmas, when magic and miracles do happen.

Amazon Prime Video: An unlikely friendship (EU)

Great story-telling can take you to the most surprising and delightful of places. This adventure just got better and better the longer I watched it. Seems that dogs are yesterday’s news – hyenas are now man’s best friend, and boy, what an awesome buddy they make. This spot is just sheer ‘go big’ joy. And you’d expect nothing less from an entertainment platform like Prime Video. Brilliant. Here’s my subscription…

John Lewis: 'Unexpected guest' (UK)

And today’s wooden spoon. Back of the pack. Every year in the UK when John Lewis releases their latest Christmas campaign, the nation seems to hold its breath in anticipation. Having been the undisputed world champions of Christmas for over a decade, I guess it’s only natural that they would have to make a bit of a stumble at some stage.

Enter 2021. For some reason, they thought that recreating ET with snow and a big soundtrack would be a sure-fire winner. Apart from replicating Spielberg’s 80’s classic, the story went nowhere unexpected – which just left me a little cold and a little underwhelmed. By no means was it horrendous, but when you’re walking in the shadow of giants, only brilliant will do. Luckily, for those brave creative souls back at the ad agency, the 2022 Christmas brief will be on their desk when they return from their short festive break. Redemption is only 11 months away…

Tesco Xmas: 'This Christmas, nothing's stopping us' (UK)

And finally, could there be a more perfect anthem for Christmas 2022 than this one, wherever you are in the world? Cheers Freddie, I completely agree. It may be light on story, but there’s enough little moments in there to hold your attention. Just do it with the sound cranked right up (fab insider’s advertising trick here – If you can’t write an amazing script, borrow an amazing soundtrack).

Well, there you go, another stellar year of Christmas goodies, somehow delivering new twists and tears on such a well-worn theme. Seems Christmas will never go out of fashion. And to those local brands that haven’t yet entered the fray, should you? A big emphatic ‘yes’ would be my response.

But don’t just dip your toe in, go all-in. Leave the product and price for the other 11 months of the year, and use this time to tell a great tale. Grab that emotional dial and crank it up as far as your nerve holds. After all, at this time of the year, even the most cynical of us could do with losing ourselves in some festive escapism.

And by going big, I mean long too. In the marketing world, duration is such a hot topic, exacerbated by ‘bite sided’ social media. Here’s my take. If we keep thinking of our audiences as having the attention span of a goldfish, we can’t really expect them to remember what we said 4 seconds later then, can we? I think some of the great work you’ve just seen proves the point.

Merry Christmas.

– Tony Clewett has decades of experience in the advertising industry and has had a hand in a fair of Christmas ads in that time. He currently works as the chief creative officer at independent agency Federation.

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