It’s that time of year again! The weather is getting colder, the kids are finalising their letters to Santa, and office conversations are dominated by “Have you seen the new [blank] ad?!” In the first of a two-part blog, we've set Claire Baldwin the challenge to watch the top 30 Christmas ads of 2021 and give us her thoughts.

As a millennial, I don’t have TV anymore. I have Netflix, YouTube Plus, and the occasional questionably obtained 4k Bluray rip. So I haven’t actually seen any of this year’s Christmas ads… yet. Join me as I watch them for the first time and share my thoughts.

Creativepool has very kindly gathered the best 2021 Christmas ads into one place, so this will be my festive viewing guide.

As there are 30 adverts on this list, I’ll be splitting this into two parts.

John Lewis: ‘Unexpected Guest’

Knowing that the ad is titled ‘Unexpected Guest’, I thought we’d see an older relative who wasn’t able to visit last year because of COVID. I was not expecting an alien.

The blossoming friendship of the alien and the ad’s young protagonist (with unexpected romantic tension) put me in mind of Stranger Things. The alien learns to eat mince pies, experiences snow and messes with some Christmas lights, which is all pretty festive.

When it’s time to leave, the alien receives an ugly Christmas jumper as a parting gift and we see the line “For a Christmas almost as magical as your first.”

I’ll be honest. I don’t think the alien even knew it was Christmas.

I like the messages of inclusion and sharing but this didn’t leave me with the festive fuzzies I expected from John Lewis.

McDonald’s: ‘Imaginary Iggy’

Awww, I liked this one! I’m not a big McDonald’s fan but becoming emotionally attached to cute characters definitely speaks to me.

This ad follows the classic ‘kid growing up and putting away childish things’ narrative, with Iggy, the fuzzy blue imaginary friend.

Watching Matilda and Iggy put out a plate of ‘reindeer treats’ (a bag of Maccy D’s carrot sticks) brings back memories of leaving a carrot out for Rudolph when I was a kid. I always wondered which of my parents took the bite out of it on Christmas Eve (My money’s on Dad).

When Matilda grows older and puts Iggy away in the closet, my eyes did get a little watery. Flash forward a few years and she sees a child at McDonald’s enjoying some of the very same reindeer treats she once fed to Iggy.

Cue the feels as Matilda rushes home and rekindles her imaginary friendship, and we come full circle as the newly reunited pals put out a plate of carrot sticks for Santa’s reindeer, despite objectively being too old for such things.

This ad was warm and friendly and Christmassy without being over the top. It didn’t make any kind of big statement, it was just a nice parcel of festive feels. Good effort!

Coca-Cola: ‘Real Magic at Christmas’

This one left me with a genuine smile on my face!

Starting out with a single-parent family moving into a sparsely furnished flat, things are looking a little bleak – especially when the son realises that there’s no chimney for Santa to deliver presents! Fortunately, he’s a creative little dude, and puts the moving boxes to good use, crafting a long cardboard chimney.

It’s not long before all the neighbours are getting involved, with the chimney wrapped in fairy lights and winding through corridors, up fire escapes and onto the roof. Even the security guard comes in clutch, brandishing a red Coca-Cola box for the top of the chimney, which is a lovely gesture but that thing is an enormous fire hazard…

When a present finally drops from the chimney, it’s not for the little boy after all; it’s an invitation for their cranky older neighbour (and presumably the rest of the tenants) to join them for a sumptuous Christmas dinner of turkey and Coca-Cola.

The line “Christmas is magic when we share it” is a nice touch. It’s not the neighbours rallying to provide an underprivileged family with a Christmas to remember, but an overall message of the magic of community, sharing and giving back, no matter what you have. Lovely stuff.

Boots: ‘Bags of Joy’

I straight-up hated this one. Wasteful capitalist nonsense.

The ad features Jenna Coleman with a Mary Poppins-esque bottomless bag of Boots products that she proceeds to pour all over the bed and writhe around in like Scrooge McDuck.

The bag is apparently a gift from her nan, accompanied by the note “This is what Christmas feels like.” Yeah. Endless piles of things you don’t need that you’re just going to throw away a few weeks later.

She doesn’t even use the bag for good. No handing out gifts to orphans, no making the community a better place. Do you think you can pull meal deals out of the magic bag? We could end world hunger!

After she’s done gallivanting with her friends and showing up the rest of the family around the tree (and she hasn’t even bothered to wrap any of these gifts she hasn’t paid for), she presents Nan with a bottle of perfume accompanied by the creepy note “This is what love smells like.”

Hated it.

Amazon: ‘Kindness, the greatest gift’

Overall, this ad presents a sweet message about supporting those around you, and sheds light on the rise in anxiety following the pandemic.

It’s another in the ‘neighbours who don’t really know each other come together to look out for each other’ category. It’s not particularly Christmassy, but the message is nice, and it’s pretty heartwarming.

I just find it hard not to scoff at this message of kindness when it comes from Amazon.

Sainsbury’s: ‘A Christmas to savour’

If you suffer from motion sickness, don’t watch this one.

We take a journey through a super-slow-mo Christmas scene, zooming through Grandad’s exploding walnut, a weird fried square, some champagne bubbles and a big gloopy gravy drip, before taking a nasty upside-down spinny journey under the table, where there’s one weird kid who isn’t in slow motion for some reason.

We zoom out to a ‘Last Supper’-style tableau and this strange, time-bending advert is closed out by the words “It’s been a long time coming, so let’s make it a Christmas to savour.”

This was obviously a huge feat to film, and it nods to the fact that many families were unable to get together last year due to the pandemic. The message that we should make time to really enjoy spending the festive season with our loved ones is a good one, but this ad just made me feel quite unwell.

LEGO: ‘Rebuild the world’

Honestly, I would have had no idea that this was supposed to be a festive advert if it wasn’t for the fact it was on Creativepool’s list and there’s a LEGO Santa at the end.

It’s dominated by a cheesy parody of ‘Build me up Buttercup’ that sings about building up, tearing down, mixing up and changing around, which is all fine but it’s just a little grating.

The visuals are pretty amazing, with lots of weird and wonderful real-world creations flying around. From sports cars and fire engines to dragons and Storm Troopers, it’s an exciting mish-mash of the endless imaginative possibilities of LEGO.

While the message “Rebuild the world” is a little on the nose, it’s at least appropriate for the product. It’s a decent advert but it’s not festive at all. I don’t know why I just watched it… and the song was too much.

Disney: ‘The Stepdad’

This one didn’t really grab me, possibly because I’m not a huge Disney fan, and I don’t relate to having or being a stepparent. It’s beautifully animated, though. I wasn’t sure whether I was watching a trailer for a new Disney movie or just an ad.

It’s a lovely representation of a modern family, but I thought the kids were a bit OTT when the gingerbread house got broken. You were the one that dropped it in the first place. Calm down.

According to the description on Wikipedia, this is a continuation of the story of last year’s ad, with granddaughter Nicole all grown up with her own family. And there’s a magic book, which is apparently “a precious item belonging to Max from his birth father.”

I think you’re trying to jam too much lore in your advert, guys.

Sports Direct: ‘Go all out this Christmas’

One of the shorter ads (thank you!) Sports Direct had a pretty fun concept with this one.

Nothing brings people together and brings out their fun, childlike side like going out and playing in the snow! There’s something magical and wondrous about snow, and even the crankiest family member just can’t resist a snowball fight wrapped up warm in some Sports Direct kit.

I’m assuming that the majority of people in this advert are professional athletes and sports personalities. Unless it’s pro wrestling, I’ve got no idea. But I reckon if you’re into sports, these cameos are pretty fun and heartwarming.

Barbour: ‘Paddington, Please Look After This Bear’

Cute! Paddington was a great choice for this advert, as he has both nostalgia potential for older viewers, and has also had a resurgence in popularity thanks to his more recent movies.

Of course, the fact that he’s a lovable, bumbling bear is another good reason. He’s also very practical and resourceful, and re-waxing Mr. Brown’s Barbour jacket is a top-tier Christmas gift if you ask me. No waste, no unnecessary expense, just a lovely thoughtful gesture. Yes, Paddington. You win Christmas!

The famous ‘Please look after this bear’ note makes an appearance, accompanied by the heartwarming addition in Paddington’s messy handwriting (which is still very impressive, considering he doesn’t have hands) “Thank you for looking after me.” No, you got emotional.

All round, this is a great advert. A cultural icon delivering a practical, thoughtful gift accompanied by a heartfelt message. Big fan.

Aldi: ‘A Christmas Carrot’

This is the only advert on this list that someone had mentioned to me before I sat down to watch them all, and it’s a great one!

Here’s my list of why I liked this advert:

  1. Ebanana Scrooge. BAHAHAHA!
  2. There’s no cheesy or annoying song.
  3. It’s not 3+ minutes long.
  4. It’s a vegetable-based twist on a Christmas classic.
  5. I literally laughed out loud at Ebanana Scrooge’s origin story for being cranky about Christmas.
  6. The Easter egg of Cuthbert the Caterpillar being arrested is perfect.

Super little advert! Great work, Aldi!

Lidl: ‘Big on a Christmas you can ALWAYS believe in’

Not the catchiest of campaign titles, guys!

At first, I was very much thinking “What? This is just a completely normal Christmas!” But that’s the point! As we see the same Christmas dinner repeated further and further into the future, some things are different, like the fashions and the tech, but the traditional food and the mundane conversation stay the same.

Lidl pokes a little fun at Christmas being a bit samey every year, wrapped up in the message that “Even when we’re carving turkeys with lasers, we’ll always be Lidl on price.”

Not my favourite, but a clever ad that gets its message across.

Etsy: ‘Give More Than A Gift’

Browsing Etsy is one of my favourite activities when I need a break from work, so hopefully their festive marketing is as good as I’m expecting.

Creativepool shared two of the ads from the series but I’ve hopped onto Etsy’s YouTube channel to watch all of the 30-second spots featured in the campaign, which I’ve ranked below.

  1. The Recipe: A super sweet ad about family and cultural heritage.
  2. Bus Stop: A heartwarming tale of support, understanding and friendship.
  3. Our Santa: A lovely ad highlighting the importance of racial representation.
  4. The Tradition: A nice little ad about community and embracing new traditions.

Each one is a beautiful work of succinct storytelling, framed by the message that a gift can be more than just an object. Super stuff.

M&S Food: ‘Percy’s First Christmas’

I’ve been a huge Percy Pig fan since I was a kid, so I’m super jazzed about seeing him in his first Christmas ad!

Well, I have to say I’m a touch disappointed. Percy’s reverenced trotting around the store to explore its goodies was very sweet, and the line “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful in all my 23 seconds of life” made me laugh, but I just felt like they could have done more with him.

What impressed me the most was the fairy’s Dawn French likeness. I knew it was her straight away! I’d like to see M&S do more with the animated Percy character, though. I just felt like this ad focused too much on selling the food and not enough on selling Percy.

Smyths Toys: ‘If I Were a Toy’

This is going to be another cheesy reworked version of a pop song, isn’t it…

Yup. Ughhh.

I just don’t get this type of advert. Similar to the LEGO one, it doesn’t feel Christmassy. There’s a Christmas tree at the end but that’s it.

The whole ad is just lots of overwhelming colours and visuals with a sickly-sweet, uninspiring rewrite of a popular song that has nothing to do with what they’re selling other than the fact that “boy” rhymes with “toy” so it’s easy to change. And kid singing grates on me.

Time for a break!

Well, I’m halfway through Creativepool’s list, so it’s time to draw Part 1 to a close.

It’s snowing outside as I type this, so I’m starting to feel a little bit festive, but I’m not quite there yet.

Maybe another 15 Christmas ads will do it?