Welcome to the second part of the festive fun, as Claire Baldwin watches the best 2021 Christmas ads according to Creativepool and shares her first impressions. Remember to check out Part 1 if you haven’t already!

After 15 festive ads, I’m still not feeling particularly Christmassy, though my birthday is in December so Christmas legally isn’t allowed to start until after that.

Let’s see if there’s anything in the second half of the list that will get me craving mince pies, mulled wine and cosy firesides…

Tesco: ‘This Christmas, Nothing’s Stopping Us’

While I hadn’t seen the advert already, I did know that there were 5,000 complaints about Santa showing his COVID passport, which I think is an absolutely ridiculous thing to phone the Advertising Standards Authority about.

I could maybe see it being an issue if it was the entire focus of the ad, but it’s just an amusing moment in a 90-second spot about the very British attitude of just getting on with things, even when it’s all gone to shit. I think a lot of kids would be relieved to hear that they won’t miss out on presents because Saint Nick is quarantining in the North Pole with Rudolph. It’s not like Tesco is giving away 500 Clubcard points when you show your vaccination card…

Tesco’s 2021 offering is pretty festive, but I always find it extremely jarring when a song as well known as Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ is chopped up like it is here. Few songs get a crowd pumped like this one, and it seems a bit of a waste to pay for the rights but never quite let it get going.

O2: ‘We’re better, connected’

With 1.5 million homes in the UK not being connected to the internet, O2 is pledging to donate free data to someone who needs it for every plan purchased. This is the true spirit of Christmas!

While the ad itself doesn’t feel particularly festive, and could be from any time of year were it not for the snowy streets and twinkling fairy lights, at least O2 is on the mark with the overall concept of their Christmas campaign.

Along with continuing the use of the network’s bubble motif as a metaphor for the data connection, we also see a return to O2’s slogan “We’re better, connected.” You couldn’t ask for a more perfect line for both the campaign and the first proper Christmas since COVID.

Debenhams: ‘A Christmas Like Never Before’

Here’s my big issue with Debenhams’ advert: the poem is absolutely awful. Nobody is forcing you to write a rhyming poem. If all the budget you have at your disposal for your big Christmas advert can’t deliver a poem that actually rhymes and scans well, then you’ve done something massively wrong. Maybe a kid wrote it and I’m just being a jerk, but that doesn’t stop it from being an objectively bad poem.

Also, “A Christmas like never before, delivered to your door” is a nice sentiment (and it actually rhymes), but I don’t think that’s what people want. We just want a normal Christmas! After trading sprouts for social distancing in 2020, I think we’d all just like to enjoy a completely uneventful day of spending time with family and friends.

House of Fraser: ‘House of Holiday’

This is a bit style over substance for my liking. House of Fraser is definitely aiming for a bit of style and glamour in their 2021 Christmas ad, but it doesn’t really do anything for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful to look at, but it’s definitely more on the “please buy my stuff” end of the spectrum rather than the “let’s all enjoy a nice Christmas” end.

The message about finally being back together is nice, but it does feel a bit tacked on, like House of Fraser realised at the last minute that they should probably mention the nice family parts of Christmas instead of just trying to make people buy perfume and sequined gowns.

I also can’t quite understand all of the “House of …” statements. Some of these actors need to enunciate more. “The house of flahhh” isn’t inspiring me at all. And I swear that one lady says “florious”. I assume she’s actually saying “flawless” but it really doesn’t sound like it. She’s literally been paid to say one word and it’s a total miss.

Argos: ‘Baubles to Last Year!’

I quite liked this one! Argos hit the nail on the head with the “we’re all going to say screw 2020 and have a bumper Christmas” message that lots of brands have been tackling this year. Instead of just encouraging people to buy physical gifts, there’s more of a focus on fun, family and festive celebration.

I love the one guy in the office who’s absolutely Christmas mad with his beard baubles and totally tinselled desk. I can imagine a lot of desks looking like that this year! Granny opening the door to a single relative only to be surprised by dozens of guests queuing out the door was also a lovely moment.

As a ‘90s child, circling items in the Argos catalog really brought back a bit of nostalgia, and while the framing device designed to make everything look like it was part of the catalog wasn’t my favourite in terms of visuals, it showed great attention to detail for the Argos brand. The slogan “Baubles to last year!” could be stronger, though.

Very: ‘It’s the very best excuse’

YouTube tells me that Very published their Christmas advert in October, so they’re fully on board with the message of starting Christmas early! I just wish they’d done more with it. I love the image of Trick or Treaters receiving mince pies from a family dressed in matching Christmas jumpers, but the rest of the ad falls a little flat in comparison.

In a statement that will shock nobody who has read this far, I also hate the song. The stress of the syllables in the word “excuse” is totally wrong for half the lines they use it in, which is a real disappointment when it’s the entire concept of the Christmas campaign.

TK Maxx: ‘Christmas to the maxx’

Yes, TK Maxx! This ad focuses on a young lad absolutely stealing the show at the school’s Festive Comeback Concert thanks to the newfound confidence in his amazing holographic boots and I am here for it!

Best parts of this ad:

  1. Obviously the boots. Magnificent.
  2. An organ version of Aerosmith’s ‘Walk this way’? Yes please!
  3. “This is not the Nutcracker! I LOVE it!”
  4. The “Maxx” setting on the organ is perfection

This ad is just cheesy enough. It brings a smile to your face. Instead of just pushing the concept that you need to buy things to be happy, this ad highlights how the right items of clothing can make us feel more confident and bring out our best.

Asda: ‘Make Christmas Spectacular’

This masterpiece from Asda fully lives up to the message of making Christmas spectacular. Accompanied by Ravel’s ‘Bolero’, we see a family literally skating through all the magical moments that make Christmas what it is.

From the school play to the office party, and from a festive get-together to Christmas lunch on the big day, each scene is filled with beautiful set dressing, tasteful nods to the things you can buy from Asda, and some beautiful figure skating. All in all, it’s a lovely festive ad.

Vodafone: ‘Give the Gift of Connection’

Like O2, Vodafone’s Christmas campaign focuses on the 1.5 million homes in the UK that are without data connectivity. For every device that’s donated, Vodafone will provide a SIM card preloaded with data, calls and texts to someone who needs it.

For me, Vodafone’s ad beats out O2’s in the way it’s presented. Firstly, it feels much more festive, with ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’ instantly putting me in a Christmassy mood. Secondly, it plays on the image of people preparing for Christmas with parcels and gadgets that we expect are presents for family. When they turn out to be generous donations to those who are less fortunate, it’s all the more heartwarming.

JD Sports: ‘JD Street’

Okay. So I’m clearly not in the JD Sports demographic. Other than the fact that there were lots of nice-looking trainers, and all the shops on the street had names that started with JD and taglines “King of [something]” I had no idea what was going on.

However, a quick look at the YouTube comments seems to suggest that those who are in JD’s demographic are big fans of this festive offering. Take this comment from user Jan Spirit: “bro this is how ads should be done not annoying af but include our favourite ballers, content creators and music artists.”

If, like me, you have no idea who KSI, Maya Jama, Aitch, Little Simz, Tobi Brown and Jadon Sancho are, you probably won’t get much from this ad. If, like Jan Spirit, you would include these names in your list of favourite ballers, content creators and music artists, you’re probably already on your way to JD Sports to grab some new kicks.

Waitrose: ‘Best Bit of Christmas’

This delightfully honest and cheeky offering from Waitrose made me laugh. We all know it’s true, so let’s stop pretending: The best part about Christmas is the food.

From becoming entranced by turkey to her intense passion for sprouts that are “mostly pancetta” and a completely unapologetic apology for eating all the stuffing, Ashley Jensen’s performance throughout was absolutely perfect.

This ad is festive, funny and completely brazen in pushing the brand’s products, and it all works. I genuinely loved this one, and the callback to the “favourite aunt” plate is a great touch.

Domino’s: ‘Christmas DOMIN-OH-HOO-HOO’

Oh god, this one’s going to be annoying, isn’t it?

Yodelling is very impressive in terms of technical execution. But it. Sounds. Awful. Why are we yodelling about pizza? Even in the canon of the advert, everybody is confused that yodelling is happening.

It’s not festive, it’s got nothing to do with pizza, and they’re not even yodelling words about pizza. It’s just subtitled yelling. Apparently there’s a festive pizza. Just tell me that.

This was a bad advert.

Deliveroo: ‘The Ultimate Gift’

I like the idea of this advert but I’m not 100% sold on the execution. Why was there a randy cartoon gherkin? It’s all just a bit much to look at. I’d rather there was more of a focus on actual food than the accompanying imagery, although I guess some of it adds more of a festive feel.

There’s some great stuff in here, though. “No-one ever said ‘Did you keep the receipt?’ for a bucket of chicken” is a great line. As someone who recently cleared out their loft to get it professionally boarded, I can vouch for the fact that, generally speaking, we don’t need more stuff.

Buying someone a voucher for tasty food is a great way to treat them to something they actually want without being wasteful. Something about the ad’s intense delivery was just a bit off putting, though.

Selfridges: ‘Christmas of Dreams’

Um… What did I just watch? Are we sure this campaign isn’t called ‘Christmas of Fever Dreams’? Have I been going too hard on the mulled wine?

I can’t tell if this advert is from the past, present or future. All I know is that I hate it.

Thank god it’s only 15 seconds long.

Matalan: ‘Real Moments, Real Magic’

At least we’re ending on a high note! Matalan’s ad shares the lovely message that Christmas is what you make it, and it doesn’t need to be perfect. I particularly love the part about “the magic in those middle moments; the least planned moments.”

With a delightfully real feel to it that in itself feels imperfect in a very genuine way, everything about this advert is enjoyable. It feels festive, the message is great, and Matalan doesn’t shove its products in your face. It barely feels like an advert at all. It’s very understated but it actually made me look forward to Christmas this year

The best of the best

Here are my top picks from the list:

#1 Waitrose: ‘Best Bit of Christmas’

I loved this one! It was funny, festive, honest, beautifully shot and impeccably acted.

#2 Matalan: ‘Real Moments, Real Magic’

A lovely advert that was festive yet understated and genuinely felt like it understood Christmas as a time for real people and not just mindlessly supporting capitalism.

#3 Aldi: ‘A Christmas Carrot’

From the inspired pun ‘Ebanana Scrooge’ to Cuthbert the Caterpillar being arrested, there’s a lot to love here!

#4 Coca-Cola: ‘Real Magic at Christmas’

Heartwarming, fun and with a lovely message at its heart. One of the few longer ads that I genuinely enjoyed.

#5 Asda: ‘Make Christmas Spectacular’

This ad was spectacular to look at and got me in the Christmas spirit!

The worst of the best

And for fairness, here are the ones I hated the most!

#1 Selfridges: ‘Christmas of Dreams’

I feel like this is the sort of stuff Hunter S. Thompson was seeing on mescaline.

#2 Domino’s: ‘Christmas DOMIN-OH-HOO-HOO’

Why. Are. We. Yodelling?!

#3 Smyths Toys: ‘If I Were a Toy’

Grating singing, a bad reworked version of a popular song, and almost no Christmassy imagery.

#4 LEGO: ‘Rebuild the world’

See above.

#5 Boots: ‘Bags of Joy’

I’ll say it again: Wasteful capitalist nonsense.

Let’s wrap this up!

So, there you have it. My rambling opinions on 30 Christmas adverts.

I actually found it harder than I expected to narrow it down to a top 5, and I’m still not sure I chose the right ones. Honorable mentions go to McDonalds, Barbour, Etsy, Argos and TK Maxx, who all put together some great adverts.

With 2021 being the first year ‘back to normal’ since the pandemic, I think we were all expecting a lot from this year’s ads, so it’s to be expected that some would absolutely nail it and some would go off the deep end a little. There was so much creativity this year, and loads of new things that we’ve not seen before, which made sitting and watching 30 Christmas ads back to back much more entertaining than it could have been!

I hope you’re all feeling as festive as I am! Time to go hang up my stocking and hope that Santa doesn’t bring me coal for being grumpy about some of these adverts…