The British Super Bowl: A Look at 2015 Holiday Ads From the UK

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Curry's Christmas 2015 holiday ad advert Jeff Goldblum

Those who don’t celebrate Christmas in Britain might want to just turn off their TVs when November rolls around. Retailers in the UK go all out each holiday season (and in light of Starbucks’ holiday red cups furor, interesting to note that they embrace the word “Christmas”), prompting some to call this time of year the British Super Bowl thanks to the deluge of high production value (and often maudlin) holiday ads by retail brands.

The leader of the pack is British department store John Lewis, which produced last year’s heart-tugging short film starring Monty the Penguin (closing in on almost 25 million views a year later) and The Bear and the Hare fable a year earlier. No surprise, a recent survey named it the brand most associated with Christmas by Brits, The Guardian reports.

The high street retailer was closely followed by Santa’s go-to beverage brand, after milk of course: Coca-Cola. Supermarket chains Marks & Spencer, Tesco, and Sainsbury’s rounded out the top five, followed by Argos, Cadbury, Asda, Toys R Us and Amazon.

The whole lot are merrily hoping to keep raising the bar with their 2015 holiday ad campaigns rolling out now, although it will be tough for any of them to compete with Monty, including John Lewis itself—but of course it must try.

John Lewis - Man on the Moon holiday Christmas ad advert 2015

Nevertheless, Lewis has released its latest Christmas campaign, a bittersweet tale of a morose Man on the Moon, who befriends a girl on Earth and receives an unexpected lunar holiday gift in a balloon delivery. The underlying message: “Show someone they’re loved this Christmas.”

As the retailer describes its, “This is the story of a young girl called Lily. Looking at the moon through her family telescope one night, she is amazed at what she finds, a man on the moon. Lily watches on as our man goes about his chores, all alone up there. She becomes determined to get something to the moon, to send him a message and show him that someone down here is thinking of him.”

John Lewis Man on the Moon holiday Christmas 2015

According to The Express, the Man on the Moon spot has already inspired a 600% increase in inquiries to older folks’ charity Independent Age and 370 volunteers offered support on Friday rather than the usual 60. And, of course, the parodies didn’t take long to hit YouTube.

The John Lewis ad also had a big effect on the teen who sings the tune in the ad, a redo of the 1994 Oasis song, Half a World AwayAurora Aksnes, who sings the tune, may not have heard of John Lewis before being asked to do the ad, but she’s suddenly now a star. (Download the free poster and app for a different experience of the store’s Christmas ’15 spirit.)

A big theme this year: Put your hashtag front and center. Marks & Spencer’s ad bears #TheArtOfChristmas; Lidl has The #SchoolofChristmas; and Asda’s is #BecauseItsChristmas.

Not only are they all ready-for-social with hashtags baked into each campaign, they all have complementary digital and philanthropic elements to enhance the in-store spirit of the season to make it not just about shopping, but about feeling festive and caring.

“Christmas is a time you can really go for it – trust me, with a big family of my own I’m well aware of how much effort goes into making it special, fun and meaningful, and how much reward comes from doing just that,” said Barry Williams, Asda’s chief customer officer, according to The Drum. Asda is also running an video series, called “Dogs Do Christmas,” while Morrisons is saving a tuppence or two by not hiring celebs but featuring employees in its #makeitmagical campaign.

Waitrose has built “up the hype by releasing a series of different teasers on social media,” Business Insider notes. Some holiday-themed advertisements actually had premieres at hotels for folks to attend. ‘It has become our Super Bowl,” says Richard Brim, the executive creative director at Adam & Eve/DDB, which created the Waitrose ad, according to BI.

Argos is running an action-packed holiday ad, featuring a team of a team of 50 professional skiers and snowboarders and the hashtag #JustCantWait (for Christmas):

While Christmas adverts have always been a big deal in the UK, this level of branded holiday frenzy did not really start until only about four years ago.

“Recently, we have become a lot more cynical,” Dimitrios Tsivrikos, who lectures in consumer and business psychology at the University College of London, told Business Insider. “We are looking for excuses to communicate emotions and ads are providing us with that platform. Ads have becoming almost a Trojan horse for our emotions of the season.”

And those Trojan horses will keep on marching. Currys PC World, for its part, has enlisted Jeff Goldblum to star in its five-part holiday campaign (watch them all on YouTube), which cost about £10m ($15 million) to produce, according to The Guardian, adding that it’s estimated about £1.3bn ($1.9 billion) will be spent overall on holiday advertising in the UK this year.

Aldi is getting heartwarming by celebrating holiday “favourite things” in the UK, in contrast with Aldi Australia, which is taking a lighter look at the panic that ensues in the countdown to Christmas Eve.

Also finding the funny side of the holidays, upmarket retailer Harvey Nichols launched its #GiftFace campaign today:

While the Oddbins chain of wine shops has released what is likely the oddest Christmas ad you’ll see this season, called #WhatTheFox:

Tesco started seeding its humorous holiday campaign in October with the Brand Guarantee ad campaign (“Money off your bill at the till”) and released new Christmassy spots with the same actors on British TV and online today.

The holiday campaign (watch below) again stars the trio of British TV comic actors, as detailed in a press release:

In a departure from the traditional long-running Christmas TV advert [and last year’s “Lights On” ad], Tesco’s fully integrated festive campaign includes several TV adverts which illustrate the ‘little helps’ [a reference to its Every Little Helps tagline] on offer to customers in Tesco stores throughout the Christmas season.

The adverts will again feature Ruth Jones, star of TV hits Stella and Gavin and Stacey, as Mum (Jo); star of The Armstrong & Miller Show Ben Miller as Dad (Roger); and actor Will Close as son (Freddie).

The first two Christmas adverts hit TV screens on Monday and focus on the award-winning food on offer at Tesco this Christmas, from its delicious finest* range of quality Christmas favourites, to its festive Free From range, which this year will feature a host of traditional Christmas favourites.

Later adverts in the campaign will feature Tesco’s new party food range, which is designed to help any party hosts spend more time with their guests, as well as an advert highlighting Tesco’s helpful in store colleagues who will be helping customers with their Christmas shopping throughout the festive season.

“Christmas is a special time of year for many of our customers, so we’ll be making sure we do all we can to help them spend more time with friends and family over the festive season,” stated Tesco Brand Director Michelle McEttrick. “Whether that’s great customer service from colleagues in store, our delicious party food that’s been developed to allow customers to spend more time with their guests and less time in the kitchen or our award-winning Free From food range, we’ll have everything covered this Christmas.”

As McEttrick told Marketing magazine, the new brand strategy aims to bring to life its “serving shoppers a little better every day” mantra and re-establish the “Every Little Helps” strapline while bringing the tone of voice in line with “where we think it was great in the past, and where we think it needs to be great moving forward.”

As part of the holiday campaign, Tesco is unveiling festive-themed ‘little helps’ for customers in stores in the run-up to the big day, including hiring the first ever Christmas tree light untangler to help relieve the stress associated with trimming the tree.

Last but not least, Sainsbury’s is already promoting holiday toys but hasn’t released its holiday advert yet (it will debut this Thursday evening on ITV — update: see below). Here’s a look back at its emotional 2014 Christmas ad:

Update: Sainsbury’s 2015 advert is “Mog’s Christmas Calamity” — narrated by Emma Thompson, and based on the beloved character by author and illustrator Judith Kerr. In partnership with HarperCollins Children’s Books, the retailer’s #ChristmasIsForSharing campaign is selling a new illustrated book based on the tale, with all proceeds going to Save the Children to help improve child literacy in the UK.

And in the opposite vein, don’t miss the House of Fraser anti-holiday advert, choreographed by Justin Bieber’s choreographer, Parris Goebel:

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