In Depth

The most iconic Christmas adverts of all time

From pints to loo roll, brands pull out all the stops for their winter campaigns

The release of retailers’ festive adverts are a hotly anticipated event of the winter season. 

The campaigns “typically cost in the millions”, said the BBC, with guest stars and chart-topping soundtracks meticulously planned for months in advance, all in the name of Christmas cheer and promotion.

Many brands made the decision to “go early” this year, said Danny Rogers at the i news site, with adverts released “even before the fireworks were fizzing and popping” on 5 November.  

So far, Aldi’s 2021 offering is proving particularly popular. It’s “just as brilliant as previous years” with “extremely good” puns and a cameo appearance from “Marcus Radishford”, said the Radio Times. Barbour has also produced a “tear-jerker” of an ad starring Paddington Bear, while Debenhams’ campaign is likely to “leave you with a lump in your throat”, it said.

Not everyone agreed, however. So far, this year’s productions have felt like “advertising-by-numbers”, said Rogers at the i. They were “safe, traditional and box-ticking”, and perhaps needed to learn a lesson from some of these more iconic ads that have stood the test of time. 

Elton John and his piano

John Lewis released its first Christmas ad in 2007, but it wasn’t until 2011 that the store hit on its winning formula with The Long Wait, a heart-warming tale of a boy’s eagerness for Christmas soundtracked by Slow Moving Millie’s rendition of The Smith’s Please, please, please. Since then, the retailer’s creative, emotional Christmas adverts have become a festive milestone. 

One of the best - and most expensive - was released in 2018. Starring Elton John, The Boy and the Piano follows the singer-songwriter through various phases of his five-decade career, accompanied by the strains of his 1970 breakthrough hit Your Song. It was reported that John Lewis spent around £8m on the two-and-a-half-minute ad. 

A step up

The classic Yellow Pages mistletoe advert first aired in 1992 and has since been updated with a more modern directory cover. It features a little boy who isn't quite tall enough to kiss a girl under the mistletoe – until he grabs the Yellow Pages. 

In 2017, the male actor from the advert, Dean Cook, told The Sun that he was still recognised as the boy from the Christmas advert. Cook said that despite being teased for being “quite short”, the royalty check that comes through each year “doesn’t hurt”. 

Fizzy festivities

For many, the festive season just hasn't started until they see the red Christmas trucks on Coca Cola's Holidays are Coming advert. The trucks first appeared in 1995 and the drinks company has continued to release adverts on a similar theme ever since.

In recent years, the company’s festive campaign has been accompanied by a Christmas truck tour, with fans of the brand able to experience the advert’s stars at full-size. However, Coca Cola has cancelled its plans to do so this year due to concerns around Covid cases.

Puppy love

Slade provided the song for this 1991 advert, but it is no doubt the puppy bounding around in the snow that made this Andrex campaign a classic. It was voted a favourite by viewers that year, the company said, and proved one of the most successful ad campaigns in its history.

A sugary snowman

In 2006, Irn Bru parodied one of the world's best-loved Christmas stories: The Snowman. The lyrics were adapted to tell the tale of a sticky-fingered snowman out to steal a young boy's Irn Bru. A sequel was released 12 years later, but “not everyone was happy” when it hit screens, said The Scottish Sun

Some were “still upset” that the recipe of the fizzy drink had changed that year, with the sugar content of each can cut by almost half. 

The Black Stuff

Guinness’s Christmas advert first aired in 2004. It was “a slow-burning winner” that saw every frame “packed with an essential Irish essence”, said The Irish Examiner. Iconic shots from across Ireland are captured covered in snow, and it closes on the Guiness factory doors as a narrator says: “Even at the home of the black stuff, they dream of a white one.” 

The ad still plays every year. “I think after five or six years Guinness realised they had a real cracker on their hands,” Mal Stevenson, the creative director behind the campaign, told Ireland’s AdWorld.

Marmalade memories

Barbour may have cast him as its Christmas star this year, but in 2017 it was Marks & Spencers that put Paddington Bear in a festive campaign. Paddington & The Christmas Visitor sees the famous bear mistake a burglar for Father Christmas and help return a loot of stolen gifts to their rightful owners.

The advert “caused a furore on social media” after some viewers mistook the robber's “thank you little bear” for a “very un-family friendly comment”, said The Guardian. Luckily for M&S, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled in its favour, and concluded the ad “did not contain a swear word”. 

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