Christmas to the Maxx by Wieden+Kennedy London for TK Maxx

Christmas to the Maxx by Wieden+Kennedy London for TK Maxx

It’s November once again. Even before you’ve taken down the Halloween decorations, the annual race is on between major retailers as they launch their Christmas ads for 2021. But what is the mood this year in the epic festive battle for our cash and attention?

Love them or loathe them, there’s always great anticipation around the Christmas television adverts from big brands like John Lewis, Amazon, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer. Not only are they fun to watch, getting us in the mood for happy times spent with family over the holidays, they also give us a feel for the country’s collective spirit.

Last year, the global pandemic’s impact could be seen everywhere with Amazon’s The Show Must Go On, featuring 17-year-old French ballet dancer, Taïs Vinolo and Boots reminding us of the importance of acts of kindness with its ‘What The World Needs Now’ campaign. We also saw more diversity in the creative output overall, with Sainsbury’s Gravy Song being a hit and leading to better representation in advertising.

Whilst 2020 and Covid-19 meant many creative studios and agencies couldn’t film in their usual settings, reaching instead for animation and stop motion, this year seems to present quite a mix of mediums. On themes, diversity is proving not just to be a one-trick pony, and there are nods to global events, too.

But overall, there’s a mood of optimism and joy as many of us prepare to spend a “normal” Christmas with family and friends when many of us couldn’t last year. Perhaps there’s a recognition that life has been a little too serious and sad of late – that we could all do with some magic to brighten what feels like darker days.

First, we’ll run through some highlights. Then, we’ll get some insight from some of the creative industry’s biggest agencies, including Joint, Ogilvy and Kite Factory, who will help us pick out the winners (and losers) of this year’s festive ads (watch this space!).

TK Maxx: Christmas to the Maxx

For the sixth year running, ad agency Wieden+Kennedy London has created TK Maxx’s Christmas advert, and this year’s offering is directed by the acclaimed director Raine Allen-Miller. ‘Christmas To The Maxx’ tells the story of an unexpected hero, an awkward teenage boy called Laurie, getting ready to perform at a Christmas comeback concert in his local town hall. Due to the show being cancelled last year, anticipation is high, and the hall is full of people eager to see locals showcase their talents.

It’s an all-singing, all-dancing 2021 Christmas ad featuring a special version of Walk This Way by the legendary rock band Aerosmith. It reminds us how different Christmas was for so many of us in 2020, making this year’s celebrations pretty significant. The campaign aims to capture the spirit of making this Christmas feel extra special, whatever that may mean for each of us. The idea at the heart of the work is that a truly thoughtful gift can unleash absolute joy for the recipient, their family and friends.

John Lewis & Partners: Unexpected Guest

John Lewis continues to tug at the heartstrings this year with a story about friendship. Created once again by Adam&eveDDB, the ad launched a little earlier than planned this year, recognising a surge in online searches for festive gifts as shoppers are perhaps concerned about any supply problems in the lead up to the big day.

Moving on from Hare and the Bear in 2013 and Monty the Penguin in 2014 – friendships that usually inspire millions – and following on from last year’s focus on kindness and giving to charity (and supporting the creative industries), for 2021, John Lewis sees a crash-landed alien girl make friends with a human boy.

Set to Lola Young’s gentle rendition of the 1985 Philip Oakey and Giorgio Moroder hit Together in Electric Dreams, the ad that took ten months to make. It seems to show none of the retailer’s products. – something which has attracted some negative press. But does John Lewis need to remind us what it sells? Has the retail giant hit the right spot for this year’s festive ad? We’ll let you decide.

Marks & Spencer: Make The Season Anything But Ordinary & PercyPigmas

Marks & Spencer has released two Christmas adverts for 2021: its clothing division and its festive food and drink. The creatives are based on its recent M&S Family Matters report, which shows that 39% of families in the UK plan to make Christmas extra magical this year, following all the sadness and restrictions of the global pandemic.

For food, Marks & Spencer has brought its iconic Percy Pig character to life for the first time. It’s arguably its best-selling treat, created back in 1992 and now a national institution. Grey London is behind the campaign, which sees Hollywood actor Tom Holland as the voice of the pig and Dawn French as the fairy.

For the retailer’s clothing campaign meanwhile, actor Madisyn Ritland is the star of the ad. Created by ODD London and shot by Autumn de Wilde, it’s a nostalgic walkthrough of the iconic moments of Christmas, beginning with a nod to Mary Poppins and Singing in the Rain. From shopping for gifts to having fun in your PJs with the family, it’s backed by Darlene Love’s A Marshmellow World. For those who love Christmas, the hairs on the back of the neck will surely stand to attention.

Aldi: Ebanana Scrooge

This week, Aldi has teased its iconic Christmas ad on social media, featuring an all-new animated banana character called Ebanana Scrooge. However, it doesn’t feature Kevin the Carrot, the loveable character who has taken centre stage in the last five Christmas campaigns.

Created by McCann UK, the new 20-second clip shows a child Ebanana patiently waiting for Santa, snuggled up next to a mince pie in front of a roaring log fire on Christmas Eve. A mystery hand then appears and takes the mince pie, leaving the banana behind – at which the upset Ebanana cries, ‘Santa, wait…why didn’t he take me?’

Just before the teaser clip fades, Ebanana jumps up and angrily declares, ‘I hate Christmas…’, leaving us wondering what happens next in this festive tale. The entire ad will be revealed across national TV and online this Thursday.

Matalan: Real Moments, Real Magic

Created by McCann Manchester, Matalan’s festive campaign for 2021 sees three people share their Christmas celebrations and why they’re special to them. Warm, funny, uplifting and above all relatable, they each show a different scenario demonstrating the emotional connection many people feel during this season. Created to stir a sense of nostalgia and emotion with the audience, the campaign plays to Matalan’s ongoing brand message of Real Life Ready.

First to air is Evie’s story, a stylish, savvy woman enjoying a fun-filled impromptu Christmas celebration with her neighbours. Next up is a mum of two, Nikki, who is hosting an annual festive night with her girlfriends, with music, dancing, cocktails and cooking the order of the occasion. And finally, we hear from 5-year-old Max about what Christmas means to him while he directs and creates a special boxing day play with his big sister, step-mum, and grandfather in his living room – homemade props included.

House of Fraser: House of Festive

House of Fraser has become House of Festive as it launches its 2021 Christmas TV campaign, created in collaboration with What’s Possible Creative Studio and The Specialist Works. At its heart is a reminder of the joy of Christmas, gifting and shopping and features a multi-generational cast luxuriating in the fun, extravagant festiveness of the season – everything they can find at the ‘House of Festive’.

The inspiration came from insight into our desire to make this year’s Christmas particularly special (sound familiar?) after the disappointment of last year’s cancelled celebrations. It asks the question, Where is better to go to meet all your Christmas needs but House of Fraser as the ultimate House of Festive? The campaign is aimed at Christmas gifters, in particular, those who see the Christmas shopping trip as an annual event, buying for all, and so needing the unique mix of brands and departments on offer at the high street retailer.

Boots: Bags of Joy

BAFTA-nominated actress and Doctor Who star Jenna Coleman plays the leading role in Boots‘ festive ad for 2021. Directed by Academy Award winner Tom Hooper and created by The Pharm, the three-minute advert titled Bags of Joy celebrates togetherness and nostalgia.

Coleman reaches into a bottomless bag literally of “joy” and, like Mary Poppins, finds a whole ton of stuff inside. It’s all set to music by a 45-minute orchestra, recorded at Abbey Road Studios, conducted by Rachel Portman OBE, the first-ever female composer to win an Academy Award.

As Boots puts it, “This Christmas is all about joy. The joy of being with friends and family, the joy of getting out there and connecting with each other. The joy of giving the perfect gift.” It’s apparently Boots’ most integrated campaign to date, too, with accompanying feel-good marketing for in-store footfall and use of new technology like shoppable TV ads.

Argos: Baubles to Last Year! Christmas is On

The&Partnership is behind Argos’ Christmas ad for 2021, and it’s another British retailer to recognise our appetite for going “big” this festive season given the disappointment of last year. The campaign shows the pure joy of Christmas and all the ways we can make a big splash, like setting fire to the Christmas Pudding with a blowtorch (ok, maybe not) and decorating our office Christmas jumper with as many lights as possible.

It’s a little daft and silly, celebrating festive traditions to the extreme, but the 60-second fun spot reminds us that Argos is a decent source of inspiration for shoppers looking for that perfect gift for family and friends. We even see the “book of dreams” in one clip, adding a sense of much-needed nostalgia to the short.

Barbour: Paddington, Please Love After This Bear

Passion Pictures has created a film featuring another British icon, Paddington Bear, as part of a campaign by Thinking Juice for Barbour. The festive spot is the first time ever that the style of original Paddington illustrator Peggy Fortnum has been brought to life in animation. “It was a real labour of love to do true justice to that style, and I’m so proud of the results,” says Sam Gray from Passion.

In the charming ad, we see Paddington, voiced by actor Paul Panting, trying to find a last-minute gift for the head of the family, Mr Brown, on Christmas Eve. In Paddington’s usual “genius” style, he decides to re-wax one of Mr Brown’s old Barbour jackets. It’s a slapstick moment from one of our favourite characters from childhood, reminding us that it’s the thought that counts.

Lidl: Big on a Christmas You Can Always Believe In

Ad agency Karmarama has created this festive spot for Lidl, starting with a look at Christmas being celebrated in the present day to a glimpse at the future and how humans might enjoy the festivities years from now.

Not surprisingly, festive traditions remain the same, as the campaign message repeats the brand’s ethos, that it’s “big on quality” and “always Lidl on price”. For this offering, it states: “And we mean always!” and proceeds to show the ad’s protagonist carving the turkey with a laser. It’s fun, it’s ridiculous, but it’s Lidl’s usual cheeky sense of humour that shows it doesn’t take itself too seriously but appreciates it’s a brand that is committed to quality and value.

Sports Direct: Go All Out This Christmas

Sports Direct has been quite the surprise contender in the battle for this year’s festive retail battle. Its spot, which is rumoured to have cost £6 million to make, features a star-studded lineup including athletes Jack Grealish, Emma Raducanu, and Jessica Ennis-Hill as well as grime artist, Big Narstie.

Titled Go All Out This Christmas, it’s a brave yet much-needed move for the high street retailer, who like many brands, has endured two difficult years thanks to the global pandemic. Created by London agency MOX, who was also behind last year’s Sports Starts Here campaign, this latest offering feels authentic, humble and gloriously cheerful. And who doesn’t love a snow fight? Or indeed a White Christmas?

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