As someone whose career began in advertising, I am trying to imagine long meetings among the “creatives” given the task of coming up with something memorable and adorable for the John Lewis Christmas TV ad campaign – probably in a large room with whiteboards, PowerPoint presentations and loads of Post-It notes. And what they have come up with is a Venus flytrap to promote Christmas shopping at John Lewis.
They’d done the “Snowman” thing The Journey – 2020, The Boy and the Piano – 2018, an Elton John biographical piece and Monty The Penguin – 2014, all to great effect. But much head-scratching was needed now to dream up a new and powerful message for 2023.
The big idea
Still in my imagination, in and amongst the detritus of discarded creative thinking, some young person might suddenly have stood up to say, “I think I’ve got it! Remember David Attenborough’s series Green Planet, all about strange plants?” Some shoulder shrugging maybe, perhaps some recollection? “The Venus flytrap – that could be the star in the new John Lewis Christmas ad!”
Someone else pipes up: “I saw a creaky old movie called The Day of the Triffids where alien plants uprooted themselves and walked around looking for humans to meet or eat or lash out at.”
A carnivorous plant that apparently consumes anything and which can “walk” seemed to be the winning big idea for The Client’s “must see” Christmas campaign. It “snaps” up household items, looks longingly at the family’s little dog and, as the child’s idea for an original Christmas Tree, gets cast out into a snowy garden by Mum. The child takes pity on the flytrap and puts a wrapped present at its ‘feet’. The family follow his generous example and the green giant eats all the presents but after ripping off the wrappings, spits them out again to members of the family just in time for Christmas.
So, Snapper – The Perfect Tree was conceived and launched in the first week of November to some surprisingly high praise according to postings on the YouTube website where we can watch the full two-minute version at our leisure, rather than hanging around any or all commercial TV channels for its appearance. I have to say, my best memory of Venus flytraps was from school when a few of us had plants and discovered that, in the absence of suitable insects, our green friends loved a small morsel of cheddar cheese. At least it stopped them wandering off to look for ‘real food’.
Cheesy – not only the ads, but also the grub
But cheese seems to have become a recurrent theme in other retailers’ Christmas TV ads this year. I suppose the “House of the Mouse”, aka Disney, the recent new owners of Nick Park’s Wallace & Gromit resisted offering their animated protégés for Sainsbury’s, so the retailer turned to this year’s surprising (and welcome) returning star turn, Rick Astley, to remind us of what else should be on the table for Christmas Dinner – “Cheese! As if you could give that up!”
Talking of cheese, a sumptuous cheeseboard makes an appearance in what looks like a party of munchy excess hosted to feature Marks & Spencer food and drink produce and includes its climactic “reveal” of a “Bûche de Noël” – Christmas Log – delivered by a jovial guest Graham Norton, who promptly collapses on a sofa, no doubt full of M&S Christmas nibbles.
So far, few advertisers, especially grocers, have mentioned the traditional fare of roast turkey. Indeed, moving to fast food, KFC – those pleasant pluckers of poultry, have positively eschewed the prospect of turkey pieces or burgers on their Christmas menu and, instead, support the idea of chicken as a substitute fowl with its Stuffing Stacker burger, an ad beautifully underpinned with the appetising soundtrack of Nessun Dorma. Not a star in sight here, just a monster tower of food in a bun topped with a slice of cheese. (*)
The true star turn of Christmas TV advertising
Despite a rather snooty dismissal of the advertising industry’s periodical magazine Campaign as “Turkey Of The Week”, a very unlikely candidate is promising to capture its viewers’ hearts, according to a poll conducted by media pollster The Drum. The commercial doesn’t feature food, plants, cute(?) kids, stars or animated characters.
Instead, Joy Ride features three ladies of a certain age who meet on a bench at the top of a snow-covered hill to admire, rather wistfully, the bravery of much younger people sliding down the steep incline on sledges and snowboards.
Sometime later, the friends return to the bench but one of them has a parcel for the other two to open. It contains seat pads. This arouses their (and our) curiosity. The next scene reveals the Christmas treat for the old friends – excitedly sliding down the snowbound hill on small sledges, comfortably perched on their seat pads, remembering how they used to do the same thing when they were young children.
The advertiser – none other than the online giant Amazon – shows that even the simplest of delights can hit the mark when it comes to dreaming up Christmas pressies that offer joy!
All the ads mentioned here as well as those for other major retailers can be viewed on TV but, for full-length versions, all can be found on YouTube.
Well, Amazon’s Joy Ride gets my vote this year for the most charming and amusing ad, complete with a lovely instrumental rendering of the Beatles’ All My Life…
Seasons’ Greetings to all.
(*) By the way, anyone needing a little festive smile could do worse than to check out cartoonist Nick Newman’s item in The Sunday Times main section (19 November) where two turkeys are chatting, and one says to the other, “If David Cameron can make a comeback, we had better start making plans for January.” Made me smile anyway.