It's that time of year when big-name companies roll out their festive adverts in a bid to see who can make us the most emotional. As the tumultuous year that has been 2020 draws to a close, these made-for-YouTube mini dramas offer the perfect excuse to get into the festive spirit.
This year, though, the adverts are certainly under extra pressure to get the tone right. Hit the correct note with a Covid-weary and so-over-2020 audience, and gain a devoted following – for example, British department store John Lewis's 2019 offering has racked up more than 10.5 million views on YouTube. But, get it wrong and you risk your big Christmas campaign being turned into a meme.
The king of tear-jerker festive adverts is, of course, John Lewis, which has been making audiences ugly-cry since 2007. Setting the bar emotionally high, their offerings have become the standard by which all other adverts are judged. This year in particular, everyone watching at home needs an uplifting message of hope, sincerity and sob-inducing happy endings.
The Italian fashion house Gucci – a relative newcomer to the genre – offers a bird's-eye view of a cringeworthy office party. With the perfect mix of geekiness and awkwardness, it nods to all the party cliches, such as the inappropriate use of the work photocopier (here used to photocopy a gold sequined bag) and terrible dancing, with workers snaking through the office in a conga line, all delightfully out of step.
Once again, Gucci shows us it's okay to be the odd one out, the shy one or the don't-know-what-to-do-with-your-hands one. As an antidote to the edited perfection of social media, Gucci is celebrating that not being in with the in-crowd is, in fact, the best place to be.
An old hand at the festive advert, Coca-Cola offers something a fraction less saccharine than usual for 2020. This year, the clip shows a little girl giving a letter to her father to deliver to Santa Claus. We quickly learn the father works on an oil rig and, in trying to keep his promise, sets out on a epic Revenant-style journey to keep his word.
Undergoing some serious trials along the way, he arrives at the North Pole only to find it is closed for the holidays. Luckily, a huge Coca-Cola delivery truck pulls into view and drives him back home to his daughter. As he steps out of the truck, the driver hands him back the letter, which falls open to reveal the little girl had asked Santa for her father to come home for Christmas. As the truck drives away, we realise that Santa was the driver all along.
British supermarket Sainsbury's has gone all out with three different adverts (only one of which has aired to date). Shot on an old-school camcorder, and featuring plenty of wonky paper hats, mismatched decorations and terrible lighting, the first advert, Gravy Song, focuses on the importance of friends and family coming together at Christmas – and how arguing over who makes the best roast potatoes and gravy is a classic festive tradition.
Self-dubbed the "John Lewis 2020 Christmas ad alternative", this offering from Nimbus Beds, a small company tackling the very real issue of loneliness during the festive season, shows an elderly man alone in his home, reminiscing over old photographs. A visitor arrives, bringing the gift of a fluffy dog. While animal shelters have long tried to hammer home the message that a dog is for life and not just for Christmas, this time we can get on board with the present, as the man's life is transformed by his new companion.
The only problem with this new friendship is the sleeping arrangements, as the dog prefers the man's bed to his own. The solution comes via a Nimbus mattress, in which the pup can curl up happily beside his master. Sweet and endearing, the advert closes with the sobering message that 45 per cent of adults admit to feeling lonely during the festive period. So, be inspired to reach out to others at this time of year.
The online shopping behemoth owned by Jeff Bezos, one of only five global centibillionaires (those with a personal wealth of more than $100 billion apiece) urges us to come together this festive season.
Called The Show Must Go On, Amazon's advert focuses on a talented ballet student who wins the main part in her school's Christmas performance. She trains hard, practising day and night, come rain or shine, and is devastated when the performance is cancelled because of the pandemic. Undeterred, her little sister creates invites for her performance and galvanises the local community to come out on to their balconies and watch as her sister dances solo in the car park, spotlit by a torch handily purchased from Amazon.
Taking an upbeat note is British supermarket Tesco, which cheerfully declares that this year, the famous Naughty List has been banned. Yes, you heard correctly! Different people make their confessions to camera about their bad lockdown behaviour, from hoarding toilet rolls and giving bad haircuts to not staying on top of home-schooling. But thanks to the unprecedented events of this year, Santa has decided to scrap the usual Naughty / Nice system and instead reward everyone with a present.
Firmly tongue-in-cheek, this clever little advert lets us laugh at our behaviour from the early days of the pandemic, and ultimately says that a little self-forgiveness can go a long way.
Finally, we have John Lewis, the undisputed master of the festive advert. This year, the theme is "Give a Little Love", and the advert starts with a boy staring at his football stuck in a tree.
A pigeon arrives and we sit forward, hoping the bird will return the errant ball to its owner. It doesn't and so begins the emotional rollercoaster. A little girl arrives and throws her umbrella to try and dislodge the ball, which opens into a heart, triggering a skilful sequence that tells the story via illustrations, stop-motion animation and real-life footage. A melting snowman is brought back to life, hip-hop pigeons extend a wing of friendship to a hedgehog who just wants to hang out, and a little girl's glasses are fixed with a heart sticker donated by a stranger on a bus.
The music not only plucks at the heartstrings but the song, A Little Love, was written especially for the advert by singer Celeste, and 10 pence (13 cents) will be donated to the John Lewis Christmas campaign every time it is downloaded, meaning that when you stop weeping over this adorable, heart-warming tale, you can then do something concrete to help.