Selling Christmas in our year of Covid

Jingle tills. Jingle tills. Jingle all the way.

Retailers have never known a Christmas like it. With lockdown lasting until at least December, they’re having to use every weapon in their armoury to entice shoppers to spend.

And they aren’t shy in addressing coronavirus, the lockdown and the huge effect it has had on all of us.

Amid economic uncertainty, job losses and worse, stores are spending big on marketing.

But they are also having to pitch their message just right – to ensure they acknowledge these strange times without appearing insensitive or crass.

The fight for the High Street pound has never been tougher as a crowded market chases ever decreasing spending power. The answer, so it seems, is to entertain. A slew of festive adverts are dominating our TV screens, smart devices and more as big names duke it out for a share of the festive pie.

Here then, in no particular order, is our guide to 10 of the most memorable festive adverts for 2020.


The Matalan advert is titled Real Life Ready and follows different families around the UK as they collect a real Christmas tree, video call loved ones and sit around a festive table in a Covid-secure bubble. It is designed to strike a chord with all long-suffering parents. Full of humour, full of doors being closed on carol singers and brimful of awful singing, motorists driving the wrong ways and kids moaning that their seat in the family car has been taken up by a Christmas tree, it will put people in the festive mood, while encouraging sales of purse-friendly goods.


Forget about the nation’s annus mirabilis seems to be the message of Tesco. Shaming those who bought too many loo rolls, who didn’t wash their hands, who didn’t do the home-schooling properly, it’s an advert that captures the zeitgeist and tells viewers: Don’t worry, there’s no naughty list. Familiar and reassuring, Tesco encourages families to spend, spend, spend and forget any ideas that Santa won’t be popping down their chimney. No naughty list sounds like the sort of Christmas that many will look forward to.


There’s always one. And this year it’s Sainsbury’s who have created not one, not two but three festive adverts. In each one, stories are brought to life through a series of video-style footage and phone conversations. They ignore the glitz and gloss as they focus on unvarnished stories, starting with Gravy Song, featuring a father and daughter growing nostalgic for home-cooked food. It’s enough to warm the cockles of even the hardest heart.

Waitrose & John Lewis

Apparently, the John Lewis Christmas ad was almost cancelled. It wouldn’t have been Christmas without it, would it. This year it is as beautiful as ever; a paean to kindness with plenty of love hearts, gorgeous music, cartoon schemes and a focus on the real music of Christmas – that is, give a little love. “We did consider whether it was right to produce an ad this year at all,” says James Bailey, Executive Director of Waitrose. “However, FareShare and Home-Start told us how much of a difference this campaign could make, both on a financial level and in raising awareness of the incredibly important work they do with families across the UK.” Two minutes of transportive loveliness, the John Lewis advert focuses minds at the end of a tumultuous year.


Nobody pulls on the heart strings quite like the company that employs a giant clown as a mascot and sells beef patties for a quid. A gorgeous cartoon with a cover of an A-ha song, Forever Young, it focuses on a young boy facing an internal struggle, wanting to be happy but being consumed with angst. It’s a work of art, using cgi as a teenage boy finally gets with the programme and decides to put a smile on for Christmas.


We may be in middle of a pandemic, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be bombarded with offers to buy an unneeded sofa come Boxing Day. Furniture stores have already planned their festive sales. Dfs has achieved an impressive coup by teaming up with Wallace and Gromit for a 30-second animation. It’s anything but a hard-sell, simply nice shots of singing sheep, Ewe-phoria and the cheese-loving superhero in knitted jumpers. No doubt other ads will follow, telling us about the size of their bargains; for now it’s just subtle product placement.


The man in your life will be filling borders with bulbs while the lady in your life will be stacking up on pot pouri and more. Dobbies is getting in on the action, therefore, with the most surreal advert of the festive season. Featuring a sled-riding poodle – no, there’s no reason for that – it’s cheesey, schmaltzy and really quite bizarre. It’s not your average Christmas ad.

Coca Cola

Coca Cola is in a league of one when it comes to the battle of the big guns. It’s advert runs at 150-seconds and was shot by an Oscar-winning filmmaker Taika Waititi – whose credits include Jojo Rabbit, Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok and the upcoming new Star Wars film. It’s all about a dad trying to make it home for Christmas and it has the look and feel of a Hollywood movie, which, in truth, is precisely what it is. As one brave dad goes all the way to the North Pole to deliver his daughter’s Christmas letter to Santa, tears will undoubtedly well up on sofas around the world. Though the dad in question arrives after Santa has closed his shop for Christmas, a brightly-lit Cola truck saves the day and everyone lives happily ever after. Tissues are required.


Sausage rolls, Gary Linekar, social media stars. Walkers has got it licked this Christmas. Lad Baby has nailed it, in truth, and the campaign helps charity. This is a little bit mad, completely quirky and showing just how fat Aled Jones has got since his days of The Snowman.


Disney almost – but not quite – out does Coca Cola with a heart-warming advert called From Our Family To Yours. Created with cgi, the visual campaign introduces two new characters – a grandmother, Lola, and her granddaughter – alongside the ever-familiar Mickey Mouse, who features as a much-loved toy gifted to Lola as a young child by her father in 1940.

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