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The best Christmas ads of the decade, according to Dougal Wilson, Mother, W+K and more

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Dougal Wilson and adam&eveDDB: The Long Wait

December is upon us and, suddenly, not only is Christmas around the corner but a whole new shiny decade. So we’ve gone all nostalgic, and asked five creatives behind some of the best ads of Christmases past and present – Dougal Wilson, Anna Mantzaris, Mother, Wieden + Kennedy and Stink Studios – to tell us about their favourite Christmas ad of the past decade – one they didn’t make.

Dougal Wilson

My choice would be last year’s Iceland ad. This was actually a Greenpeace ad rebranded by Iceland to promote palm oil free products. I appreciate it doesn’t feel very obviously Christmassy, but it was intended to make consumers think about avoiding products containing palm oil, especially at a time of year where our consumption increases. Specifically, consumption of items you wouldn’t think contained palm oil, for example, mince pies (Iceland’s were palm-oil free). Iceland also committed to go palm oil free across all their own-label ranges.

I love the idea from Mother, particularly their writing, plus the wonderful animated execution by Salon Alpin of Passion Pictures.

The film got over 30 million views online, however – and somewhat bewilderingly – it was blocked from TV by broadcast approval body Clearcast for breaking a rule in the advertising code against content from political organisations. I’m not sure what’s political about avoiding palm oil and preventing rainforest destruction. A petition calling on Clearcast to overturn the decision gained over a million signatures but had no effect.

This is my favourite because I love the bold principal of a retailer using their Christmas campaign to speak out about an important environmental issue. I look forward to others doing the same.

Dougal directed the John Lewis Christmas ads Excitable Edgar, Buster the Boxer, Monty the Penguin, The Journey and The Long Wait.

Mark Shanley, creative director at Wieden+Kennedy London.

I’ve chosen Morrisons The Truth by MullenLowe London. Once upon a time a supermarket decided instead of trying to make everybody cry, to tell the truth about the festive period. Now Christmas aside, TV ads that tell the truth are few and far between, so this was always likely to stand out in an ad break packed end to end with C-list celebs festooned in tinsel and turkeys painted with what I can only presume is some sort of hard wearing wood stain. 

Morrisons took the pretty daring step all those years ago to point out that Christmas, for some, is actually stressful and annoying and inconvenient and the cook rarely gets to enjoy the day. Then they brought it to life in a surprising way that made the familiar more entertaining, cutting through the usual bullshit like a hot knife through a varnished turkey.

Ever since that Christmas most of the supermarkets have reverted to the tried and tested formula of emotional blackmail. But Christmas isn’t all cute kids with even cuter animal friends and wispy voiced covers of long-forgotten pop songs. No, as Morrisons once reminded us, it’s hard work but ultimately totally worth it. 

W+K created this year’s Sainsbury’s Christmas campaign, Nicholas the Sweep; Mark Shanley was also creative director on W+K’s incredible Nothing Beats a Londoner ad.

Anna Mantzaris

My favourite Christmas ad is Adopt a better future by Uncommon for WWF, directed by Noah Harris. It’s not a traditional Christmas ad, but I really like it. The film focuses on mass deforestation and extinction of precious wildlife in the Amazon.

It’s beautiful and very well crafted, the technique goes really well with the theme of the film. I think the story is powerful and well told. The transitions between the scenes are gorgeous and quite unusual for stop motion.

With the climate crisis today, and the deforestation caused by our lifestyle and consumption, I think we need to think twice about how much we buy and consume in Christmas and that it has an effect on the world. Hopefully this ad will make us think about that and also that you can use your money for something that has a positive impact – like adopting a jaguar!"

Anna directed the Greenpeace Christmas ad for 2018, The Handmade Gift.

Nick Hallbery, creative director at Mother London

I’ve chosen John Lewis’ ad from 2011, The Long Wait, by Dougal Wilson and adam&eveDDB. The heartfelt story, the emotional music and the exquisite film craft, all with an unexpected twist – all the key ingredients to a winning Christmas ad that will have had people up and down the country weeping into their Quality Street tin. Fast forward eight years and you can’t help but feel that John Lewis has become a victim of its own success, how long can this genre keep going?

Mother London is the agency behind Ikea’s Christmas ad, Silence the Critics, and KFC’s animated Good Luck series.

Stink Studios ECD Cameron Temple

My favourite is Currys’ Spare the Act by AMVBBDO. When brands are spending millions to win the “battle of the Christmas ads” by tugging on heartstrings, this one shines through.

Aside from the fact that it makes me laugh out loud, it takes a bang on festive insight (that’s not designed to make you cry) and delivers it with a flawless script. It made me think twice about what I was gifting in 2015 and after watching it just now, has done so again.

Also, they probably shot it in a day and spent the same on production as others do on catering.

Stink Studios has regularly worked with adam&eveDDB on the digital extension of the John Lewis Christmas campaign, including an augmented reality experience in 2017.