The Grinch’s Guide to Christmas Adverts 2016

Christmas is a time when we combat the encroaching darkness of winter with a festival dedicated to togetherness and compassion. It’s also a time when slobbering specimens weep over seasonally-themed adverts for shops, shaking money out of their pockets with each heaving sob. This year, however, the Yuletide Industrial Complex has tried to inject some levity into this year’s barrage of sales. The problem is, the humour doesn’t quite disguise the deep existential terror that sits at the heart of each advert.

John Lewis – Buster the Boxer

John Lewis’ Christmas stories have always been a bit fanciful. In the past we’ve had implausible tales of a man surviving on the moon without oxygen, a hare and a bear becoming predator/prey BFFs, and a snowman’s epic quest for love despite having neither consciousness nor genitals. But this year’s advert features John Lewis’ most preposterous premise yet. There is no way that two foxes would rather bounce on a trampoline than keep a little girl awake all night with the harrowing shrieks of their copulation, a demonic cacophony that sears itself into her memory and demolishes her innocence forever.

Tesco – Bring it on

In an astonishing display of wanting to have one’s cake and eat it too, Tesco’s Christmas ad, which premiered in early November, is about it being too early to start thinking about Christmas. Perhaps Tesco hope that, like the character in the ad, viewers will be so overwhelmed by thoughts of all the stuff they need to buy that they’ll convince themselves it’s not too early to get started. Which is sort of like BP saying you should cheer yourself up about climate change by driving your car around a lot while you still can.

Waitrose – Home for Christmas

Waitrose’s effort this year is essentially the Planet Earth Christmas Special, a heartwarming tale about the pitiless indifference of the animal kingdom. The natural world in this ad is not one of cute animals being kind to each other, but a relentless cavalcade of violence in which death is always mere seconds away. The humble, fragile robin is thrust into this tempest of chaos and must brave both the raging elements and the constant presence of predators in order to survive. In the end, we learn that the robin endures not out of his inherent goodness, but because he is motivated by the same base urges that drive all beasts – the need to feed and to fornicate.

Aldi – Kevin the Carrot

Aldi gets you into the festive spirit by reminding you that Christmas dinner from the perspective of the food is the culinary equivalent of the D-Day landings. Kevin the carrot, after slogging through mashed potato quicksand, passing the mutilated bodies of his fellow carrot people and accidentally mauling himself on a cheese grater, finally reaches the end of his journey: being eaten alive by Santa Claus.

Burberry – The Tale of Thomas Burberry

An avalanche of self-seriousness that’s pompous even by the standards of fashion adverts, this faux trailer dramatises the life of celebrated designer and war profiteer Thomas Burberry.  Featuring human wet tissue Domhall Gleeson in the titular role, the star-studded film depicts T-Burbz as a tortured genius who “makes dreams a reality” and can “imagine whole worlds in his head”, by which they mean he makes coats.

Marks and Spencer – Christmas with love from Mrs. Claus

There aren’t many independent, powerful female characters in the Yuletide tradition for young women to relate to. The closest thing there is to a Christmas feminist hero is Holly Gennaro, Bruce Willis’ estranged wife in Die Hard: a smart, competent woman who won’t let a man stand in the way of her career ambitions, and even she gets kidnapped by Hans Gruber. So it’s pretty much a triumph for feminism that Marks and Spencer emancipated Mrs. Claus from the shackles of the patriarchy and recast her as a foxy older woman who won’t stand idly by and let the men do all the gift-giving. Even if the patriarchy is still symbolically present in the form of that annoying kid who thinks buying women material items excuses systematic abuse.

Lidl – Christmas Turkey

It’s hard to watch this without being reminded of Silence of the Lambs. There’s a Hannibal Lecter vibe to the farmer’s slow, emotionless drawl that makes lines like, “we’d better put these birds to bed” particularly chilling. It doesn’t help that his outfit visually echoes the prison overalls Anthony Hopkins wears in the film, or that they’re both mass murderers who serve their prey to dinner guests.

Sainsburys – The Greatest Gift

There’s a huge amount of cognitive dissonance going on here. The chirpy song and charming stop frame animation contrast uncomfortably with the depiction of Christmas time as a dystopian nightmare. The scenes of apocalyptic travel disruption, the hordes of mindless consumers swarming high streets, the workers frantically maximising production before the holidays – it all paints a picture of the working man crushed beneath the heel of late capitalist society. So much of it is played for laughs but it’s uncomfortably familiar for all too many. It gets especially bleak when you consider that the main character automates his own job so he can spend time with his family. I don’t know about you, but foreshadowing the inevitable replacement of all human labour by machines doesn’t really get me in the Christmas spirit.