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It’s November; that time of year when brands attempt to out-do each other with campaigns to capture our hearts and wallets.

Fascinating isn’t it, that in recent years the reveal of the ‘Christmas Ads’ has become something of a cultural event? Whether this is a reflection of the state of culture in Britain or a testament to how powerful advertising has become I’m not sure, but one thing is certain, there will be much discourse on these campaigns beyond our industry circles. 

The usual big players have not let the pandemic cloud some big ideas, big production, big set builds and in some cases big tracks.

The one thing that perhaps drives all of these campaigns and the subsequent chatter more than any other is music and initially, I expected a more modest outing from the big players in a reflection of the terrible year we’ve all seen. After all, no-one wants to see another overpaid celeb frolicking in a £2,000 suit, robo-dancing to Little Mix’s Steroid Rehash of Born Free. That and the poor retail performance most brands are seeing might initiate tighter budgets employed across film and wider campaign spend. 

But, it seems I was wrong. The usual big players have not let the pandemic cloud some big ideas, big production, big set builds and in some cases big tracks.

And so, here’s this music supervisor’s view of the campaigns so far…

Argos – An Evening with AbracaDaisy & The Incredible Lucy

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Argos

The first of the Christmas Ads I've seen for 2020 and a strong start, could Argos be winning again this year?   

It is full of the joys of Christmas, using their previously tried and tested kids view of the world, a much needed feelgood piece from this retailer. 

The real winner here of course is GarBar, as Argos provide him THE best launch platform for this new single by blasting it to the nation repeatedly for the next eight weeks. 

A strong sync. of an albeit new but existing track, namely Gary Barlow's new single Incredible from his forthcoming album due late November, just in time for... wait, Christmas!  Lyrically it ticks the boxes, stylistically fun with its pop meets big band sound, it's hard not to be charmed by this film.

The real winner here of course is GarBar, as Argos provide him THE best launch platform for this new single by blasting it to the nation repeatedly for the next eight weeks. That and the massive sync fees Polydor Records will no doubt be charging for the exclusive privilege. I only hope for &Partnership's sake that their appointed music supervisor used this platform of opportunity as a basis for fair negotiations. 

Amazon – The Show Must Go On

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Amazon

Amazon are the first of the players to acknowledge the troubling and seemingly never-ending misery we humans find ourselves currently in with a heartfelt and genuinely touching story. 

As is often the case with Amazon at Christmas, the song appears to drive the creative. And this time it reveals itself through a tasteful arrangement of Queen’s The Show Must Go On

Amazon are the first of the players to acknowledge the troubling and seemingly never-ending misery we humans find ourselves currently in.

Freddie Mercury died just six weeks after the song was first released in 1991, so in reality the show must not necessarily go on and that will sadly be the case for many businesses over the coming months. One thing’s for sure however, we’ll all be relying on Amazon for a long time to come… until the robot apocalypse of course. Look busy.

TK Maxx – The Lil' Goat

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TK Maxx

Ah I spoke too soon… TK Maxx also acknowledges the 2020 chaos, but with a more humorous turn through the medium of a Goat with some keen threads gifted by a farmer. Imagine pitching that one??

Top props for not simply using something from pop star du jour. 

Strutting its way into the wider public consciousness and my prediction for the coolest track choice we’ll hear this Christmas from Gabriel Garzon Montano, Junglepussy on the Re-work. 

Top props for not simply using something from pop star du jour. (We’re looking at you Morrison’s).

Very – Christmas Is This Very Moment

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Very.co.uk

After several outings in the world of animation we see Very.co.uk applying the Oxo family treatment, safe ground I guess in uncertain times? Am I being a bit cruel or is Mum just a tiny bit massively irritating? Also, I’m still none the wiser as to what Very.co.uk actually do.

I’m always intrigued to know why a ‘big’ track is used.

Further safe ground with Brit staple Marc Bolan’s feel-good tub thumper Hot Love from 1971. In a dialogue heavy piece like this, I’m always intrigued to know why a ‘big’ track is used. OK, so the lyrics of this song (not present in this version) are about a strong, and potentially sexually adventurous female, but I bet most viewers won’t make that connection. And I’d further bet most of Very.co.uk’s core audience don’t care that it’s Marc Bolan, in fact most won’t even know it’s Marc Bolan so why spend the money? So, seemingly this has fallen into the The Big Track Trap, the common mistake marketers and their minions fall into all too often with ad campaigns; in other words spending many ££ on a famous track that in reality adds little value to the overall piece.  

Performance of the day goes to the dachshund.

LEGO – And I Think To Myself

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Lego

I quite enjoyed that until the tag line… Rebuild The world! REBUILD THE WORLD?? Seriously? Not only is this stratospherically patronising, they serve it while having a kid sing “That’s a really cool world” to the tune of Louis Armstrong’s Wonderful World. Talk about mixed messaging. I’ve just punched a hole thought my keyboard I’m typing with such vitriol! All our Lego is now in the bin! 

Top marks overall for ambition, and on the whole (disco scene notwithstanding) very well executed.

Credit must be given to the composer/arranger here who was clearly instructed to tightly score every scene to reflect the exact goings on, then magi-glue it together to make it work as a single piece, which in real-land music never happens. Top marks overall for ambition, and on the whole (disco scene notwithstanding) very well executed. But for me, Too Much Stuff. Whatever your ambitions, always consider the single most important creative mantra - Less, is more!

That tag line though… eerrgghhh.

Facebook – Charades

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I like Ian Wright, he’s often amusing, he’s honest, he’s evolved into a something of a national treasure. But hey listen up ad land, HE CAN’T ACT, and as evidenced by these lamely written spots he can’t even produce a convincing turn as himself. 

Clearly, Facebook are focussed on fighting imminent self-destruction and not on the Christmas ad campaign.

Two films, the first employing a jazz piece from the library bin, and what sounds like a rip off of J Balvin for the other? Bit lazy this. Clearly, Facebook are focussed on fighting imminent self-destruction and not on the Christmas ad campaign.

Pizza Hut – The 55 Days Of Christmas

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Pizza Hut

With more ingredients than an entire Ottolenghi cookbook, this pizza looks to be the singularly most un-appetising foodstuff on Planet Earth right now and I know because I’ve been to Iceland. 

The vocal arrangement could definitely have done with more musicality and excitement.

Nice idea using everyone’s favourite Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas as a vehicle to deliver the message, certainly brought a smile to my face and offers some much-needed daftness to the seasonal churn. Why the same guy for each member of this choral ensemble though? 

The vocal arrangement could definitely have done with more musicality and excitement, perhaps a missed opportunity here.  

Asda – ASDA Price Christmas

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Asda

Was the voice over intentionally directed to sound like he was on Cbeebies? And, I get that they’re trying to appeal to our collective reality but it’s so…uninspiring. Even at Christmas Asda are still banging on about price! Give it a rest and give us some entertainment please?

Even at Christmas Asda are still banging on about price! Give it a rest and give us some entertainment please?

Dealing with this sound stuff daily, I maintain you can’t have a busy, relevant, lyrical message and a wordy voice over work together. Case in point, here’s a youthful Stevie Wonder lamenting on his perfect Christmas all the while the voice over reading a bedtime story about #craplife. 

And, they’ve got the mnemonic wrong. Oops!

John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose & Partners – Give A Little Love

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John Lewis

Well, it took a pandemic to do it, but John Lewis have finally broken the mold with an original song at Christmas! And not before time, call me a snob but I’d just about had enough of the weepy, oh-so-inoffensive-its-actually-offensive cover versions we’ve been subjected to for the best part of a decade. A sound, that seems to have influenced so many other advertisers who in turn make matters considerably worse by imitating this saccharine approach to music-making by attempting it on the cheap. If I’d been offered a quid for every time I’ve heard the phrase “We want to do a John Lewis” I’d be typing this from my boat in the Med. and not a box room in Tooting, South London. 

With its luscious string arrangement and wistful delivery it feels like a Christmas song from a bygone era, when the season was wonderful, snowy, colourful, and sound-tracked by Nat King Cole, not decimated by pandemics, global divisions and despot leaders hell bent on taking us all down with them. 

Anyway back to this year and a delightful number it is too and a canny choice of voice in the form of BBC Music’s Sound of 2020 winner and The Brit’s Rising Star award recipient - Celeste. 

Channelling the likes of Ella and Eartha and naturally, a bit of Amy as it seems any British female hoping to snare a major label record contract has to channel Amy nowadays, it’s a song that wouldn’t be out of place 60 or 70 years ago. With its luscious string arrangement and wistful delivery it feels like a Christmas song from a bygone era, when the season was wonderful, snowy, colourful, and sound-tracked by Nat King Cole, not decimated by pandemics, global divisions and despot leaders hell bent on taking us all down with them. 

Safe ground then ultimately but we all need a bit of familiarity and nostalgia right now.

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