Opinion

I've overindulged in Christmas ads and it's left a bad taste. Here's why

Christmas ads seem to be an annual exercise in meaninglessness, which may not be the message the advertisers are trying to convey

Life in a Christmas ad is too perfect and leaves you feeling like a slob by comparison. Image: Tessa Rampersad on Unsplash

I’ve just sat through a YouTube compilation of the best Christmas ads of 2023. Golden, succulent turkeys. Novelty reindeer headbands and glittery dresses. Parties in expensive looking homes that go a bit wrong but, hey, who cares? Christmas doesn’t have to be perfect, right? Different ages, different races, different skin colours. All the same socio-economic profile, mind you: comfortably off homeowners throwing glitzy get-togethers in semi-detached houses that, once upon a time, might have been regarded as modest but would now list on Zoopla for well over a million quid.

Everyone’s happy and financially secure. The music is piano led and mournful to begin with but gradually builds towards something more upbeat and life affirming. People keep knocking at other people’s doors. There’s a great deal of CGI sparkle and magic in the air. One of the ads features a robin redbreast with advanced emotional sentience. Another features a raccoon. A raccoon in Britain? Seems a bit far fetched. But anything is possible at Christmas, I suppose. 

Change a Big Issue vendor’s life this Christmas by purchasing a Winter Support Kit. You’ll receive four copies of the magazine and create a brighter future for our vendors through Christmas and beyond.

No two Christmases are the same, they seem to say. Maybe so, but almost all Christmas ads are identical. 

When I was a kid this sort of smug portrayal of Christmas made me feel a bit left out. The whole ‘matching tartan jim-jams by the fireside and eggnog for everyone’ thing that advertisers were even peddling back in the ’80s just made most of us feel like Wayne and Waynetta Slob by comparison.

M&S did an ad this year that tries to tell us “it’s OK to ditch the traditions and do the holidays however you like”. But even in their supposedly anarchic and lawless depictions of Christmas, everyone’s still famous, done up to the nines, surrounded by gourmet grub and eating with matching silverware.

It’s all very alienating. Which is probably the point: make people feel so inadequate that they have no choice but to go down to M&S Food Hall and drop fifty quid on a load of frozen canapes in a futile bid to rescue their self-esteem.

Of course, bingeing all of these ads at once, like so many Cadbury’s Heroes on Christmas morning, is only ever likely to make you feel sick. Perhaps watched in isolation, squished into the break of Corrie or Channel 4 News, they would have a more profound emotional impact. As it is, I have machine gunned Christmas marketing content into my eyeballs in a way that has proved extremely damaging to my yuletide spirit.

I just can’t help thinking about the amount of money ploughed into these mini epics. Some of them go on for ages, telling convoluted, often confusing, tales of festive love, heartbreak, loneliness and redemption. There’s one for Apple where an office worker hates her boss but then ends up liking him. It’s almost as long as Scorcese’s Killers of the Flower Moon. Once I’d committed to it, I couldn’t bring myself to turn back and just forced myself to keep watching in the belief that, for this amount of effort and cash to have gone into an advert so lengthy, it just had to have a denouement as dramatic and shocking as The Usual Suspects. Spoiler alert: it didn’t.

It probably cost Apple a million quid to make and a few million more to stick on TV. And for what? Who is watching it? None of us! We all forward through the ads anyway. The only people who don’t are those who can’t afford streaming services, let alone an iPhone 15. The sort of disenfranchised folk who these ads completely omit from their ‘inclusive and diverse’ narratives.

These ads drip with expense. Dawn French, Graham Norton, Michael Bublé – the celebs they chuck on screen, almost arbitrarily, must cost a fortune. I am hard pressed to recall which of the stars are associated with which of the brands. Maybe Dawn French is flogging Tesco? Or is it M&S? I like Dawn French. I like M&S.

I don’t even mind Tesco too much (there’s one at the petrol station round the corner that opens late and is quite convenient). Which one is Graham Norton in? What is going on? There are people starving out there. Millions of families living off food banks. Kids going without any sort of Christmas to speak of. Couldn’t these big supermarkets have just donated all of that money to the poor instead of their advertising agencies? 

There are so few calls to action in today’s Christmas campaigns. Rather, they all seem designed to remind us that (a) It’s Christmas and (b) Christmas is nice. These ads have become public service announcements with no commercial imperative; a bit like those Central Office of Information films the government used to put out, reminding kids not to climb into abandoned fridges.

They are designed to lift the public mood and ready us for the festivities. It’s lovely, I suppose. But, ultimately, what’s the point?

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Sudan's year of war: How British government has failed UK residents with family in Sudan
Sudan conflict protest
Nick Beales

Sudan's year of war: How British government has failed UK residents with family in Sudan

A lifetime of playing the imitation game has reaped rewards
John Bird

A lifetime of playing the imitation game has reaped rewards

The difference between Glasgow and Edinburgh? Glasgow's beauty is not overt, but subtle and beguiling
The Glasgow studio of the Duke of Wellington
Robin Ince

The difference between Glasgow and Edinburgh? Glasgow's beauty is not overt, but subtle and beguiling

What we can learn from how US has criminalised rough sleepers – and how Sunak may follow suit
Homelessness

What we can learn from how US has criminalised rough sleepers – and how Sunak may follow suit

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know