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It’s that most wonderful time of the year…

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It’s that most wonderful time of the year…
…when we all wait with bated breath for the much-coveted slice of escapism afforded to us by the bellwethers of the high street, through their annual festive ad debuts.

There’s been much conjecture over the direction these would take – and the result, like a certain presidential election, is another split down the middle. A battle of tradition vs technology; old skool celebs vs YouTubers; familiar festive hits vs emerging talent.

But what has united almost every ad gracing our screens ahead of Christmas 2020 is the golden thread of responsibility. This is been a truly awful year for all but a minority. Christmas will be restricted in every sense of the word. The biggest retailers and consumer brands have indeed shared in the suffering, but they are going to use their 30 seconds of glory to remind us that they’re still doing their bit.

M&S has gone as far as to pledge charity donations of £2m to a range of charities – and this at a time when it has also announced that it is axing its traditional big-budget festive ads for its clothing and home ranges.

Walkers’ Sausage CaRoll sees a new flavour of crisps introduced to raise money for the Trussell Trust “for those who live in poverty”.

Disney has a long-standing relationship with charity Make A Wish, but the rhetoric this year speaks to connecting families across the generations, no doubt in the face of a year that has forced families apart – and in anticipation of a Christmas that may do the same.

Then we see the tech giants predictably dialling up their societal role of convener of people in lockdown; be it Three reminding us that we’ve lived 2020 through our mobiles, or Facebook Portal suggesting an alternative way to play traditional family charades from separate living rooms.

One theme to emerge this year is a general dial back on the emotional. In years past, it has felt like a battle to the top of the tear-jerking league table – that Lily Allen voice over of Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know for John Lewis still makes me well up. This year, they’re a little less emotive – as if the brands realise now isn’t the time to make people cry.

Aldi’s festive star Kevin the Carrot had to return to our screens, but they’ve pulled out all the stops with traditional festive film references, much-loved British voices and a message about reuniting loved ones. And perhaps realising this doesn’t quite demonstrate social responsibility – the supermarket opens by reminding us of their responsibility to continue the long-running saga and get Kevin the Carrot home.

Amazon is one who has arguably had a better year than most. So it’s interesting to see that they haven’t gone down the route of demonstrating their own social contribution. Instead, the message is one of community; resilience in the face of adversity; and the ability to make one another’s dreams come true. But it does leave you wondering where Amazon sees its role in all that.

The one we are all waiting for is the John Lewis big reveal, and we’ll have to wait a little longer for that. This is a brand in turmoil – losing stores, partners and trust this year as it swings from one announcement to another. It’s already pledged to raise £5m for FareShare and Home-Start in a festive charity campaign, but it remains to be seen how it translates that to our screens.

Big gestures and philanthropy aside, I’ve got to call out one other for its simplicity and originality in place of fanfare. TK Maxx chose the straightforward message that we all “blimmin’ well deserve it” after the tough year we’ve had. It’s not exactly exercising societal responsibility, but that strutting pink goat brings a smile. And that’s without doubt one thing everyone needs this festive season.

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