Have Yourself a Maudlin Little Christmas With These Ads
Ah, Christmas season in New York. The temperature dips to a balmy 50 degrees. The smell of roasting nuts (I hope) drifts up the avenues. And an editor quietly weeps at his desk.
No, it's not because this unnamed editor (hint: it's me) is lonely for the holidays or distressed by the crop of presidential candidates or brokenhearted over the stream of horror playing out on CNN.
Rather, it's because I've been watching this year's harvest of tearjerker Christmas ads.
Sure, they're overwrought, manipulative and tawdry. Sure, the connection to what's being sold, in some cases, is completely nonexistent.
I don't care. I'm a fan of the genre. A good cry clears out the pipes. And it's always a good cry if it isn't prompted by something horrible in the real world.
But this year, things are getting maybe just a wee bit ridiculous. This year's bumper crop, some of which are below and all of which can be seen on Creativity-Online.com, includes a widower, a possibly motherless child, a lonely old man, an outcast vegetable, another lonely old man, a hopelessly hapless cat and yet another lonely old man—one so lonely he's driven to extremes.
It was that last one that turned off the spigot of holiday tears and snot for me.
German supermarket brand Edeka trotted out an ad centered on an older gentleman who seems to be spending the holidays alone because his adult children are too busy. Cut to scenes of these adult children receiving phone calls of horrible news. Obviously, their father has died. Now, too late, they all journey home. But I'm totally on board, getting ready for a good desk-side cry. This is the old Reverse Cat's in the Cradle!
And then it turns out that the old man had faked his death!
I wondered if maybe this particular genre of holiday ad, mastered by the Brits, just got lost in translation when the Germans gave it a shot.
But no. Mail-order company Otto, with the help of Berlin-based agency Heimat, served up a perfectly fine ad featuring a lost letter, a dead (for real) grandfather and a long-delayed gift.
It slayed me. So the Germans are perfectly capable of cheap sentiment.
As are the Brazilians. As part of a Coca-Cola short-film series, José Roberto Torero dreamed up "A Bridge for Santa." In this two-hanky effort, a young boy has his father send a letter to Santa. In the letter, the boy explains how his mom had promised to introduce him to Santa. But she's "gone" (dead!) and the bridge is out, so Santa can't get to his town. Of course, Dad reads the letter. Of course, the bridge gets rebuilt. Santa, riding in a caravan of Coke trucks, comes to town to save the day. And even Dad finds new love.
We're no slouches in the U.S., either. A spot for Toys "R" Us starts off with a seemingly single dad and his boy. But by the end of the spot, it turns out Mom is alive -- and you've got to run to the men's room to take care of your red eyes and runny nose.
It's not all about death and loneliness. Tylenol rolled out an ad featuring peace, love and families of all races, creeds and sexual orientation.
Even Microsoft went caroling in front of the Apple store, extending an olive branch in the spirit of the season. So what if it was a slightly passive-aggressive move meant to drum up publicity?
Most would lay the blame for this explosion of weepy ads at the feet of advertisers in the U.K., where holiday season has turned into their version of the Super Bowl. Sainsbury's and John Lewis are the two heavy-hitters in this particular field, and seem to be feeling the pressure of matching previous years' efforts. What kind of pressure? The Telegraph created a clock that ticks down the time until the arrival of the John Lewis Christmas campaign.
Starting with "The Long Wait" in 2011, John Lewis and Adam & Eve/DDB have been combining killer soundtracks and great stories to break through the defenses of even the most bitter old fart. Last year's ad, "Monty's Christmas," might have been the pinnacle of the form.
This year's ad, "Man in the Moon," had some touching moments, but some were put off by an old man peeping at a young girl through a telescope. Sorry, that's just the world we live in.
And social media seemed to give Sainsbury's "Mog's Christmas"—in which a calamitous cat (and well-known children's book character) saves the day (after almost destroying it)—the edge in the battle to win Christmas in the U.K.
But the season's not over yet. BBC One came up with an ad featuring a young brussels sprout who is shunned by all of society, until Dr. Who invites him over for Christmas dinner. (For the record, this one did not make me cry, because nothing will get me to ever feel sympathy for brussels sprouts. Gross.)
Supermarket chain the Co-operative Food had a subtly touching ad about two young blokes prepping for a party. One goes out for ice and anonymously drops off a bag of groceries for an elderly neighbor fretful about the weather.
It's all a lot to take in. And I'm sure I'm just scraping the surface. For example, you could also check out Irish grocery chain SuperValu's holiday spot, "Christmas Good Food
But if you've already had too much of this type of Christmas spirit, I've got the perfect antidote.
Surf on over to the holiday video for Lagavulin Scotch, "Yule Log." It features noted manly man (and actor) Nick Offerman sitting next to a fireplace sipping Scotch in blessed silence for 45 minutes.
It might just make you weep with relief.