When a Christmas advert campaign goes too far

The battle lines have been drawn, the entries are in. The major supermarket and department store chains have released their Christmas marketing campaigns.

Each is clamouring to out-do the other, to become the most-talked about advert, in a bid to reverse last year’s disappointing high street and supermarket sales figures.

It’s a tradition that, if I’m honest, I actually enjoy. Seeing ad breaks filled with twee, sparkly adverts and sleigh bells is quite warming, and I have nothing against it. I really do love a bit of Christmas (in December).

However, it’s definitely possible to go too far. To concoct Christmas advert campaigns of such cloying cheesiness that it it, frankly, fills me with waves of mild depression.

In that regard, there have been two clear winners (or losers) this year, and both are stomach-turning in their own special way. Sainsbury’s and John Lewis have reached new levels of saccharine to outdo even the biggest Christmas morning selection box binge.

Sainsbury’s has whipped up a fair amount of controversy by glamourising World War I. My opinion: it’s a nicely-done piece of film, but totally inappropriate as a Christmas marketing campaign, even with the Royal British Legion donations.

However, for me, John Lewis really comes top of the tree this year. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the worst example of Christmas commercialisation I’ve ever seen.

John Lewis’ latest advert, based on the Monty the Penguin character, was, predictably, launched to a huge fanfare. People cried when they watched it, or so said the press release.

I thought it was ok. The penguin’s pretty cute, and as a dog lover, I can relate to the ‘boy’s best friend’ concept. I’m assuming the adult undertones of ‘little boy helps pet penguin get laid’ are lost on most of the younger members of the audience. At least, I hope they are.

I was happy to let it go, and get on with my life. I may or may not be purchasing items from John Lewis this Christmas, but if I do, the advert won’t have influenced me.

But then I stumbled across this.

To save you clicking through, that’s 45 different Monty the Penguin products that you can purchase this year. Forty-five.

A book, a pocket square, a magic facecloth (actual magic presumably not included), a jumper, a tie, the onesie, the cushion, the mug, the framed print, an umbrella… the list isn’t endless (it stops after 45 items, surprisingly) but it is utterly ridiculous.

Ankle socks, cufflinks, coin purse…

The icing on the sickliest cake of all time, though, is the personalised Christmas cards, which start at £95 for a set of 50. That’s £1.90 per card, maths fans. The site says 25% goes to various charities, but maybe you’d be better off buying some cheaper cards and making a larger donation directly to those charities? You’d still be left with a fair bit of change from your £95, I’m sure.

Further, they’re pushing the personalisation as a selling point. I can’t help but wish there was some way to personalise a card for its intended recipient using, I dunno, a biro or something.

Don’t get me wrong: I admire the marketing machinations that have taken place. It’s an impressive effort and I’m secretly a touch jealous of the ridiculous budget, kitchen-sink approach. It must be fun to spend that kind of cash on a campaign.

They have set out to create a phenomenon and they’ll be damned if they’ll stop until Monty the bloody Penguin is in every home in the land. But he won’t be seen in mine.