Christmas adverts: understanding a very British tradition

Christmas adverts: understanding a very British tradition

When I first moved to France, one of the biggest shocks to the system was Christmas. It was suddenly so understated, elegant and didn’t even start until late November. It was a world away from the all-out glitzy blitz from October onwards in the UK. 

It seemed that I could forget crackers, mince pies, carol singers and Christmas cards.

Christmas was now defined by fois gras, oysters, champagne and Christmas lunch on Christmas Eve.

However, a few years of French-living later, I’ve accepted most of the cultural differences that define Christmas on each side of the channel. Although I have to admit that I usually hop back to spend the festive season with my folks near London. Now that my son is nearly three and has just discovered Father Christmas, I’m rather glad of all hype and I’m looking forward to spending the big day eating turkey and wearing paper crowns. 

A quintessentially British tradition

Strangely, one thing I do miss is the all-out Christmas ad battle. Each year, in the runup to Christmas, the big shops and supermarkets in the UK pull out all the stops to create moments of festive magic. First stop? The Christmas Ad. Think cute cartoon characters, even cuter kids, song rewrites, famous directors and cheesy slogans. 

John Lewis, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer’s and Co. all compete to create the ad that wins over the hearts of the nation… and brings in the big bucks into the bargain!

According to Euronews, last year’s John Lewis ad clocked up more than 14 million views in total. And, the Christmas period saw a 1.4% year-on-year increase in the John Lewis-Waitrose partnership, despite a decidedly less successful year overall.

Advertising on the other side of the channel

But the big question is: could such hysteria ever cross Channel and reach French stores? 

Christmas is without doubt increasingly commercial and gift oriented across the world, including France, with brands having an ever bigger say. Some like Bouyges Telecoms already jumped on the great-Christmas-ad-storytelling bandwagon. But, in general, they still have a long way to go to fully embrace this oh-so-British tradition. 

As you may have already guessed, I’m a big fan. In my world, a little sentimentality goes a long way. Brands have been as inspired as ever this year. Here’s the short list of favourites. 

John Lewis

Make friends with Excitable Edgar whose fire-breathing enthusiasm causes havoc at Christmas. 


Meet Joel, the time-travelling driver, who takes us through 100 years of delivering Christmas.


Join the little girl who, ignored by her older sister, brings a loveable reindeer to life.


Wallace and Gromit are back and feeling festive!

What’s your favourite Christmas advert?  I’d love to hear from you!

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