Christmas adverts have garnered more and more attention in recent years, with big-name brands bringing in some of the design industry’s most talented individuals to sprinkle their creative fairy dust on their efforts (this year’s John Lewis Christmas ad was directed by an Academy award winner, no less).
However, Christmas has long been a chance for companies to up their advertising game, and in no sector has that been more true than alcohol. In years gone by, booze brands have produced some truly stellar Christmas spots and print ads. Here’s a run-down of our favourites.
01. Baileys: Christmas Nutcracker (2013)
A brilliant homage to the classic festive ballet The Nutcracker, this ad sees a group of female friends out having fun in a bar, when one of them starts flirting with the Nutcracker Prince. Cue the entrance of the Mouse King, who tries to take her off the Prince.
As the two men start dancing/fighting, the lady in question puts the Mouse King out of the running with a beautiful ballet version of a roundhouse kick, then instead of going off with the Prince, she returns to her girlfriends to carry on enjoying their Baileys cocktails.
The narrative challenged the concept of the typical Baileys drinker – the company was no longer angling for an older, more sedate audience but a younger, savvier crowd, and it managed to convey this shift without alienating anyone along the way.
This cheeky, forward-thinking ad (perhaps inspired by Disney’s Frozen, also 2013) also put two fingers up to traditional Christmas fairytales by showing a ‘princess’ who is both capable of looking after herself and not held in the sway of the Prince’s charms.
Coupled with a great message, the ad itself is stunning – gorgeous set design from Sarah Greenwood (of Atonement and 2005 Pride & Prejudice fame), punky, ethereal costumes and amazing choreography and performances courtesy of The Royal Ballet and Benjamin Millepied, who worked on Black Swan. Directed by the hugely talented commercial director Ringan Ledwidge through BBH, the spot premiered on Channel 4 before the first TV screening of Black Swan.
02. Absolut (1980-c.2000)
TBWA was behind a hugely successful campaign for Absolut Vodka. The long-running campaign launched in 1980 and featured bottle-led creative in a huge variety of iterations, prompting sales of the spirit to rocket over the following 20 years. Playful, challenging, artistic; the seemingly rigid format actually allowed and encouraged freedom of message and intent.
Some of our favourite examples of the Absolut X print adverts have been festive ones – including a magnetic word puzzle and a tree-shaped mouse hole. They manage to be fun and nostalgic without being twee or smug.
03. Famous Grouse Whisky (1990s-present)
Gilbert the Grouse has been gracing our yuletide screens for over 20 years. The popularity and longevity that Famous Grouse has enjoyed with this campaign is a lesson to all of us working in modern advertising: namely that an ad can be clever and impart multiple messages while also being very simple.
These also have a delightful naivety and whimsy that’s perfect for Christmastime – the above spot shows Gilbert letting his feathers down at the Christmas party, and you can also see him showing off how good he is on ice here. The music used in these ads deserves a special shout out. It’s light and breezy, but with a powerful mnemonic that sounds like drops of whisky.
04. Lagavulin: Nick Offerman’s Yule Log (2015)
If you’ve ever seen the Fireplace Channel, or a fireplace DVD, you’ll be aware of the concept of a video of nothing other than a fire slowly burning down, accompanied by no sound other than that of the logs crackling, hissing and spitting. These Yule Log videos are hypnotic, festive and comforting, while also being a bit weird.
Whoever thought of adding Nick Offerman to this setting, sitting silently for 45 mins, sipping a dram of his favourite whisky, is a complete genius. His Parks and Recreation character constantly longs for silence and is a fan of Lagavulin, and it turned out that this is also true of the actor, so this partnership feels very genuine.
Added to that is the tone of the advert: at first it feels silly and ironic, but as you watch it, it turns into more of an art piece. It’s hard not to be mesmerised by Offerman’s friendly yet strong gaze, and it more than holds it own as a standalone performance piece. Slow marketing at its very best.
05. Heineken: Nutcracker (2010) and Don’t Drink & Drive (2005)
Heineken’s Nutcracker is one of our favourite sorts of advert – using negative space to create the connection to the brand.
We also like this advert because it shows the importance of big brands doing advertising aimed at specific cultures and locations. This ad speaks to those countries that will immediately connect nuts with Christmas; it’s not a global tradition so will strike a specific chord with specific audiences.
Heineken also produced a great Christmas advert in 2005, this time warning customers of the dangers of drinking and driving. Don’t Drink & Drive reminds people in a non-preachy or unpleasant way of a really important message.
Sometimes it’s not necessary to make something horrific or brutal to make people think – and there’s a mental connection to children in this advert that reinforces the message in a gentle but powerful way.
06. JB Whisky: Ingle Ells (2007)
This is one of our all-time favourite print adverts. For unashamed font and copy nerds, this is the perfect marriage between typography, a clever bit of wordsmithery, Christmas and brand reinforcement.
And it’s not surprising that this is so effective; it was designed by advertising tour de force Diane Rothschild. It’s instantly obvious what the main copy should say, and the reader cannot help but be curious as to why there are certain letters missing, leading them on to read the smaller text beneath.
07. Guinness: White Christmas (2004)
Last but by no means least, we couldn’t write this list without putting in Guinness’s White Christmas spot.
Dublin in the snow will probably not be as picturesque or sentimental as this ad – but the last shot of the snow settling on the St James’s Gate Brewery damn sure makes you wish for a comfy chair in a pub by a fire with a pint of the black stuff.