The Mr.Frank Guide to Controversy-Free Christmas Advertising

Public scrutiny is at its most acute this time of year – follow these steps to avoid treading on any mistletoes this holiday season.

The holiday season is a time of heightened emotions. Carol singin’ and bells a’jinglin’ make for unprecedented levels of merriment. But with this excitement comes acute sensitivity, with anything Christmas-themed being met with particular fragility among festive folk worldwide. There is no greater victim of this scrutiny than the Christmas advertisement – so provocative that it transforms those who typically leave the room during the ads into the harshest of TV commercial critics.

Many a Christmas advert has come under the rubric of ‘controversial’ over the years. A sub-par narrative or a poorly cast Santa will send the world into an instant festive frenzy, with people taking to social media en masse to declare war on the perpetrator. It’s easy to be disheartened by this seemingly inevitable and uncircumventable public criticism – especially from the perspective of a production company such as ourselves, annually engaged in such Christmas content. We have, therefore, committed ourselves to a little online research of past and present Christmas commercials in an effort to learn from the mistakes of others and to ensure perfectly palatable publicity.
So if you wish to avoid treading on any mistletoes this holiday season, we recommend that you follow the steps below:
Step 1: Do Not Swear At Paddington Bear

Now, this might seem like an obvious one. Why on earth would anyone want to release a Christmas commercial in which sweet, unassuming Paddington Bear is the victim of profanity?

Marks and Spencers – that’s who. Accused of committing the ultimate sin, the usually much-loved supermarket’s holiday advertisement this year features an unforgivable scene in which a burglar/Santa Claus impersonator embraces Paddington and utters the words “fuck you, little bear.”

Any other time of year, you might expect this to sound like “thank you, little bear.” But not now, oh no. The public - hearing sharper than ever around the holiday season - has concluded that this perceived gratitude towards Paddington Bear is, in actual fact, verbal abuse.

We can learn a lot from this catastrophic oversight. Never be fooled into believing that you can drop the F-bomb in your Christmas advert and get away with it. Save the foul-mouthed language towards Paddington Bear for another time of year.  


Step 2: Consistency in Portrayal of Father Christmas is a MUST

Coca-Cola Christmas ads have quenched the festive thirst of audiences around the world for years. So much so that they even triggered the widespread myth that the modern day, red-suited Santa as we know him is a result of their trademark advertising.

But last December’s commercial triggered outrage, and Coca-Cola was publicly accused of single-handedly attempting to destroy Christmas.

The crime? Santa. Didn’t. Wink.

Let this be a lesson to us all. If you are going to release annual holiday advertisements centred around a key figure in Christmas culture, it is paramount that his facial expressions remain untweaked. You simply cannot break a long-standing winking tradition and expect it to go unnoticed by your audience. Coca-Cola learned the hard way. Don’t let that be you.

Note: A Coca-Cola spokesman responded to the public revolt with even more disturbing news – Santa never winked in years preceding and it was all a chubby cheeked illusion.


Step 3: Do Not Promote Diversity, Equality or Any Other Form of Social Progress

Christmas is a time for cosy nights by the fire, trips abroad and family reunions. It is NOT a time for social unity – according to public opinion.

Microsoft fell into the trap last year by actually addressing social injustice with their Christmas commercial. Amateurs. No wonder it was next to join the long line of media-dubbed ‘controversial’ Christmas ads.

You might have thought, then, that this year no one would dare even tinker on the edge of diversity and inclusivity. But one maverick committed 2017 Christmas advertisement suicide by including a *GASP* Muslim family in their short film...


It didn’t take long for disgruntled viewers to take to Twitter in despair at such chilling social progress, with some even calling up radio shows to denounce the supermarket chain.


Step 4: If You Do Not Make Your Audience Cry, Know That You Have Failed

The John Lewis annual Christmas ad is the British public’s holiday heroin. For 10 years, the retail store has been churning out emotional narratives which leave you elated and in floods of tears at the very same time. It was even reported by The Telegraph in 2014 that their annual commercial ‘made 14,500 people cry.’ If that’s not a feat, I don’t know what is.

A careful concoction of adorable children, loveable animals and a soulful tune makes for a happy audience, it would therefore seem…

But things are not always as they seem. This year’s John Lewis ad - featuring all of the aforementioned criteria - has been met with mass public disappointment for one prevailing reason: NO TEARS.

Crippled with disappointment, individuals from all across the nation have taken to social media in a fit of rage, vilifying the retail store for not evoking as much emotion in them as they invariably have in preceding years. The star of the commercial this year is Moz the Monster, a flatulent creature reminiscent of a giant Furby. What’s not to cry over about that?


Step 5: Keep Your Narrative Family-Friendly

Eliciting the desired emotional response in your audience is no easy task. While John Lewis is - for the most part - praised for its masterful tear-jerking abilities, one particular company’s attempt at this heart-warming approach has not been so fruitful.

German Supermarket, Edeka, stunned audiences worldwide in 2015 with their Christmas ad. And by ‘stunned’, I mean jaw-on-the-floor-in-total-and-utter-bewilderment-and-partial-distress. The storyline features an old man who has to fake his own death in order to give his family enough incentive to visit him – given that each year they ignore his invitation and leave him to eat his Christmas dinner alone. What they think is going to be his funeral is actually - SURPRISE! - a Christmas dinner in his company. Everyone gathers together and has a lovely festive meal, with no one spoiling the atmosphere by questioning the moral compass of the children for leaving their father alone each year. Or, you know, the old man’s borderline psychotic behaviour in feigning his own death.

It is undeniable that the public tends to react to advertisements in an overly sensitive manner when they are Christmas-inspired. I would contend, however, that the narrative driving this particular commercial wouldn’t go down well any time of the year. Edeka – sort yourself out.  

So, there you have it – our research-driven guide to ensuring your Christmas advert is universally well-received. As you may have ascertained, the likelihood of your commercial attracting public criticism far outweighs any chances of it gaining extensive appraisal. In fact, the holiday season is a time of such sincere sensitivity that it’s pretty much impossible to appease everyone. So, if you do succumb to the same fate as the many before you, try not to blame yourself. Unless your narrative revolves around an old man tricking his family into spending Christmas with him by faking his own death. In which case, perhaps do blame yourself.