Home News Opinion: Dave Byrne and Jonny Cullen Share their Christmas Crackers

Opinion: Dave Byrne and Jonny Cullen Share their Christmas Crackers

Two of the industry’s leading advertising creatives, Jonny Cullen of Folk Wunderman Thompson and Dave Byrne of THINKHOUSE talk about their favourite Christmas campaigns ever.

Jonny Cullen, Creative Director, Folk Wunderman Thompson

Just like Fairytale of New York is obviously the greatest Christmas song of all time, this will be easy. Five minutes in, and I’m thinking…hang on, this is tough. Really tough.

First you’ve got to acknowledge the all-time classics. Iconic oldies packed full of nostalgia, that give you the chills and signal it’s officially Christmas. The likes of Coca-Cola – holidays are coming – or Kellogg’s Corn Flakes with the little kids waiting for Santa with that classic opening line: “I don’t know, this seems very unorthodox.”

Thinking back to when I was a kid, sitting with my family, bet into the TV, I always loved when the Budweiser Clydesdale Horses ad came on. Simpler times. All you needed back then was a catchy tune, lots of snow and a quality voiceover. And in this case, horses. I even remember thinking – we have those piebald horses in Dublin too. Lovely.

Time moves on of course as does storytelling and how we produce ads. Now, we’re in an era where brands make short films with Spielberg-esque production values, ornaments come alive, kids can have dragons as best friends, and Kevin McAllister can come back on our screens after a 28-year hiatus.

One brand that has inarguably set the benchmark for modern day Christmas advertising is John Lewis – no surprise there. They’ve nailed what it takes to capture hearts and minds, with modern day classics from Monty the Penguin to The Man on the Moon. Every agency I’ve worked in has always filled with palpable excitement when someone fires off an All Staff with a link to the latest John Lewis Christmas spot.

But in my opinion, they’ve surpassed themselves – and everyone else – this year with ‘The Beginner’ – a simple, beautiful story about a big-hearted man who takes up skateboarding. We see him try and fail, taking bumps and bruises in his stride. Why? Well, that’s the beautiful bit. When the doorbell rings we see he’s about to become a foster parent, and his new foster daughter is a skateboarder. He’s gone out of his way to make her feel they’ve something in common, and ultimately make her feel at home. Heart-warming and pitch perfect at a time in culture when excess feels, well, like just too much.

So ‘The Beginner’ takes the title of my favourite Christmas ad of all time. Until maybe next year of course.

Dave Byrne, Head of Creative, Thinkhouse

In a world of over consumption, Christmas can be a difficult time for people with climate anxiety. Beautifully shot Christmas ads, presented to us like Hollywood movies nearly always have an underlying message to buy, buy, buy.

This year Posten – the Norwegian postal service, in collaboration with POL agency, developed a piece of work that truly makes the viewer re-evaluate the things we take for granted at Christmas.  It is a bold choice given Christmas is not a time you usually see sustainability advertising due to the consumerist culture we live in.

Entitled ‘Father Christmas and Mother Earth’ the nearly four-minute-long piece tells the struggle between Father Christmas, whose life mission is to give gifts, and his wife Mother Earth who is battling an illness – a reflection of how overconsumption is killing the planet.

The film chronicles the breakdown of their relationship, as both have opposing views on what they deem is right ‘for the children’. It’s a perfect personification of a complex relationship we all have with Christmas.

The ad finishes with a stark message that in 2022, ‘only 10 of the largest Norwegian companies cut their emissions in line with the Paris Agreement’ and that ‘we must all step up’.

This ad is an important, refreshing and somewhat brutal view on what the true consequences of Christmas can be. It is dark and uncomfortable, but the reconciliation of the Father Christmas and Mother Nature relationship offers hope.

Christmas is a time to be enjoyed but it needs a reframe – the excessive consumerism must change. Posten tells us that there is always a place for Father Christmas, but it must not come at the expense of our planet.


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