It's been a strong year for holiday commercials.
We got two superb efforts from Apple—the iPad grandpa spot and the iPhone snowball fight. We got Microsoft's cute reindeer translator, and John Lewis's excitable dragon. We got the Argos drummer, the return of E.T. for Xfinity, and Coke's outsider Santa. There were other strong efforts, too.
But for me, two ads stood apart as far and away the season's best: Ikea's "Silence the Critics" from Mother London, and NAMI's "Naughty Or..." from Wieden + Kennedy New York.
What made them special? First, both upended traditional views of the holidays, bringing a fresh perspective that really stood out. (Coke's spot did, too, but I agree with those who felt it was a bit off brand.) And second, both took their unexpected visions and executed them to absolute perfection.
'Silence the Critics'
Whether earnest or playful, most holiday ads are insistently upbeat at the core. "Silence the Critics," by contrast, was wonderfully ornery—dripping with attitude. Featuring an original grime track by D Double E, as sung by animated ornaments and other household items, the 90-second spot had an energy and a comic conviction seen nowhere else this holiday.
Some complained that the ad shamed people who might not be able to afford new fixtures for their homes, but I felt it was a relatable, good-natured riff on the universal fear of whether one's home is nice enough for hosting.
"The idea to use grime was deeply embedded in the concept from day one," Mother told me shortly after the spot broke. "We wanted to stand out against all of the emotional, sentimental ads at this time of year and do something that made people laugh instead. D Double E felt like the perfect artist to do this—his lyrics always raise a smile."
Tom Kuntz's directing choices added to the energy and humor of the work. And D Double E's performance—he was brought to Mother's attention by music house Wake the Town—was flat-out brilliant.
Meanwhile, W+K's "Naughty Or..." spot for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) took a similar approach. Though vastly different in form, it also flipped the holiday script on its head—taking Santa Claus's timeless, unquestioned "Naughty or Nice" list and thoughtfully examining it through the lens of childhood trauma and the stigma of mental illness.
The insight alone was remarkable. But much like the Ikea spot, the NAMI film paid off the concept through incredible craft.
The script, written by Katie D'Agostine, was some of the best copywriting of the year, taking a character who's so often a caricature and giving him real emotional depth. David Shane's understated direction gave the piece an elevated, theatrical quality. And Greg Hildreth's performance as Santa was pitch perfect—he managed to take the character from despondent to transcendent in just a handful of sentences.
I'm not sure I've seen better content than these two pieces, inside or outside advertising, this holiday season. And the lesson is pretty clear: Search for a different, more interesting point of view. Then craft the hell out of it. You could end up with something pretty great.