10 unforgettable Christmas adverts with the best music
Our guide to the best Christmas adverts from the last few decades
It's astonishing how an advert can linger in our memories and continue to press emotional buttons, sometimes decades after they were first released. But how much of that is to do with the visuals and how much is down to the music?
Here is our guide to some of the most unforgettable Christmas adverts that deliver on both fronts.
Best Christmas adverts
Best John Lewis & Partners Christmas adverts
With a £6 million campaign, the first John Lewis & Partners Christmas ad, back in 2007, was nothing if not stylish, featuring shadowy people making art out of items bought at the store to the soundtrack of Prokofiev's Morning Serenade from Romeo and Juliet. Since then there have been many memorable Christmas ads, some of them unexpectedly moving.
In 'Give a Little Love' (2020), we see a little boy presenting a snowman with a love-heart balloon. Featuring Celeste's 'A Little Love' - the first instance of a song being specially commissioned for the store's Christmas ad campaign - it was a touching tribute to the various acts of kindness by the public during the pandemic.
But the one that really had me blubbing was 2018's offering: 'The Boy and the Piano', in which Elton John played the opening notes of 'Your Song', then reminisced about his life and career in reverse, culminating with Christmas Day in the 1950s when he received a piano for Christmas from his mother.
Best Sainsbury's Christmas advert - The Greatest Gift
Created to raise funds for Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity, this 2016 Christmas advert told the story of Dave, a hard-working dad who realises that the best gift he can give his family for Christmas is his time.
Although the stop-motion visuals are charming, what pulls it all together is the witty song in the background, voiced by British actor James Corden and composed by Bret McKenzie, a comedian, musician and producer who won the 2012 Oscar for best original song in The Muppets.
Aldi's best Christmas Advert - 2020
Featuring Santa, snow, a roasted turkey and Kevin the carrot, this entry in our Christmas advert Hall of Fame presses all the right buttons as far as visuals are concerned.
But it's Guy Farley's score - a nifty cross-breed of Home Alone and Pirates of the Caribbean - that elevates it all and turns it into a cinematic experience.
Yellow Pages' bestChristmas advert - Mistletoe
Yellow Pages. Remember those? You may well remember this ad from 1992, with the tall girl, the shorter boy and the mistletoe. Apparently Dean Cook, who played the boy and now runs an upholstery business in Essex, still gets recognised all the time. Would it be quite so famous without that cosy, tinkling tune in the background? That's anybody's guess.
More like this
BestIRN-BRU's Christmas advert - Snowman Advert
'We're walking in the air, I'm sipping on an Irn Bru. My chilly snowman mate says he would like some too.' So go the lyrics in IRN-BRU's 2006 reimagining of The Snowman, which sees our pyjama-clad hero cracking open a can of the orange fizzy stuff and launching into flight. In 2018, IRN-BRU came back with a sequel, but not everybody was happy according to the Scottish Sun, given that the recipe had changed that year, with the sugar content of each can cut by half.
Best Marks & Spencer's Christmas advert - Paddington & The Christmas Visit
Everyone's favourite marmalade enthusiast took centre stage in Marks & Spencer's 2017 Christmas ad, where he mistakes a robber for Santa Claus and and helps to return a load of stolen presents to their owners. Alex Baranowski's bespoke score, full of soaring strings and playful percussive effects, helps to create a warm vibe, with just the right amount of sugar.
H&M's best Christmas advert - Come Together
H&M went for it in a big way in 2016, hiring Wes Anderson to direct their Christmas advert and Oscar-winner Adrian Brody to play a train conductor who throws a surprise Christmas party for his passengers when it becomes clear that delays will stop them from celebrating at home. As you would expect of Anderson, the result is very surreal, thanks in part to the contrast between the restrained, highly-stylised visuals and the sheer exuberance of the music: John Lennon/Yoko Ono's 1971 song 'Happy Xmas, War is Over'.
Coca Cola's best Christmas Advert
Who can resist that maddeningly catchy jingle? Known as Christmas caravans, the trucks in the classic Coca Cola Christmas advert were first designed in 1995, and are still rolled out every year giving out free bottles of coke. Bit of trivia: the lights and effects in this 1995 ad come from the same team behind the Star Wars movies.
Best Quality Street Christmas advert - Magic Moment's
With the cute kid and his touching encounter with the lollipop lady, this short but sweet Quality Street advert from 1992 still ranks among our holiday favourites. And that jingle is just as joyously/irritatingly whistleable as ever.
Allegro's English for Beginners Christmas advert
It may be a bit of a left-field entry, but this 2016 advert from the Polish auction site Allegro is a real tear-jerker, telling the story of a Polish grandfather learning to speak English in order to communicate with his grandchild. Plaintive woodwind, stirring strings and fragments of 'Silent Night' combine to make a suitably poignant score.
Hannah Nepilova is a regular contributor to BBC Music Magazine. She has also written for The Financial Times, The Times, The Strad, Gramophone, Opera Now, Opera, the BBC Proms and the Philharmonia, and runs The Cusp, an online magazine exploring the boundaries between art forms. Born to Czech parents, she has a strong interest in Czech music and culture.