Finding the spirit of Christmas in a Diwali ad

—Like most ad geeks, Craig Redmond looks forward to Britain’s Christmas ads. This year he was disappointed by what he found, but an HP ad from India made him feel better—

A funny thing happened on the way to celebrating this year’s U.K. Christmas commercials. I celebrated Diwali instead.

It started with a promise to my eternally patient editor pals here at The Message that I would unpack the year’s bounty of British Yuletide spots—advertising that has become a seasonal marketing tradition rivalling the Super Bowl in both expectation and import. And I honestly couldn’t wait to get started.

For me, it’s the closest I get to the excitement we had as kids on Christmas morning, ripping back wrapping paper, tearing into ribbon with incisor precision, and gasping with joy at what Santa brought.

But, alas, this year’s Christmas morn simulation lacked a whole bunch of the stimulation of years past. In fact, at the risk of raising the cynical ire of many hardened marketers out there, I would argue that most of the work was utterly bereft of… well, soul.

I’m not sure if it was driven by a pent-up pandemic panic to release the retail hounds in hope of catching ravenous shoppers scavenging their way back to the hunt, but everything I watched seemed to be dripping in gluttonous materialism.

Pharmacy retailer Boots introduced us to a modern-day Mary Poppins, whose bottomless bag of Boots’ booty delivers everything that everyone she knows could possibly want—including the promise of joy for her beloved Nan, delivered in the form of a spray bottle of old lady perfume.

Marks & Spencer takes us on a Busby Berkeley acid trip of gifting indulgence that guilts us into making the season “anything but ordinary.”

And even perennial favourite John Lewis—which typically sets aside retail gratuity in favour of a higher brand message of seasonal spirit—returned this year with an Xmas alien love story, conveniently peppered with product placement.

Oh, for the ghost of “Edgar”Christmas past.

And it was like that with all of them: Buy, buy, buy our Christmas products, products, products. It felt so disheartening in the wake of what the world has just endured.

But then, way back in the dark recesses under the Christmas ad tree, there appeared a small unopened gift, humbly wrapped in brown kraft paper, and fastened with butcher’s twine. A gift overlooked, it seemed, from Diwali—known as the Festival of Lights, for those less familiar, such as pastier ones like me.

So, I opened it. And finally found what I was aching for.

Yes, it’s a little rough around the edges, maybe too “sentimental” for the sophisticated ad elitist and, God forbid, it forces us to read subtitles for an eternal four-and-a-half minutes.

But this ad for Hewlett Packard India—which was inspired by the simple, cultural belief that when one lamp lights another, there is more brightness in the world—revived my faith in the kind of sweetly innocent, festive work we are capable of at least once a year.

This Diwali ad was the best Christmas gift of the bunch. So, here’s to getting back to doing more brand work like that. And here’s to introducing a little of that illuminating Diwali spirit into all our different celebrations in the few weeks ahead.

Craig Redmond is a Creative Leader with Palmer Stamnes and Co, an independent family of marketing communication companies.