And just like that, the Christmas ads are here. A much-anticipated balm to soothe what has truly been a shocker of a year.

Interestingly, 2020 has been big for TV and social advertising. Not big in terms of budget, sure. But brands pivoted at speed, turning around creative to connect with a captive audience glued to their screens 24/7. We’ve seen highly-emotive, we’re-all-in-this-together ads from banks, supermarkets, you name it. Usually ending with a line that roughly communicated that “now more than ever, we’re here for you”.

So where does that leave Christmas ads? The holy grail of tear-jerking, oxytocin-inducing storytelling? Is there room for more of the same, albeit a little more glittery? The key players have delivered a buffet of emotive stories, with some noticeable differences to the tried and tested formulas of yesteryear.

To begin with, crowded village scenes and neighbourly embraces are gone. Even Coca Cola had to rethink the Coke truck story. Remaining sensitive to this year’s new way of celebrating the holidays – and the restrictions that entails – has meant narratives feel much smaller and more intimate. And our protagonists are for the most part family members.

In the John Lewis advert – a mixture of live action and animation – the retailer’s message was that of small acts of kindness and inclusion, a step change away from hero-ing the perfect present. Each of the eight animators’ scenes show the powerful effects of paying it forward with kindness, and what a big impact one small gesture – or person – can have on another.

Coca Cola’s message is simple: this Christmas, give something only you can give. We see a dad working far from home, embark on a tortuous mission to get his daughter’s letter to Santa. When he reaches Lapland, Santa has finished delivering gifts but has begun his shift as Coke truck driver, so delivers him home. Which of course, is what his daughter wanted for Christmas all along. This dad’s challenge is surely a metaphor for what we’ve all faced this year. There’s been huge barriers to overcome – in his case whales, snow and storms rather than pandemics and loss – but still the drinks brand has delivered a creative that feels relatable, paired back and comfortingly predictable.

Amazon focused its storytelling on lockdown, and the impact that might have on the magic of Christmas. Our protagonist’s dream of starring in the Christmas ballet is shattered when lockdown hits. But with the help of a thoughtful little sister – and kind neighbours wielding some Amazon-sourced tech – they make it happen for her. Similar to Coke, this ad takes us on a journey of overcoming adversity. This one perhaps a little closer to home.

From Our Family To Yours – is the theme of Disney’s festive offering. A story explicitly about the importance of keeping up Christmas traditions with loved ones. And implicitly, reminding us how fleeting and precious our time together really is.  From the brand whose DNA is magic, this back to basics approach feels entirely new, even though its message is well, a tale as old as time.

Last up is Argos, who show two sisters perform an extraordinary magic show for their family, having sourced the perfect magic kit from their Argos catalogue. Argos has managed to strike just the right balance between stirring emotion and – let’s be honest – shifting stock. Tapping into the idea that although our Christmases will be simpler than previous years, it doesn’t mean they can’t be wholly magical too.

What all of our adverts have in common, is an element of escape. Not necessarily into a fantasy world – we didn’t see any men on the moon this year. But instead a departure from our own daily autopilot, an interruption of our ordinary to make someone else’s day extraordinary. Be it a small gesture like neighbours sharing a wonderfully long Christmas cracker from Waitrose, or an epic adventure to Lapland and back. 2020’s Christmas ads have one rallying cry and it is loud and clear. This year isn’t about going big with gifts. It’s about going big with kindness.