Brits are stereotyped for being cynical and unemotional.
Debrett’s, the institution dedicated to upholding British etiquette, claims that from a young age British people are trained to be reserved. Outbursts of emotion and sentimentality are, as the publication puts it, “plain embarrassing.”
Yet every year, the country’s largest retailers kick off the Christmas shopping season with a slew of the sappiest ads ever. Around this time of year, retailers such as John Lewis, Waitrose, and Sainsbury’s spend millions to make people cry. The competition between retailers to out-emote one another has become so intense, journalists have adopted military terms to describe it as an “arms race.” In some ways, it has become Britain’s version of the Super Bowl.
Unlike in the US, where Thanksgiving and “Black Friday” mark the start of the Christmas shopping frenzy, Britain doesn’t have a traditional starting point for the festive season. These ads essentially fill that void, reducing the nation to a blubbering mess willing to do whatever retailers tell them.
And it’s not about pushing specific products—retailers release these ads to promote their brands and build an emotional bond with shoppers. This year, Waitrose has decided to build enthusiasm for its ad by pre-releasing 10-second teasers (yes, ads about ads) and John Lewis partnered up with a charity for the elderly, Age UK, for an ad that has already been viewed over 2 million times.
While John Lewis is the clear front-runner for this year’s tear-jerker award, we need more time before we can judge where it falls in the pantheon of the most heart-wrenching ads to date. Over the years, there have been a number of ads that have reliably reduced the nation to wistful weeping, quite out of character.
Here is a short list of notable recent efforts—prepare for a tidal wave of emotions.
Sainsbury’s 2014: Christmas is for Sharing
With over 17 million views, Sainsbury’s cinematic effort featuring of First World War soldiers sharing a bar of chocolate after the famous football match during the “Christmas Truce of 1914“ at the Western Front, set the emotional bar high. Very high.
Quartz’s tear-jerker rating: 9/10
Waitrose 2014: The Gingerbread Stall
This ad features a determined little girl trying to make gingerbread biscuits for her school. Waitrose comes to the rescue after several disastrous attempts. How nice of them.
Quartz’s tear-jerker rating: 6/10
John Lewis 2013: The Bear and the Hare
In what is arguably one of John Lewis’ best Christmas efforts, Hare gives his best friend Bear—who has never celebrated Christmas before because he hibernates every winter—a Christmas he’ll never forget. Is it getting dusty in here?
Quartz’s tear-jerker rating: 8/10
Boots 2013: Let’s make the people who make us feel good, feel good
The ad follows a boy who secretly hands out gifts to the special people in his life, including his friend, the nurse who took care of his grandmother, and the “fittest girl in year 10.” Is somebody chopping onions?
Quartz’s tear-jerker rating: 6/10
Tesco 2013: There’s nothing better than Christmas
This advert is simple but emotionally effective. It shows what Christmas is really about: spending time with family and realizing that you’re getting old. And what’s more heartbreaking than that?
Quartz’s tear-jerker rating: 7/10