Christmas isn't just the busiest sales period for the UK's retailers, it's also the time when they unveil their biggest, brightest and most expensive-to-make ads. And, according to Toby Harrison and Les Binet of adam&eveDDB, the festive period has become British adland's equivalent of the Super Bowl in the US. "It feels like Christmas advertising is where it's hot now," Binet said. "It's the area where everyone wants to compete." To Harrison, "it's become almost an arms race among advertisers – not necessarily to deliver amazing sales, but to deliver on their own brand ambition to 'win at Christmas'."

And they should know. The agency has made many of the past few years' most memorable Christmas ads – most famously for department store chain John Lewis. These TV-led campaigns took the 2012 IPA Effectiveness Awards Grand Prix, having generated over £250m of incremental profit for the client over the years.

The British media have picked up on this theme recently, with blanket coverage of the nation's biggest advertisers' festive spots – from AMV BBDO's World War One-referencing effort for Sainsbury's and W+K's rather more product-focused campaign for retail rival Tesco, to adam&eve's latest John Lewis spot, starring Monty the Penguin. While the creative aproach differs for each, what unites them is a shared aim to play on the emotions of viewers.

To Binet, emotional advertising and Christmas is a natural fit. "It's a time when Brits allow themselves to be emotional, in quite a slushy way," he said. "It's like a little holiday when we're allowed to indulge in that side of ourselves." Hence, Monty.

"It's not a case of any one of our clients aiming to go out there and making the biggest, most indulgent thing," Harrison added. "We believe in the power of emotional advertising. The fact that other agencies and brands are trying to up the ante on that is interesting."

Much more about the Christmas ads runners and riders on our blog here. And Warc subscribers can take a deep dive into adam&eve's John Lewis campaign strategy by reading the IPA case, or learn more about the retailer's transition to becoming a more digital company.