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Why the Sainsbury’s Christmas ad is not OK

By now, everyone and their great aunt Ethel has probably seen the Sainsbury’s Christmas ad. Everyone and their great aunt Ethel has probably cried over the Sainsbury’s Christmas ad –whatever your thoughts, it’s certainly more powerful than, say, Kerry Katona talking about frozen canapés.

For those who’ve been wilfully ignoring it, the film begins with the boom of artillery fire, and soldiers shivering in the trenches. A British soldier opens a parcel from home, which contains a woman’s photo and a chocolate bar. In the opposite trench, the German soldiers start singing Silent Night. Gradually, the Tommies join the chorus.

Day dawns, and the soldiers wander tentatively into No Man’s Land. It’s the famous Christmas Day football match of 1914! The Tommy we saw earlier, now chatting with a German, swaps his chocolate bar for a biscuit. As the guns fire up and the football match disbands, we see the message ‘Christmas is for sharing’. (It’s a better slogan than ‘Christmas is for temporary unofficial ceasefires amid one of the most senselessly violent events in human history’, I’ll give you that.) This is followed by the Sainsbury’s logo, then ‘Made in partnership with the British Legion’.

If you were weeping gently before, the logo may cause the tears to retract and resurface as mouth-foaming fury. So the centenary belongs to Sainsbury’s now, and they get to exploit how we’re feeling? What’s next, Tesco starts a range of own-brand coffins so it can make its mark on mourners? Waitrose hunts out the details of your last breakup and personalises its adverts accordingly? Asda sneaks into cathedrals and places its logo on the crucifix?

As a piece of cinematography, the film is evidently beautiful. As an advert for the UK’s third largest chain of supermarkets, it’s downright disturbing; a cynical piece of emotional manipulation with no relevance whatsoever to what it’s selling.

Sainsbury’s has justified the advert by nodding towards the British Legion – the charity stands to receive the profits from a particular chocolate bar. But let’s be clear, nobody goes to a supermarket specifically to purchase chocolate. Sainsbury’s cares first and foremost about shareholders’ interests, and knows that for every chocolate bar, there’s a whole trolley’s worth of groceries at stake.

I get that Sainsbury’s wants to avoid the mawkishness associated with a certain type of Christmas ad. And yes, it succeeds on that count where John Lewis fails – it skips all the penguins and slush and half-baked bits of nostalgia. No, the Sainsbury’s advert isn’t emetic. It’s offensive. The Christmas Day truce, the First World War, isn’t their historical event to slap their branding on.

In the meantime, I think I’ll be shopping at Tesco. I never thought I’d say as much, but bring back Jamie Oliver…


Categories: Media fails

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Abi Millar

British freelance journalist living in the Netherlands

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