We know the Christmas season is upon us, partly due to the insistent tunes that are playing in the shops, and the presence of sub-par ‘celebrities’ turning on the lights in towns up and down the UK (my hometown was lucky enough to get ‘Cbeebies star’ DJ Ranj), but for me, the real indicator is the Christmas adverts.
As always, John Lewis pulled out the stops. This has become something of a tradition is recent times. Although in 1931 Coca Cola made Father Christmas the iconic image of a jolly red coated and white bearded gentleman part of popular culture, John Lewis is arguably the most influential advertising force in today’s Christmas market. The assault on our emotions was created by the agency Adam & Eve/DDB, who have worked with John Lewis to create most of the past Christmas adverts, and follows many of the tried and tested ingredients for a highly-watched yuletide campaign. A less than well-known breathy singer, Tom Odell, wh0 performs one of John Lennon’s most underrated songs, “Real Love”. There is a child who doesn’t say anything (Sam), but seems very sweet, and there is a seemingly real penguin (Monty, #montythepenguin was trending for a while on twitter). The twist is that actually, the reason Monty was sad was that he was lonely and lusty. Sam subsequently gets Monty a lady penguin called Mabel for Christmas. The message is that John Lewis is more than a middle class haven that smells of candles, but also a place where you can buy love. There is nothing so obvious as a John Lewis store in the advert, nor is it exactly advertising the objects you can buy (though you can buy eighty items related to the advert), but seems to be more attempting to foster a spirit of giving to others, if the advert was 58 seconds long, not 60, cutting off before the John Lewis name is flashed, it could be seen as an advert for Christmas itself.
Another Christmas advert that has made an impact is that of Sainsbury’s. It recounts the true instance of the Christmas Truce, which took place one Christmas day 1914, where the opposing forces declared unofficial cease fire, so both sides could bury their dead, the tension reducing to the point both sides could walk on ‘no-mans land’ and exchange gifts, with even some reports of football matches. In the advert, two young soldiers, from the British and German side meet and shake hands, with the Tommy gifting a chocolate bar to the German. The bar is on sale for £1, all profits go to the British Legion, considerably less than the £95 Monty toy. It’s incredibly accurate, “Whether it’s the chap being shaved, even the […] trenches, proper respect has gone into it”, noted Charles Byrne, Director of Fundraising at the Royal British Legion. Yet for some, it’s a sanitisation of war, another tasteless exploitation of an event that with the anniversary this year, is an emotionally tender issue.
For me, there is nothing disrespectful, the recreation of an amazing instance from humanity in the midst of war is something to be celebrated. I don’t want to trivialise such events, but the illustration of two opposing forces pausing their conflict for one day is something that will ring true for many. In comparison, it makes John Lewis’ penguin look almost mawkish.
Although many may see the bombardment of ads that battle over our tear-ducts, and inevitably arrive at the time of year when we are at our most giving, as taking advantage of us, they successfully create a feeling of generosity. The ads are not made through the lens of religion, but more through giving, something that makes the celebration more inclusive. Christmas is being recreated though these adverts, becoming more secular, with a greater focus on giving. Cynics say they don’t want to isolate certain audiences. However, both ads have heartwarming messages, which I don’t mind believing in, even if they want me to spend my money in their store.