Friday, 14 November 2014

Oh! What a Lovely Ad... not

Yesterday at work my colleagues began talking about a new Christmas advert which had apparently just been released by Sainsbury's. Those who had seen it spoke in glowing terms about how very moving they had found it. Apparently it depicts the Christmas truce of 1914 when German and British soldiers came warily out of the trenches and met in no-man's-land to exchange greetings and play football together before being forced back into the trenches by the Generals. One of my colleagus asked me if I wanted to watch the advert on her i-tablet thingy. 'No thanks', I said, 'I don't watch adverts'.
'Neither do I, normally', she replied. 'But this one is different. It's just really... nice.'
I started to explain that in my opinion there is nothing 'nice' about a giant supermarket chain taking advantage of the current surge of emotion around the First World War centenary and remembrance events in order to boost their own profits. But before I had finished my first sentence my colleague cut in and told me, very sharply and in no uncertain terms, that she was not interested in my opinion. Apparently I had not shown the appropriate level of sentiment towards the advert in question and so my colleague felt justified in speaking to me as if I'd just disrespected her mother.
The more I thought about the idea of this commercial, the more offensive I found it. In the past week we have, as a nation, along with many other nations, been paying our respects to those who gave their lives in the wars of this, and the last, century. In particular we have remembered those who fell in World War 1, this being the centenary of the outbreak of that conflagration. And some clever advertising executive, seeing the mood of affection, sorrow and heartfelt gratitude that has swept the country and reached its peak in the past week with the remembrance ceremonies, must have thought to him/herself how great it would be to harness some of that raw emotion and channel it into brand recognition (or rather, positive brand-association) - and, hence, bigger profits - for his/her client and it's shareholders.
Because let's be clear; the purpose of this film is to encourage people to buy more groceries and to buy them at Sainsbury's. If the advert is as slick and we'll made as everyone is saying, it will have cost a fortune to make and Sainsbury's would not be throwing that kind of money away unless they were pretty sure of reaping rewards for their shareholders.
This morning, as on most weekday mornings, I lisened to the James O'Brien show on LBC radio. The presenter had apparently watched the ad last night and been deeply moved. Then this morning he had read an article in the Guardian (probably this one whose author had apparently experienced a similar uneasiness on watching the advert to that which I had on hearing about it. Mr O'Brien disagreed with the artcle and defended Sainsbury's by saying that the advert was promoting a chocolate bar, the proceeds from the sales of which would be donated to the Royal British Legion and not retained by Sainsbury's. Considering he used to work in retail, one would have thought he would understand the concept of a 'loss leader'. Sainsbury's as a brand will benefit enormously by piggy-backing on the depth of public feeling around the tragic events of 1914-18. Nevertheless, caller after caller to the show enthused about the advert and how beautiful and poignant they had found it. One caller even said that, as an employee of Sainsbury's, she was really proud of the advert and of her employer's commitment to 'humanitarianism and human equality'. The presenter repeatedly stated that the advert provided a timely reminder of the futility of war and of the similarity of the combatants on either side. Yet when the Christmas truce incident actually occured, the Generals on both sides forced the soldiers to return to their trenches and continue the fight. The Generals were, of course, only doing the bidding of their bosses, the politicians. And many would argue that the politicians, then as now, were only acting in the interests of their paymasters, the captains of industry and leading capitalists of their day - the early 20th Century equivalents of Sainsbury's and its shareholders.
Most of us, whether we know it or not, have some ancestor or relative who went through the hell of World War One and lost friends, loved ones or even their own lives. To have the memory of their sacrifice cynically exploited to boost the coffers of one of the biggest corporations in the country is frankly, to my mind, an insult.

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