I’m anticipating a fair amount of backlash here, but this is something I feel strongly about and am keen to express.
I don’t like the Sainsbury’s Christmas advert.
There, I said it.
It left me feeling deeply uncomfortable and disappointed, for three reasons.
- While as a short film, it’s incredible – it is poignant and beautiful and stays with you long after it finishes – it walks a fine line between commemorating and romanticising the war. The blood and mud synonymous with the Great War have been replaced by chocolate and robins. It’s worth noting that the near-mythical Christmas Truce of 1914 did not happen everywhere – in some areas fighting continued as normal, while in others a truce was declared simply so that each side could collect their dead. The dead and the dying, let’s not forget, are also notably absent from the Sainsbury’s advert (and before you say that’s because it’s a Christmas advert, I would argue that if you are going to depict the First World War for public consumption, it is your duty to portray it warts and all – so that we never forget what it was truly like). This is a beautiful video, illustrating a period of our collective history that was anything but beautiful.
- The message behind the video is lovely, of course it is. Christmas is for sharing, something that we perhaps often overlook in our mad rush to write wish-lists, attend as many Christmas parties as we possibly can and stuff our faces with food. Perhaps I just haven’t been paying enough attention, but when I think of Sainsbury’s I don’t think of ‘sharing’. I think of meal-deals, my weekly shopping list and discounted wine. Either that or I just think “Oh, that’s something I need to pick up…” So, even if the slogan itself can be applied in part to the Christmas Truce, the supermarket logo itself feels incongruous and jarring. Had I not known in advance of watching, I reckon I would have been unpleasantly surprised to find out that this video was actually an advertisement for a supermarket.
- This brings me to my final point: at its very core, this is not a short film reminding us of the tragedy of war and the values of love, laughter and sharing. It is a supermarket jumping on an opportunity presented by the centennial to emotionally manipulate people into spending money on their crackers, their turkey and their booze this Christmas. It doesn’t matter that it was endorsed by the British Legion, or that the proceeds of the £1 chocolate bar featured in the advert will go to charity; the main (or perhaps the only) reason Sainsbury’s chose to use the Christmas Truce was because, timed to perfection, it was guaranteed to make even the most cynical viewer shed a tear. The supermarket has exploited one of the darkest periods of our history in pursuit of the ‘most gut-wrenching Christmas advert’ award. Because, as we all know, crying equals buying in the holiday season.