Sainsbury’s Christmas Advert: Far From Disrespectful

November 14, 2014 1:46 pm

As the company probably predicted, there has been a lot of talk about this year’s Sainsbury’s Christmas advert, made in partnership with the Royal British Legion, and it has certainly divided opinion. Although many people appreciate the beauty and message portrayed in the short film, there are others who have termed it ‘dangerous’, ‘disrespectful’, and even ‘exploitative’.

Whatever you think of the advert itself, there are few who wouldn’t agree that it is a cinematic tour de force, but what of the moral implications of using the horrors of war as a tool to sell your Christmas crackers, bacon, and tinsel? Is it not a little cynical to manipulate the feelings of the viewers so that they drive to their local Sainsbury’s to buy their milk instead of stopping off at Tesco? I would say that the people who claim this have missed the point entirely.

We live in a capitalist world, and in a capitalist society businesses need to make money. They make this money and are thus able to provide goods and services to the general public, who in turn are provided with jobs from said businesses, and so are able to purchase these goods and services, ultimately creating a happier existence for themselves, in theory. I am not saying there is nothing wrong with capitalism – if it is not rotten at the core, there is definitely a need to shape and refine our parameters and expectations so that it serves the social good instead of lining the pockets of the 1%. Well, could I perhaps suggest that this is what we are seeing here?

Even in my lifetime I have noticed an upward trend in corporate philanthropy. The big businesses who are so often criticised for being self-serving have realized that good business acumen lies in showing the world their ‘generous and caring’ side, and this can only result in a happier society, right? It was in the spirit of making companies more accountable that the Nestle boycott was started in 1977, a response to the company’s highly irresponsible and aggressive baby milk marketing strategies in third world countries. Nestle has a myriad of questionable values, such as a denial that water is a human right, and a propensity to drain poor villages of their local water supplies. Nestle epitomises everything that is wrong with capitalism, so why do some people voice disgust when businesses actually do give back to society and help the vulnerable?

sainsbury christmas ad

The fact that big corporate names like Sainsbury’s are teaming up with non-profit organizations and allowing at least some of our hard-earned cash to be directed towards philanthropic causes is no bad thing surely. Does it really matter if their ultimate goal is to attract more customers? If businesses no longer attracted customers then our society would fall apart. So this way they win, we win, and the vulnerable people helped by the charities also win. What is the problem here? Sainsbury’s has been working with the Royal British Legion for 20 years. This advert has not come out of the blue; in fact it is especially poignant considering that this Christmas is the centenary of the truce. As the director of funding for the RBL so succinctly puts it, “One hundred years on from the 1914 Christmas truce, the campaign remembers the fallen, while helping to raise vital funds to support the future of living.”

Much of the unhappiness seems to stem from the belief that the company is somehow trivialising the brutality of war. In fact, I even read in one article by The Guardian that the noticeable lack of ‘blood and entrails, vomit and faeces, and rats feasting on body parts’ is why the advert is so distasteful. In the same vein, I also recently read a similar argument in another Guardian article that was trying to argue that the poppy memorial at the Tower of London should have been filled with bones instead of poppies. Because, of course, the men who were but pawns in a political game deserve nothing more than to be remembered as festering bodies rather than the living, breathing people they were.

The advert is based on fact – this Christmas football match is not some saccharine narrative the makers made up in order to give advert the feel of a tear-jerking cinema release. They have simply taken a story that belongs to all of us, and brought it back to life (although admittedly with a bit of artistic licence). It has brought the war back into our collective memory so that we are reminded of the values we should all share – tolerance, respect, and our shared humanity.

I particularly like the film because it breathes humanity into the soldiers of 1914; they should not be remembered simply as rotting corpses, but as men, as people, as individuals who had desires and needs and wants, who just wanted to spend Christmas Day with their families but were forced to spend it on a battle-field. I, for one, think that it is heartwarming that this one day in a gruesome four-year killing spree is one of the most remembered and celebrated, and it is a story that should be remembered.

The story of the First World War does not belong solely to you, oh contrary ones, it belongs to all of us, and whether someone makes a film depicting the beauty of the human spirit in even the most testing of times, or makes one depicting the very real cruelty and pain that of course existed, one is not more right than the other. The war was a terrible tragedy, but so would be not talking about it and letting the memory fade.

I would urge those who claim this film is tasteless to think of the social good that can come of merging capitalism and socialism. Because, let’s face it, the £2 you pay for a poppy is not going to stretch nearly as far as the millions raised and donated by Sainsbury’s throughout its long partnership with RBL.

So, watch the advert, appreciate the message it is sending out, and feel grateful that it celebrates something worthwhile instead of cynically trying to persuade us that our Christmas should revolve around material possessions. In fact, feel grateful that you are at home, enjoying Christmas with your family, rather than fearing for your life on a cold, wet battlefield surrounded by the corpses of your friends. This is what those men fought for after all.

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