Sainsbury’s put their head above the parapet this Christmas
It seems that everyone and their dog has an opinion on the recent Christmas advert produced by Sainsbury’s. My Twitter feed has been wall-to-wall-and-treetop-tall with people uttering words such as ‘disgusting’ ‘vile’ ‘crass’ ‘beautiful’ ‘respect’ ‘compassion’ etc when talking about the advert. ‘Proper’ historians have been some of the most vocal – I think there has been much hand-wringing and beard stroking in academic corridors up and down the country since Sainsbury’s launched their advert…
I am not a historian, but I AM a marketeer, so I guess I look at the ad in a slightly different way. You want my take on it? Well, I can sum this ad up in one word:
When I first heard that Sainsbury’s had chosen the topic of the 1914 Christmas truce as the topic of their festive advert I did raise an eyebrow. My first impression was to think to myself ‘wow, that is brave, they could potentially p*ss off a lot of people’… and it seems I was correct – looking at various social media feeds it seems my own personal Twitter feed is not untypical of the general public reaction. This avert really has divided opinion. Historians are among the most vocal, many of which are not happy… not happy at all. Not happy because some of them refuse to acknowledge that football was actually played during the truce, and therfore the ad is not historically accurate (Although there IS evidence from both British and German sides of the wire that there were ‘kick abouts’ – there seems to be a bunch of academics that are in denial for some reason). I read one viewpoint that was attacking the advert because the trenches were too broad, too clean and too well built for 1914 (some people need to get out more IMHO). One commentator even said he thought it was ‘too beautiful’ and therefore not realistic – he obviously wanted to see mutilated corpses hanging from the barbed wire, rats eating eyeballs and stuff like that – not sure how the ASA would react to those small details though…
Let’s put this whole ‘historically accurate’ thing to bed now shall we? It is an advert. I will repeat that one in case you missed it: It. Is. An. Advert. It is not a documentary, it is not a piece of film shot for a museum, it is an advert. As such there will be a certain amount of creative license, it is just the nature of the beast. As it happens this ad is wonderfully put together and it is obvious that the producers poured a lot of time/money/effort into making it look as good and as realistic as possible.
In a business world dominated by ultra cautious management that rarely take a risk in case they offend anyone (Anyone who works for an American company – like I do – will know that they won’t even send out cards with ‘Merry Christmas’ on them in case they offend someone – instead they insist on using the terribly vanilla phrase ‘Happy Holidays’) it is refreshing to see an organisation like Sainsbury’s put their head above the parapet (if you pardon the terrible pun) and produce something like this knowing full well that they will cause a bit of friction. Maybe ‘the suits’ in Sainsbury’s are of the opinion that all PR is good PR and they don’t really care if someone loves the ad or hates the ad, as long as they talk about the ad. I would like to think this is not the case, and the fact they are working closely with the Royal British Legion and donating a percentage of profits to this charity suggests they made the advert with the best intentions.
Many people think the advert is distasteful, vulgar and shows a lack of respect for the soldiers that fought and died in the First World War and that no one should use their memory to flog cheese and mince pies, and those people are 100% entitled to their opinion, however I don’t recall such an outcry happening whenever The Battle of Britain is overtly used to flog beer and is that really any different to what Sainsbury’s have done here? And here’s the thing, at the time of writing the advert is a little over a week old and has been viewed over 11,000,000 times on YouTube. During the centenary years we have a great opportunity to educate and inspire a new generation into finding out more about the First World War, so lets pretend that just one percent of those eleven million people who watch the advert decide to try and find out a little bit more about what Christmas 1914 was actually like for the soldiers on the Western Front. That’s 110,000 people going off to read a few books or check out a decent documentary or two and discover what it was really like.
That has to be a good thing. Doesn’t it?