Sainsbury’s you confusing entity! It’s difficult enough to reconcile my instinctive love of Christmas with my learnt anti-consumerist views, without you having to bring war into the mix as well. Every year we are bombarded with different companies trying to make an impression on us emotionally with their annual Christmas advert. This year Sainsbury’s has chosen a historical moment in WWI to encourage us to release our hormones so we are more susceptible to their message and brand. Props to their marketing team, because whether it has caused you to buy something from there or not, a lot of people have an opinion on it.
It is quite a difficult thing for me to straighten out in my mind, all of these different feelings towards the holiday. To me, Christmas has (ironically considering the name) very pagan connotations. I picture cold nights, hot fires, big meals, family and friends all huddling against the cold. It conjures feelings of fire and blood, love and death. When I go into a shop to be confronted with the sounds of whichever latest band is trying to cash in on those primitive feelings by releasing some sort of watered down plastic song, it doesn’t really piss me off. I feel like they are chasing crumbs of something much larger.
The video that they have made is beautifully done, with wonderful sentiments at its base. The event that they are depicting did (roughly) take place as they have shown. The reason it has angered so many people is multi layered. This idea of making the first World War, and trench warfare in particular, something that is beautiful and stylized is seen as doing a disservice to the men who fought and died there. It was not beautiful. The filmmakers opted to leave out a lot of the grimmer details. They have picked and chosen what they think is appropriate, and what will illicit the right mix of emotions from us in order to get us to buy from them. It should be mentioned that the advert is done with the full backing of the Royal British Legion, and that all of the profits made on the £1 chocolate bar shown in the film will go to that charity. However, Sainsbury’s did not make the advert so that you would give to charity, or buy the chocolate bar.
I can’t help but buy into the sentiments the advert is trying to express. The annual Christmas advert extravaganzas are emotional orgies, they are using literally decades of advertising/marketing experience in order to see who can make us feel the most. This advert to me shows the absolute futility and uselessness of war. I sincerely hope more and larger companies start using that as a theme to make us feel, rather than playing on our fears and insecurities.
The reason Christmas is becoming increasingly commercialised and pushed down our throats is to sell this idea of family, love and unity that we don’t get the rest of the time. Companies and businesses exploit these feelings in order to sell us products. The fact that it works so well, the fact that I can walk into a shop, see a Coca-Cola bastardised version of Santa Claus and feel all warm on the inside is a testament to how much we are craving those feelings. Instead of writing Christmas off at the same time as we write off these practices, we should separate them. The rest of the year advertisers use the exact same psychological techniques to sell to us, usually wish a nice slice of insecurity to go with it. I would rather be sold a product based on ideas of love, community and warmth than based on the fact I don’t have the arse of a 13 year old girl.
If you are bothered by the commercialisation of Christmas, try and do exactly what the filmmakers have done. Take the best parts out of the situation and use them to your advantage. Large corporations are manipulating us and dividing us every single day. We are exposed to their message, their ideals and subject ultimately to the laws that they help to push through our Parliament. The advert ultimately has an anti-war message and a strong theme about a shared common humanity. Take those sentiments and allow them to colour your view of the world and don’t buy lots of useless crap you don’t need. Give your mum a call and tell her you love her, without going wild in Selfridges and throwing yourself into debt. Bake a friend some brownies, leave the selection boxes on the shelf.
If Christmas has meaning to you and you are offended by its commercialisation then take a leaf out of Mr Dickens book and honour Christmas in your heart, and try to keep it all the year.