It’s gearing up to that time of year again – the Christmas advertisements are out in full force this year. Many companies seem to be taking their cue from the John Lewis advertisement. There’s always hype around it – what will it be this year? I believe it’s a penguin, last year it was a hibernating bear which featured in the segment (I will here admit that I am a rather soppy, emotional individual and therefore I cried at it). This year, there are more and more seasonal advertisements. It began with Coca Cola, extended to John Lewis, Boots and now it seems that Sainsbury’s supermarket want to cash in on this.
Fair enough, one might say. They are the same as any other company – out to make money and to persuade people to buy Christmas groceries from them as opposed to another outlet. Okay – that’s fine. Such is the nature of the society we live in today.
What I do not believe is fine however, is Sainsbury’s use of the Christmas Truce that occurred in 1914. Whether or not it actually did happen is a debate for qualified historians, but it has risen to mythological status within the minds of the public and will therefore not be dislodged by however many well meaning academics. It is perhaps slightly whimsical, warming even, to think of a moment of humanity in the midst of such a horrible event – a chink of light in what would become some of the darkest years known to those who lived through them. We want to cling to this image and fiercely too.
Now, I know I said I would try and avoid anything incendiary on this blog, but I feel extremely strongly about this and it therefore warrants a post.
I will first say that I understand the sentiment behind the piece and I also know that the Royal British Legion (see their tweets regarding the ad here) were a part of creating the advertisement. This is purely my own opinion with regards to what I believe. If you have an alternate view, please do send a comment and I am perfectly happy to discuss this. Debate makes for a happy historian.
Secondly – it is a very well filmed advertisement. The cinematography is beautiful and the acting on the part of those involved is superb. There is a great deal communicated in very few lines. The Germans are portrayed in a light that makes them human which is something that even now, some people seem to forget and simply look at them as the opposing “Other”, the inherently evil enemy who sought to destroy ‘our boys.’ I daresay that had this not been an advertisement, and instead a short film or a part from a larger drama, I would be singing its praises from the rooftops.
The problem I have with the advertisement is this – it makes me feel horribly, awfully uncomfortable. To me, it is painfully inappropriate. The First World War is here, being used to sell something. It is being used as a commercial tool and that is what I find inherently disrespectful about it. Men did not sit in trenches, in the freezing cold French winters, for their image to be used a hundred years down the line to sell chocolate. It cheapens the experience of those men and that is not what we need to do.
The First World War is being used for political fodder, the use of poppies to remember is something else that is up for debate now – whether or not the installation of poppies at the tower sanitises the amount of death and horror and allows us to look at it and then simply move on – and now this.
I fully understand what they were trying to do, but sadly in my eyes, Sainsburys have failed.