Most Americans tend to look at Christmas commercials with a wary eye and if there is any love to give for them it is through a nostalgic lens.
But folks in the UK live a different kind of Christmas life. Christmas commercials there are an annual event — something anticipated and companies try to out-do each other in producing highly creative, expensive and most of the time heart wrenching or emotional commercials. The point isn’t always to sell something. It is kind of like a national way of just celebrating the season.
But controversy has erupted over one such ad this year. An ad produced by the supermarket chain Sainsbury that uses the famous Christmas truce of 1914 as its setting. Watch:
So where is the controversy?
According to Mail Online, complaints have “flooded” in for its ‘cynical’ use of First World War imagery to promote the supermarket’s brand.
The commercial shows the British soldier receiving a chocolate bar which in the course of the three minutes of the film ends up in the hands of his German counterpart. Those same candy bars are being sold at Sainsbury stores at a rate now of about 5,000 per minute, with proceeds from the sale going to the Royal British Legion. Complainers say the ad is disrespectful to veterans and distorts the ugliness that was World War I in order to profit.
Let’s first put some things in context as the media runs with this story. There have been more than 200 complaints about the commercial. The video has been viewed more than 7 million times and the response has been overwhelmingly positive in social media.
But is there an argument to be made.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Christmas truce, a now-legendary story right up there with so many other legendary stories associated with Christmas. But what makes this story different than others is that it is historically proven. The details in the commercial are fairly accurate. Over the decades dozens of survivors have been interviewed, letters describing the event have been found and even photos from the trenches exist proving it all actually happened.
This reality is that many of the memories from World War I are fresh — and painful. Even though it is a hundred years old and the actual participants in this are likely gone there is no doubt that the residual effects of such an experience make the topic highly sensitive. Some media outlets are calling the ad “morally complicated”.
Of course, this is not the first time Christmas has seen someone cash in. Santa Claus was once a benevolent bishop who’s charitable actions have been distorted and manipulated to an extreme degree. For that matter, the sales of Nativities and the giving of gifts in emulation of the Magi is pure exploitation. Real is real here.
It is hardly possible to see how the makers of this commercial were insensitive. In fact, just that they organized the campaign to benefit the Royal British Legion suggests that they anticipated a little backlash and wanted to avoid it.
What we miss here on the “other side of the pond” is that these commercials in the UK have been argued over for years — not because of their content but because they cost much and quantifying the return on investment to produce them is always in question. This one appears to be working.
That means it has touched a lot of people. And is the message of the Christmas truce really something that bad or something that should not be shared?