WHY ARE CHRISTMAS TV ADS SO BAD?
XMAS ADVERTS ARE SO SENTIMENTAL IT HURTS. AND HOW HAVE THEY BECOME SUCH A FESTIVE TALKING POINT?
Would you like to know what’s on the top of my wish-list for Father Christmas this year? It’s not something I’d like him to bring me. It’s something I’d like him to take away: all those awful, sentimental Christmas ads. Call me the Grinch, but the onslaught of schmaltzy, corny adverts that we’re all exposed to throughout the festive season drives me absolutely round the bend. From as early as November, you can’t stick on the box without being assaulted by sickeningly sentimental Yuletide vignettes, driven home by annoyingly emotive crooning and piano chords.
The worst part of it is that the majority of the UK’s population seems to actually like them. So it’s not just a case of the big corporations pushing a load of cloying rubbish on the helpless, TV-watching public; it’s the TV-watching public revelling in it and cheering the corporations on while shedding festive tears over all the sappiness.
The flagbearer for all this seems to be John Lewis. The John Lewis Christmas ad has become such an institution in this country that it has its own Wikipedia page. It would appear that it all kicked off in 2007 with a six million pound campaign and has been growing in national appreciation ever since. This year’s advert is about children in the care system and the company’s long term commitment to support young people, working in partnership with Action for Children. This means that I can’t really be too critical of it without sounding like some sort of evil dictator. Obviously it’s wonderful that the company is working with charities and I wouldn’t dream of criticising that part of it. But the advert itself is dire. It’s so corny it makes me shudder.
Other companies have obviously tried to rival John Lewis over the last decade or so, with M&S, Sainsbury’s and co. all throwing their Christmas hats into the ring and contributing to this weird phenomenon. Even Lidl has been getting in on the action this year with some absolute tripe about a Christmas bear in a Lidl branded woolly jumper. There’s actually something slightly post-modern about this one – the ad itself being all about a Christmas Lidl teddy bear that shoots to fame, receiving a mass of media coverage and becoming a publicity tool for the company. The ad ends with the narrator saying “narrative complete”. OK, it’s certainly self-aware, but that doesn’t stop it being appallingly bad. It’s like when someone says: “I don’t mean to be rude, but…” and then proceeds to be extremely rude. Showing self-awareness can negate the value of your action only so far. A soppy, self-aware Christmas ad is ultimately still a soppy Christmas ad.
I wouldn’t mind all this so much if people just watched the ads and left it at that, but they insist on talking about them and enthusing about them too. Everyone waits with bated breath to see what John Lewis and Morrisons and Tesco will come out with. It’s become a kind of cultural event. That, to me, is the most depressing part of it all. Are we really so unsophisticated as a nation that our idea of culture that’s worth talking about is a Christmas telly advert? I thought it was bad when people were getting over-excited about all the new Marvel releases, but this is really a new low. An advert is not Art. I don’t care what the oh-so-cool creatives at ad agencies think of their work and how much they’re paid for it, nor how many awards the ad industry issues itself with; the bottom line is that an advert is there to sell. And we shouldn’t forget it.
Remember that the brands behind all these Christmas adverts are supermarkets: big shops that provide us with food and that exist to make a profit. They’re tugging at our heartstrings to get to our purse strings. They’re not our friends. They’re not our family. They’re not churches or mosques or community centres. They are businesses worth billions that wield a huge amount of power because of their scale and market share. I’m not for a moment proposing that we start a socialist revolution, but do we really need to build such emotional and cultural relationships with supermarkets? I say, let’s be more wary of the soft power of these adverts. And if you just want a warm fuzzy feeling, there’s really no shortage of actual Christmas films to choose from. My vote goes to “Home Alone”. …Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals!