British Serviceman On The Sainsburys Ad: "Perhaps Some Subjects Should Be Left Alone"

We've all seen the highly emotive Sainsbury's WWI Christmas ad, but is it fair for advertisers to use such a sad, mass loss of life to sell their products?
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We've all seen the highly emotive Sainsbury's WWI Christmas ad, but is it fair for advertisers to use such a sad, mass loss of life to sell their products?

Tonight my attention was drawn to the Sainsbury’s 2014 Christmas advert. Whilst John Lewis opted for Monty the Penguin as their medium for inspiring good feeling and boosting sales, this supermarket took an entirely different approach.

If you’ve not seen it, then the basic premise is a reenactment of a series of unofficial cease-fires that took place in the week leading up to Christmas 1914, in one of the bloodiest conflicts humankind has ever endured, commonly referred to as World War One. Essentially in the week leading up to that Christmas, German and British troops began to sing together from their cold and war-torn trenches; this subsequently evolved to the exchanging of pleasantries and eventually physical meetings upon the land that separated them. Some reports have even suggested the occurrence of football matches and the exchanging of tokens such as food and jewellery. The advert can be found here.

Whichever way you look at it, this is incredibly poignant stuff. By that time, despite being at such an early stage of the war, thousands upon thousands of men had lost their lives in combat. To cease-fire and spend time conversing with the ‘enemy’, treating one another as fellow human beings, forgetting the ideologies of individuals and nations that had brought them there and united them in bloodshed, is truly inspiring stuff.

The Sainsbury’s advert is an three-minute representation of this. A lot of time has gone into the set construction, and it is evident that a considerable budget has been utilised to portray life as it was likely to have been (in terms of the terrain, uniform insignia and so forth). It is well filmed, well acted and really quite emotive. At the end of the advert, the soldiers return to their respective trenches and we see a German and a British soldier looking at the trinkets they have received from each other. Both look at the food they have received and smile delightfully, and the slogan ‘Christmas is for sharing’ appears.
Genuinely heartwarming.

But if you think a little deeper about this, the advert seems somewhat more sinister.

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Sainsbury’s is a business. Pure and simple. They are not a charity, and so one has to look at what agenda they have in choosing to use this poignant moment in time as a means of advertising. The fact of the matter is, Sainsbury’s (or any other business) are not going to put out an advert unless it ultimately helps them to make money.

This is no way makes them bad in itself. Business is business.

However, I think perhaps that certain topics should remain off-limits when it comes to using them as vehicle to make a profit. The advert has been made in conjunction with the Royal British Legion, and whilst the RBL will undoubtedly have considered this very matter and decided they had a sufficient amount to gain from being in such a public spotlight, I can’t help but feel that endorsing their money-making advert with the RBL logo simply condones their actions; it somehow makes what they have done okay.

While I am not shallow enough to go and spend my money in Sainsbury’s as a result of their Christmas advert, I am sat here writing about it and so ultimately on some level they have achieved their aims, have they not? Any publicity is usually good publicity, after all.

There is no two ways about it, both World Wars saw a tragic, mass loss of life, quite unnecessarily if you boil the conflicts down to their basic building blocks, a debate I won’t go into further here. Following these conflicts, the world wanted to remember and this led to our yearly remembrance of the fallen, observed all around the world.

It used to be about remembering with great sadness our stupid acts in these wars. It used to be about being genuinely remorseful for what took place, vowing to never, ever let it happen again. But in recent years, with so much public support building for our troops around the world, it has almost become a celebration of the soldiers involved, a time to remember with pride, a time to be thankful for the fact that they gave their lives.

Operating under such a discourse, it is easy to see how the boundaries blur between what is acceptable advertisement material and what is not. After all, businesses already use sex, violence and other taboo issues to sell their products.

But surely using one of the bloodiest conflicts known to man is out of order? Surely it is an insult to the families of those who lost good men and women, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives? Surely it makes a mockery of the great wounds left in the memories of nations all around the world?

Whatever your views are, the spirit of the advertisement is a good one – Christmas is for sharing. It has strong undertones of compassion for others, loving one’s neighbour, of doing good. And I’m all for that. I just think that perhaps some subjects should be left alone. Some subjects will always be of such significance, the associated events of such magnitude, that to use them for certain purposes must always be frowned upon.