The corporate cynicism of the 2015 Christmas adverts

Photo: Jon B Henderson

This article first appeared in The Oxford Student on 27 November 2015. I thought that, since last year’s had been so much fun. this would be too. I was right, though I think I came to a slightly more positive conclusion this time around.

Here we are again. Nothing makes me feel more old than the inevitable return of the Christmas ads, scurrying onto our screens every November like a horde of tinsel-furred rats, polluting the culture with a plague of scurrilously sentimental sweetness and itchily unpleasant hashtags. They are always the same, but somehow find a way to become even more cynical with each passing year, and this year’s crop is no different. And so, having closed out last year with a roundup of the Christmas ads, I begrudgingly began a repeat for 2015. These ads make me painfully aware that life is a series of empty repetitions of meaningless rituals until we all meet our inevitable deaths, only to be swept over and ignored as the glorious capitalist machine rumbles on towards a sprout-flavoured Armageddon.

Merry Christmas, by the way.

First up, Coca-Cola has supplied one of the creepiest adverts I’ve seen in years, in which various idiots ignore perfectly sensible advice about not opening the door to strange men in bizarre fetish outfits or accepting drinks from strangers on the street. The ad concludes with a close-up of a coke-swigging Father Christmas’s ecstatic face, followed by the slogan ‘Taste Christmas’. Stay classy, Coca-Cola.

Tesco have turned up with a slew of Christmas ads, all featuring Ben Miller and some other vaguely recognisable TV faces acting out cringingly unfunny comedy sketches within some of Tesco’s soul-crushingly massive consumerist industrial warehouses masquerading as shops. Most of the jokes revolve around how thick Ben Miller and That-Bloke-Off-That-Show-Whose-Name-I-Can’t-Remember are. I wouldn’t have thought that painting your customers as idiots would be a winning strategy, but what do I know about marketing? What I do know is that it says worrying things about your attempt at comedy when a gluten-free lightbulb is one of your better jokes.

Moving on, John Lewis add another horrifically mawkish bit of sentimentality to their growing rap sheet of festive crimes. This one features a little girl spying on some weird old dude living on the moon, truly a damning indictment of our modern day surveillance state. The ad concludes with the little girl somehow managing to send a telescope up into space, and with the old man looking through it back at her, weeping at the fact that this is the closest he will ever come to interacting with another human being, as he lives out his last days in a barren, lifeless wasteland without even anyone to collect his bins the week after Christmas.

In a similar vein, Sainsbury’s continue their trend of weirdly bleak celebrations of yuletide festivity with their advert, ‘Mog’s Christmas Calamity’. This particular audio-visual delight tells the horrific tale of a cat so traumatised by its nightmares of evil mutant robins that it accidentally burns down the house of the family it lives with. This unfolds over almost a minute of film, with the cat desperately trying to escape the blaze as it is beset by humourous mishaps involving fairy lights and Christmas crackers, all while moments away from being swallowed up by the hideous black smoke which belches from the oven in a subtle metaphor for the frightful experience of preparing Christmas dinner for the family. The ad ends with the fire brigade dumping a gallon of fire extinguisher foam on the turkey before pissing off, and with the family contemplating the smoking ruins of what was once their home before submitting themselves to the mercy of their neighbours.

Sainsbury’s and John Lewis’ ads are interesting in that they append to their sentimental nonsense the logos of prominent charities in an attempt to make the whole enterprise feel a bit less despicable. While a worthy cause, I can’t help thinking that charities would be better served by a cash transfer from these giant corporations, rather than having their names slapped on the end of their annual displays of snow-stained cynicism.

So I tell you what. This Christmas, why don’t we all try donate a bit of money to charity, independently of these soul-sucking corporate middlemen aiming to profit off people’s natural inclinations to help one another? Just one quid from each of us could do immeasurable good, and it’d be a lot more in keeping with “The Spirit of Christmas” than these pitiful excuses for advertising could ever hope to be.

So here’s my festive marketing campaign: Ignore the ads. Give what you can. Have a lovely holiday.

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