Selling war and peace

It’s that time of year. The long awaited John Lewis Christmas advert has been unveiled and it does not disappoint.

The tried and tested John Lewis yuletide formula, of an old song covered by an up-and-coming singer (this year, John Lennon’s ‘Real Love’ sung by Tom Odell) and an endearing animal character, Monty the penguin, has been used again. After ‘The Bear & The Hare’ animated epic last year, John Lewis have returned to their 2011 formula, of a young boy waiting for Christmas Day. With the touching gift of a girlfriend penguin and the chorus of ‘real love’ resounding in our ears, John Lewis are telling us that they can do the impossible. They can, in fact, sell love. Granted, they don’t show us exactly what this looks like or what department to find it in, as there’s not a hint of product placement. There is not even a hushed whisper of the brand until the closing line.

The annual John Lewis advert has become a Christmas institution. Whereas we used to wait breathlessly for the Christmas Day films and shows, be it The Great Escape or Wallace and Gromit, now we wait to see what masterpiece this titan of a brand will unveil. We can’t even hold out long enough for it to reach our screens, with it garnering more than 4.6 million views on YouTube before it had even aired.

Even though the John Lewis advert seems as much a part of Christmas as the nativity itself, they have in fact only been gracing our screens since 2007.  In all this time, they have never really had a competitor. That is, until this year. Sainsbury’s have stunned us all with a grand three-minute production of the WW1 Christmas Day truce in 1914, coinciding with the centenary. There has been some resentment at this use of the war to sell groceries, with the Sainsbury’s logo at the end seeming surprising after such a moving moment. Bad feelings haven’t been helped by plans to bulldoze a war memorial stadium in Bristol to make room for another store.

Sainsbury’s have shielded their masterpiece by respectfully ensuring that every aspect of the production is historically factual, from the depth of the trenches to the recipe for the German hard biscuit. They claim to have produced a credible reenactment of the war, in spite of the absence of any gore or misery. The chocolate bar featured will be on sale for £1, with profits going to charity. Teaming up with The Royal British Legion could be seen as a ‘get out of jail free card’; an apology for any discomfort at the end of the advert. Obviously, a penguin doesn’t have the same potential to offend. And at £35 a pop, the stuffed toys and Monty totes might stir up some discontent among parents.

Hannah Holmes

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