These Are The Christmas Adverts!?

It’s that time of year again, still pretty far away from Christmas but our economy’s on the rocks and we need to get people shopping pronto. The lights are up in the streets, Paris is ordering another giant, green butt-plug and Black Friday is looming. To fuel this pre-Christmas consumption extravaganza the propaganda machines, I mean televisions, are doing their best to spew out an array of emotive adverts to get us racing further into debt. Here are some of the highlights (well, lowlights).

Sainsbury’s and the 4th Industrial Revolution: this Xmas ad is a simple one, an overworked Dad who works in a toy store (as if we have those in Britain anymore) gets worried he won’t be able to spend enough time with his family at home. As stresses mount and this unforgivably long advert unfolds the Dad’s solution is to automate himself, yup, riding the trend of replacing humans with robots he gets a drone to do his shopping, machines to run the factory production lines and a nodding dog to do his ‘yes-manning’. This radical transformation of our society is being heralded by the World Economic Forum (self-important 21st century Adam Smith types) as the 4th Industrial Revolution but to those of us who aren’t super rich and who don’t work in think tanks it heralds loss of jobs and increased social atomisation. Thus, rather than an uplifting advert this is actually a bleak prophecy of things to come, worthy of a Black Mirror episode, but Sainsbury’s do give a great nod to diversity in British society as people of colour and different faiths appear in this advert, of course, the protagonist is still a white guy proving that the supermarket will go some of the way but not all of it.

Lidl/Aldi: Nostalgia and the Dangers of Anthropomorphising Vegetables:¬†at least these ones are short. Lidl’s is called Homecoming (yup, it has a title) and is about a family redecorating their Grandad’s old cottage out in the countryside in time for Christmas day. This is a blatant play on British nostalgia for the countryside and ‘family values’, which today are, of course, being trashed by urbanisation and rural poverty, which are both exacerbated by supermarkets taking jobs away from farmers and forcing them to engage in unsustainable farming methods. This advert is effectively a nostaligc lie about what our past once was but probably actually wasn’t. Meanwhile, Aldi’s advert (Aldi is another German superchain and Lidl’s top competitor) shows a carrot running across a Christmas table laden with food – he runs past the corpses of other carrots, the mashed remains of dead potatoes and even gets the skin of his back grated off – all so he can reach the plate by the fireplace with a mince-pie for Father Christmas on it. The carrot gets its wish and, unlike all his dead and eaten friends, ends up caught in the antlers of a reindeer at the front of Santa’s sled, perhaps a subtle nod to the idea of the carrot and the stick, and this time the carrot is incentivising us all to eat loads and buy even more. Whilst funny this advert does highlight the dangers of anthrompomorphising vegetables because, ultimately, we kill, cook and eat them.

M&S Does Sexism: I would mention the Waitrose and John Lewis adverts but their over-reliance on creepy CGI animals and their unrealistic plots really let them down this year (a normal robin would not survive that journey and besides the fact animals don’t use trampolines they also don’t get on that well: the badger would attack the foxes, the foxes would eat the squirrel and the second the hedgehog landed on its back the foxes would be eating that too). Although, this US election result take on the JL advert is inspired and depressing! Instead, it’s M&S, which shows Santa Claus heading off to do the rounds leaving Mrs Claus at home. Not only does she lie to him when he asks if any “last requests” have arrived in the post and she says “no, just bills” – actually, there was a letter addressed to her and unless her bank uses crayons it’s pretty clear it’s not a bill. It turns out a young boy threw his sister’s trainers at a dog and she cried a lot (typical girl, amirite) so could Mrs C sort this out. Sort it out she does: changing into a highly impractical dress given the weather, getting on a jet-ski, into a helicopter and flying half way round the world to add a final present to the pile her husband will have just put under the tree. She even has a cheeky bite of mince pie but not a big one because women have to be dainty in their eating behaviour, amirite! Naturally, the sister is overjoyed because all girls care about is clothes and shoes, amirite! So, not only does Mrs C do the dirty work of a young boy too lazy to buy his sister a present but just before Mr C gets home from his worldwide trip she hides all the evidence: her secret HQ (think bat cave meets festive cheer), her cool dress and even the letters she receives from kids all vanish behind the wall. She even pretends to have fallen asleep whilst reading a book called ‘Fifty Shades of Red’ (because women only care about sex with sociopaths, amirite) and when Mr C asks how her night was she says, “oh, you know, quiet.” Um, not true! So why is she lying? She tells her husband it “wouldn’t be fun if you knew all my secrets” whilst giving the audience a knowing look and she’s basically asking us to collude in patriarchy, where men’s egos are so fragile the thought that a woman can contribute to the working world is just too much. Mrs C would rather weave an incredibly elaborate web of lies and deceit rather than have her husband know quite how resourceful and independent she can be. Talk about #masculinitysofragile. Either that or she’s just very bored of her marriage.

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Coca-Cola Does Adverts

You’d think Coca-Cola wouldn’t need to bother with adverts. Their cans and bottles of fizzy, sugar-water are already sold all over the world and being drunk in the millions, why bother with all the billboards and posters when there’s not much in the way of competition? But that’s not enough for a global, conglomerated modern-day empire, if Coca-Cola don’t continue to beam their brand at us we might briefly forget about them and buy Pepsi instead, and that would just be terrible. So here are some of the high(low)lights of their efforts to indoctrinate us to Choose Choice, Open Happiness and Drink Coca-Cola.

In Coca-Cola’s own words: ” ‘Brotherly Love’ captures the unique relationship between brothers, a universal story of love and conflict. Ultimately the younger brother finds himself without his Coca-Cola. The older brother comes to his rescue and they enjoy a special moment together.” I hadn’t realised that Coke did universal stories of love and conflict but really I’d say this is a story about bullying – the elder brother bullies his younger brother at every possible opportunity – stamping on his feet, pushing his cap down and stealing the umbrella. However, if there’s one thing he can’t stand, it’s other people bullying his younger brother when he could be. Hence, he scares them off and then makes his little brother spill his Coke down his t-shirt. So, just to clarify, this advert has nothing to do with ‘brotherly love’ but is actually about condoning bullying and imaginative ways to addict the next generation to fizzy, sugar-water.

This has to be my favourite. Stuck as we are in the gruelling reality of late capitalism, where recessions run longer and deeper, inequality rises and as it does a whole host of prejudices we thought were gone come back. Add to this the effects rampant consumerism has on the environment and we’ve got climate change, resource depletion and land grabs. Yet despite all this Coca-Cola ploughs on in selling us its sugar-water. And here’s a handy advert to remind us which ones there are (in case we’d forgotten): the original, the diet-one, the no-calories-one which is the diet-one rebranded for men (it’s black after all and has a number in the name) and the supposedly-natural-one (aka, the oxymoron-one). But it’s the message at the end “CHOOSE CHOICE” in big, bold letters which does it for me. I mean it’s bad enough that consumer capitalism results¬† in so many human and environmental rights abuses but now freedom has been narrowed down to selecting one of four fizzy, sugar-water drinks. Did Emmeline Pankhurst, Martin Luther King and Ghandi really strive so hard just for us to have access to a range of soft drinks? But, worse than that, the phrase “choose choice” reveals that choice is also up for grabs, as if one day soon we won’t be able to choose at all – maybe the day when Coca-Cola instead of water is coming out of our taps whether we like it or not.

And last but by no means least it’s the Coca-Cola does Christmas advert. Coke basically invented the Santa we know and love – they changed the colour of Saint Nicholas’ outfit from green to red, they added some weight to him and put a bottle of delicious, sparkling, black gloop in his hands. And kids all over the world love him and believe in him, worshipping him almost like a deity – a false idol if ever there was one. I hate to say it but Coca Cola really are having the last laugh. Ho, ho, ho! Unless, of course, we stop buying their tasty and addictive fizzy, sugar-water.

This Advert Really Buggs Me

Adverts. They’re blasted at us everyday from all angles – next to our facebook posts, on billboards lining the streets, in between songs on Spotify, at the bottom of websites, in the newspapers we read and on the telly. Everywhere, adverts are everywhere, trying to convince us that if we buy a certain product or service we really will be a more beautiful/successful/happy/worthy/etc person. I try to ignore them as best I can, especially the ones that make me feel very ugly, but sometimes they get through. And the British Airways Holiday advert is one of the ones that slipped through my defences.

I think it’s the song that does it for me. Lightning Bolt by Jake Bugg. Now, I’m sure Jake Bugg is a really nice guy and it’s a great song – grabbing hold of life and really trying to live in a world that conditions us to just get by. Hence the lightning bolt – a metaphor for the electrifying possibilities of life. Yet I associate none of these things with booking a holiday with BA (not that I’ve ever booked a holiday with BA). Booking holidays is actually quite boring because it involves lots of online forms and they really aren’t fun. Yet here’s BA using a catchy soundtrack and two passably attractive, heterosexual people, to try and convince us that booking a holiday with them is some sort of guarantor of euphoria (it’s not, trust me).

And it’s what the irritating couple do that’s even worse – they jet off to fancy locales with little regard for their bank balances, they order coffee in quintessentially rustic cafes, they take photos with overly large lenses and the second they get home, the second they actually have to sit down and spend some time together and contemplate the hollowness of their relationship they just spend another thousand odd quid and zoom off on another holiday. They have sex in expensive hotels, swan around on rooftops as if they’re really living the high life and even make packing into some sort of sexy game. I’m not sure what BA is trying to sell us here – holiday packages, heterosexual monogamy or bundles of shame for not being a successful enough yuppie. But, oh no, the couple are rowing in front of a fountain but, phew, BA is to hand with its 24 Hour Helpline, which for some reason provides marital advice as well as insurance advice. To cut a long story short, she ends up dancing with an older man, then they go to Barbados to try and patch things up before she tries to run off into the sea to escape their shallow, airbrushed sham of a relationship.

So, yeah, you might have guessed that this advert really bugs me, especially because it always (and I mean always) comes on when I’m catching up on murder mysteries on ITV. It’s the indie rock sounds of Jake Bugg, the ridiculous lifestyle of the couple that would bankrupt most people, and the fact that it’s for BA, which just makes me think of being stuck in a stuffy, giant, metal tube at far too high an altitude (ideally miles away from any lightning bolts).

Suffragettes, Lipstick & High Speed Internet

Seat found, popcorn in hand, fizzy drink in the other. I was ready to enjoy Suffragette, the new movie about the women’s rights movement in the early 20th century, when Emmeline Pankhurst was rallying thousands to the cause, when Emily Davison threw herself in front of the King’s horse, and when bricks were being thrown through windows and wires were being cut because women did not have the vote. I couldn’t wait. I love feminism, I think it’s awesome, and a whole movie about it is a right treat. But before the film, the adverts…

First there was the make-up one. John Legend takes a seat at a piano and starts singing La Vie En Rose. Then in comes Julianne Moore followed closely by Naomi Watts, Blake Lively, Leila Bekhti, Eva Longoria and a whole host of famous women. They gather around the piano in their pink dresses and friendly smiles. The camera lingers briefly on their lips, hair, chins and breasts. Legend carries on singing and sometimes the women offer a word or two, you get the impression they don’t really know the lyrics. And it’s all for Color Riche Collection Exclusive, a new line of pink lipsticks from L’Oreal. The advert ends with Moore telling us “we’re worth it” and the impression I was left with is that everyone involved with the advert (hopefully) got paid a lot of money. Ok, famous women using their celebrity status to help promote a product and a brand, it’s hardly new. I mean, it’s not quite on a par with what the Suffragettes did but it’s great that these brilliant women have made it…made it onto the set of a L’Oreal advert. It’s fine, I won’t think too much about it, can’t wait for the movie.

Then it’s Heineken and Daniel Craig. James Bond nicks a speed boat to escape some bad guys except a female water skier is attached to it. Dragged along by the boat she deftly navigates waves, rocks, a wedding, a bar (she even has time to grab a tray of beers) and one of the enemy speedboats. Jumping aboard the boat she throws a top hat at the baddy currently attacking Bond. It doesn’t do much. Bond then prompts her to tie the bad guy up to a parachute who then gets dragged away. Bond then asks her if she’d like to join him for a boozy lunch. Ok, quite funny, yes the woman is unnamed and wearing a swimming costume the whole time whereas we all know Bond’s name and the men are all wearing suits but it’s a beer advert, what can you except? Maybe a little more, maybe? Anyway, nearly time for the film!

And just before it begins a truly inspiring advert, finally! A mum and her young daughter are watching clips of great women doing great things, people like Emmeline Pankhurst, Paloma Faith, Billie Holiday, Steph Houghton, and they’re all winking at the young girl inspiring her to join the movement and become awesome. And what an inspiring way to advertise…Vivid, the new high-speed internet connection service from Virgin. Right, because that’s how we celebrate feminism throughout the years by truncating the narrative and shoehorning it into an ad for broadband. And lipstick. And beer (although I doubt Heineken has even thought about co-opting feminism into their beer-selling cause).

So there was I, excited for the movie, but a little perplexed. As I watched these adverts I couldn’t help but feel like I was at the receiving end of an agenda – an agenda that appropriates amazing moments in our history/present to inspire us, not to try and replicate these events or even celebrate them, but to buy stuff. Consumer capitalism is really rather brilliant at reducing everything to an act of consumption. It also objectifies the female body and uses it as a vehicle for selling make-up and alcohol. None of this is new but it is exceedingly boring especially when it’s juxtaposed with the ensuing film, namely one about women who risked their lives and died so women could have greater equality. And the advertising agenda wasn’t even subtle. I mean lip stick and a feminist themed broadband. It’s clear these brands did some lazy ‘market research’ before crassly targeting their presumed captive audience with the ‘appropriate’ products. But the minutes before a film like Suffragette make for prime time virtual estate. So as I finished my popcorn long before the film started I couldn’t help but feel that despite all the amazing gains that have been made there is still a very long way to go. Time to smash some beer bottles, stamp on some lipsticks and cut some fibre optics.