The Christmas Truce of 1914, Sponsored by Sainsbury’s
Sainsbury’s, the big UK supermarket chain, has released an advert based on the 1914 Christmas Truce during World War I. The short film was done in cooperation with the Royal British Legion, a support organization for service members, veterans, and their families. Sales of replica chocolate bars like that featured in the ad benefit the Legion.
The ad has brought a good bit of criticism in the UK, both for commercializing a wartime event, and for supposedly “sanitizing” the grim reality of World War I trench warfare.
Big Christmas ads have become a tradition in Britain — an opportunity for companies to pull out all the stops to woo holiday shoppers and stamp their brands firmly on the consumer brain. These mini-blockbusters, similar to Super Bowl showstoppers in the United States, usually feature warm and fuzzy characters like lovestruck penguins and adorable children who reveal the true meaning of Christmas. They do not, in other words, normally take place in trenches. The commercial has sparked at least 240 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority, which is considering an investigation after viewers objected to using the war to promote a company. While it’s not the first time war has formed the backdrop for an ad, previous efforts tended to be light-hearted. Hallam finds the ad is inappropriate, like putting a brand name on a re-enactment of Princess Diana’s funeral. But its sheer beauty is what has its critics displeased. With the gore and rats of trench warfare from 1914-1918 firmly in mind, Manchester-based writer Ally Fogg wrote in a Guardian newspaper column that the ad was disrespectful as it offers a sanitized version of World War I. “Would we welcome an advert next Christmas showing a touching little scene between a Jewish child and a disabled child in Auschwitz, swapping gifts for Christmas and Hanukah on their way to the gas chambers?” he wrote. “I would hope not, yet I fail to see any great moral difference.”
That last comparison strikes me as equal parts lazy and fatuous, as Nazi/Holocaust analogies generally are. Nonetheless, there are criticisms to be made. Furthermore, there are a number of similar stories from the American Civil War, where small groups of Union and Confederate soldiers met and fraternized between the lines.
What do you think of the Sainsbury’s ad, or the prospect of something similar set in 1861-65?