The Fall and Fall of Christmas Advertising. 20 November 2012

When you watch this year's crop of Christmas ads on TV you have to wonder what century it is, and try not to get your turkey in a twist!

I rarely get angry at ‘issues’ anymore. I am about to turn forty and the days of caring passionately about a cause as an expression of one’s personality seems to have passed. It could be that I live in the hermetic bubble that is central London and work in an industry where ‘difference’ is not an issue. I therefore don’t have to confront the big challenges of the modern world. Or it could be that as an educated, white, middle class man of means I do not face the injustices that so many others do.

The domination of TV with a very specific kind of advertising that accompanies the onset of the Christmas period has, though, sent me in to a rage. Never before has tuning in to the BBC (which, granted, has its own particular world view) been so appealing as when on the commercial channels we are confronted by the various, repeated and seemingly universal views of the British Man that are peddled. Anyone not immersed in the vagaries of UK demography would have every right to think all men feckless, lazy, infantile, incapable, tasteless and, generally, useless.

The Asda ad has rightly come in for some criticism; dismissed as sexist by the media and also by the public, mainly via Twitter. I too label it sexist but I think that men are the victims as much as women. I understand that advertising has to represent and appeal to a particular wide demographic and I am not naive enough to think that these businesses believe they have a responsibility to challenge negative stereotypes but, really, men are capable of making decisions, they can cook, they can buy a thoughtful present before Christmas eve and they do their share of parenting. The Morrisons ad is not much better and I really worry for that woman’s mental health.

The ad has to be the worst. Do mothers who watch this not think that maybe they don’t want their sons to be like that? Why do women marry these men? Are men not embarrassed or angry to see themselves depicted in this way?

I recently read Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan and, in the same weekend, caught up with the first series of Parade’s End. It was a fascinating juxtaposition. In each, a war is being fought. The novel explores the secret manipulation of writers and publishing to expound a particular anti-communist message to the wider world while Christopher Tietjens, the principal character of Ford Maddox Ford’s book, works for the Ministry of Information where his superiors manipulate published facts as part of the war effort.

The segue from frozen turkey to this intellectual preoccupation is a leap, I know, but my mad suggestion (even more of a leap) is that Christmas TV ads could be the first target in an attempt to subliminally start to alter the general perception of the ‘British Man’.

This year Waitrose has chosen to buck the trend by not creating a flashy ad, just buying the airtime and presenting a charitable message from Delia and Heston. It’s clever, and plays to another face of the Christmas period – that of generosity and charity. I bravely suggest that the stand-out ad next year could be the one in which a man ‘does’ Christmas (shopping, entertaining, cooking, kids nativity play, 9to5 job, buying the tree, rooting around in the loft) and then surveys his happy, contented, well-fed family while his wife wakes from a tipsy slumber in the armchair to ask ‘what’s for tea, luv?’.

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