The barrage of Christmas adverts keeps creeping earlier into November, a month with nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas. Last night, Sainsbury’s invaded the break in Coronation Street with its cinematic portrayal of the Christmas Day truce in 1914.
The ad, ‘Christmas is for Sharing’, begins with British and German troops singing Silent Night together from the trenches on a grim Christmas Eve. The next morning, two remarkably clean soldiers, Jim and Otto, brave no man’s land to shake hands. The friendliest game of football ever between the two countries ensues, before both sides retreat after the guns begin to fire again.
It’s one of the most poignant and enduring images of the Great War, and Sainsbury’s captures it well. There’s not a love-starved penguin in sight.
There is one slight sliver of merchandising, in the form of a chocolate bar that Jim touchingly slips into Otto’s pocket, and which can be purchased for £1 at your nearest Sainsbury’s. Keeping to the high road, however, the supermarket is donating all profits from this to long-time partners the Royal British Legion, who helped ensure the ad’s historical accuracy, with two minor exceptions.
The first is Jim and Otto, who look suspiciously more like they’ve arrived fresh from a London modelling agency than three months in a muddy trench, but we’ll forgive them for that. The second is the chocolate, which is appropriately made in Ypres, Belgium, rather than the soot-stained chocolate/cardboard factory in Bolton that made actual First World War chocolate (probably).
Sainsbury’s could do with a Christmas boost, following its recent reversals on the sales and profits fronts. Yesterday, the supermarket revealed a £290m loss and a retreat outside of its convenience and online markets.
Given its emphasis on quality and brand to compete with present day German invaders Aldi and Lidl, the goodwill from this advert can’t hurt (unless you’re really, really cynical and think it’s a just flagrant ploy to profit from the hardship of the Great War – in which case, tut tut). It remains to be seen, however, whether it will actually translate into sales of Sainsbury’s turkeys.
Retailers are getting embroiled, it seems, in ever fiercer competition to capture the true meaning of Christmas. John Lewis has its penguin, Sainsbury’s has it peace-making models, so what about the others? A full, 15-minute nativity filmed entirely in Aramaic from ASDA? Santa sidetracking striking elves to pick up the children’s presents at Morrisons? A Nightmare Before Christmas presented by Tesco? Oh wait, they’ve already done that.