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  • Writer's pictureDan White


The Beetles dressed as First World War soliders to represent how the conflict has been used in advertising decades later

Ah it wouldn't be Christmas without the annual competition to see who can produce the most tear-jerking multi-million pound Christmas ad.

Firstly, there was Monty the Penguin - the delightful incarnation from John Lewis guaranteed to pull at your heartstrings. The ad had everything that has become a staple of British Christmas advertising; melodic soundtrack, perfect families, snow and this years cutest animal.

Everything was going so well. M&S has fairies, Boots has gone for a rather sad but warm spirited journeys people make at Christmas. And Sainsbury's, well they've certainly thrown a curve ball and gone with the First World War. What could be more festive?


If you haven't seen it yet the ad focuses on two individuals - one British, one German, who meet in no-man's land during the legendary Christmas truce of 1914. If you haven't seen it, you really should:

The ad neatly features a limited edition chocolate bar which can naturally be bought in store with 50p of every £1 bar going to the Royal British Legion. Although raising money for as something as meaningful as the RBL is a noble thing to do, it's left me though with a rather bitter taste.

Ultimately, however good Sainsbury's intentions are, it's using the First World War to sell it's groceries for Christmas. Not only that but the ad is a sanitised and therefore misleading interpretation of the war.

If you know me then you'll know I studied history at university. One of the best modules I studied was about historiography. And before I launch into a lecture on the topic, in a nutshell it's about how history is remembered -

Sainsbury's have genuinely worked hard from what I've read to create something which is 'historically accurate'. I'm not the kind of person to sit there and say 'well that button on that jacket wasn't bought into circulation until 1922!' But you can easily see that it's a sanitised version of the war. Real trench warfare would have been full of mud, rats and shrapnel. There would have been corpses left in a cratered no-mans land and the soldiers would have been grubby and worn down. What we are met with here is two bright eyed young men who look like they've spent more time in the make up department than a trench.

The frustration though is that many people will see this advert and think that this was the war. That it is a historically accurate portrayal which is somehow educational. But all it does it perpetuate this myth, alongside the slew of other recent TV productions that the war is this and not that. That it's the Downton Abbey version of war; an escapist viewpoint where we can relive past victories and all be home in time for tea.

War was not, and is not that.

War is a crippling and miserable affair and one that shouldn't be used to make money on the back of an advert for Christmas. If you want an additional insight then you should have a read through this excellent piece from the Guardian.


In comparing the ads of John Lewis to Sainsbury's who has come out on top?

Well, based on YouTube views (from the official channel videos) the winner has to be Monty with just over 22 million. Sainsbury's managed to pull in 16.5 million at the time of writing.

However, when you take a look at social shares, there's something rather different. The heart-warming story of the boy and his penguin hasn't been as popular, with over 22,000 less shares on Facebook as Sainsbury's ad.

Graph showing the social shares of the 2015 John Lewis and Sainsburys Christmas Ads across Google +, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook

The exact numbers are:

John Lewis: Facebook: 421583 | Twitter: 26964 | LinkedIn: 4379 | Pinterest: 608 | Google +: 15076 | Total: 468610

Sainsbury's: Facebook: 642977 | Twitter: 17318 | LinkedIn: 2728 | Pinterest: 700 | Google +: 18469 | Total: 682192 (Data from Buzzsumo).

First and foremost it clearly shows that Facebook is still the place where stuff gets shared. However, whether it's for the discussions the Sainbury's video raises it's clearly overtaken Monty. I imagine much of the sharing was tied up with the feelings of Remembrance Sunday and the poignant artistic installation of poppies at the Tower of London. But if Sainsbury's goal was to generate social chatter then they've definitely won.

What this actually all equates to in cold hard post-Christmas financial figures we'll just have to wait and see. When you compare direct sales of merchandise that the ads promote, I imagine John Lewis will come out on top. With official Monty penguins selling for £95, alongside a range of other Monty based produce versus Sainsbury's chocolate bars which retail for £1 it seems pretty clear. However, for overall brand awareness in boosting pre-Christmas sales figures, I'm still unsure.

Thoughts? Just add them onto the comments below.


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