There have been lots of thoughts swirling around the Internet over the past couple of days about the Sainsbury’s ‘Christmas is for Sharing’ advert, and following a tweet of mine getting quite a bit of traction earlier I thought I’d elaborate on my thoughts in more than 140 characters.

Personally, I really like the advert. It’s touching and moving and perfectly incorporates the Christmas spirit. Historiography aside (because let’s face it, advert mini-films are hardly the place for accurate portrayals of history) it rides the line between aestheticism and truth well. It’s not supposed to be a recreation filled with guts and gore: it’s an artistic representation, so you can forgive it its lack of mud and blood in favour of white shirts and snow and cute robins.
The advert, just in case you haven't seen it yet.

Of course the First World War was one of the most horrific periods in modern history but it’s also important to remember that humanity flourished among the rank and file in the trenches. It was not all death and destruction – although this should in no way be diminished – and the Christmas Truce is perhaps the most emphatic display of the good will between enemies outside of battle. I think the advert is a brilliant portrayal of this: of the Germans and the Brits on equal levels, no side more evil than the other. In particular, I adored the melding of the bilingual ‘Silent Night’ as a demonstration of this unity between enemies.

What I don’t see this advert as doing is belittling the cause and sacrifice of these soldiers. In fact, I think it does quite the opposite. As Niven’s ‘Carol from Flanders’ says: ‘God speed the time when every day, shall be as Christmas Day’ filled with peace. This is an important message to remember both outside of Armistice week and especially at a time of celebration, such as Christmas. We should all be grateful for the sacrifices of the Great War and I think Sainsbury’s have done very well to raise this in our minds this Christmas.

When it comes down to it, there is no denying that the purpose of this and all of Sainsbury’s’ promotion is to sell groceries, but I don’t see them as exploiting the First World War to achieve this end. (Believe me, I know about exploitation: I started writing this piece in a Capitalism and Marxism lecture.) The football game which is central to the advert has nothing to do with the supermarket and the only product placement is the chocolate bar which profits the Royal British Legion. It is undoubtable that Sainsbury’s have produced this campaign to present themselves in a good light, as a caring and respectful company, but is that so bad? Isn’t that what the Co-operative’s entire business is based on?
Another perspective to consider is that without a company like Sainsbury’s putting in the investment of making what must be a very expensive advert to commemorate the First World War and to benefit the Royal British Legion, our collective consciousness would not have been raised to remembrance at Christmas and the Legion wouldn’t have benefitted from the post-Poppy Appeal exposure and fundraising. It wouldn’t be out of disrespect that the centenary would be pushed to the backs of our minds, but it is important for there to be a campaign like this to force the issue to the forefront and I don’t think there is a much more effective way than an advertising campaign which confronts us in our living rooms and juxtaposes the light-hearted holiday entertainment.

I know many people will disagree with my thoughts and I also know I’m no authority on issues like this (I’m just an undergrad history student, not an expert!) but I wanted to get my feelings heard because I really do admire the ‘Christmas is For Sharing’ campaign and this also felt like a good way to talk about ‘year-round’ remembrance which has been on my mind since Remembrance Sunday.


PS. The chocolate bar is delicious so if you enjoyed the advert, definitely consider buying one!