Friday, 14 November 2014

Well, That'll Teach Me ....


Yesterday, I posted a short blog entry entitled Never Pre-Judge. It provided a link to a Sainsburys advert, which focused on the Christmas Truce of 1914 rather than the standard retail seasonal view of penguins, novelty gifts and Jools Holland.

This year marks the centenary of the start of World War 1, which in 4 agonising years marked the end of the old style of battles, with horses, guns and chivalric images being replaced with trench warfare, tanks and mustard gas. The carnage was unimaginable, whole towns lost their menfolk and the numbers maimed were too much for many to cope with. Eric Bogle's songs, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda and No Man's Land, succinctly says more than I could ever manage on the subject.

Given the subject matter and the time of year, Sainsburys' ad agency could have gone to town on tear-jerking schmaltz, Downton Abbey style. They didn't. The product placement of the single saleable item was more subtle than most BBC dramas; they went out of their way to get the history and the details as accurate as possible given the media constraints. The focus was on the ability of two groups of people to take a chance, trust one another and be welcoming. Something you can't do if you pre-judge people.

Or so I thought.

Then I read the Facebook post of somebody I respect, who also shared the Sainsburys' advert. To him, this was blatant consumerism of the worst sort.
 "... this is a sales campaign designed to prey on your sense of honor and gratitude for those who have paid the ultimate price. ...they're using the The Great War to get your cash. Sick f**ers."
As I read that, my visceral reaction was to hide, to be wary of being myself around someone I counted as a friend. Due to my upbringing and life choices, I don't make friends easily. It has taken a serious effort of will to step away from the paranoiac precipice that reaction pushed me onto.

I actually watched the video again, to make sure we were looking at the same thing. I still couldn't see what he saw.

At a time when all its competitors are encouraging customers who view their adverts to spend more on the material trappings of the Christmas period, Sainsburys eschewed material excess for an advert targeting a £1 chocolate bar, where 50p goes to the Royal British Legion.

By comparison, the individual poppies planted at the Tower of London are being sold at £25 a time and only just over a third of the price is going to the 6 nominated charities. The Royal British Legion is getting the princely sum of £1.46 for every £25 poppy sold.

I appreciate that I am bound to have a different viewpoint to many on this, for reasons that are not immediately obvious.

My relatives fought on opposing sides in both World Wars. As a child, a teenager, an adult, I have never felt completely part of either heritage. And to be honest, my dad could have chosen to live somewhere other than post-war Coventry with his German wife and half-German kids. It might have cut out some of the racial abuse and bullying. I grew up feeling guilty for being both English and German.

So when I see imagery of the Christmas Truce, a tiny island of humanity amongst the trenches at a time when both sides tended to shoot the nutter coming over the wire to make friends from the other side of No Man's Land, I see something different to the rest.

And I'm not going to apologise for that.