The Christmas Truce
Think About Where It May Lead You
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To encourage students to consider the way advertisers manipulate our responses in order to promote their brand name (SEAL theme: managing feelings).
Preparation and materials
- Choose readers.
- Download the Hovis ‘Bike’ advert directed by Ridley Scott (available on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Mq59ykPnAE.)
- Download the Christmas 2014 Sainsbury's advert (available on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWF2JBb1bvM.)
(Play the Hovis ‘Bike’ advert – 57 seconds.)
Leader:There's a temptation to get sentimental about the past. Those were the days when life was simple and satisfying, when people were happy and a job well done resulted in a cosy cuppa in front of a roaring fire. There were no dilemmas or crises. They were the good old days.
This year, Sainsbury's has produced a Christmas advert that plays on this sentimentality, taking an incident from 1914 as its focus.
(Play the Christmas 2014 Sainsbury's advert – 3 minutes 40 seconds.)
Leader: Some of these events really did take place on Christmas Day 2014, the first Christmas of the First World War.
- Reader 1: The guns fell silent on Christmas Eve along much of the Front.
Reader 2:Some German troops erected Christmas trees along the edge of their trenches, which provoked appreciative applause from Allied troops.
Reader 1: At various points along the Front, Allied and German troops met in the middle of no man's land, greeted one another and exchanged personal tokens.
Reader 2: However, at other locations the Allied troops who ventured over the parapet were shot in cold blood.
- Leader:So it wasn't in fact a universally recognized truce. Did a football match actually happen? Nobody knows for certain. Maybe it's because they wanted to keep the score a secret!
- Leader: The Sainsbury's advert is brilliantly made. It tugs at the heartstrings with its images: the photograph of a sweetheart, the gentle carol ‘Silent night’/’Stille Nacht’ sung in both German and English, the robin perched on the barbed wire, hands reaching out in greeting and the football match itself, with uniform greatcoats used as goalposts. The stated intention is very worthy too. The advert promotes the chocolate bar given by the English soldier to his German counterpart, which is now on sale in Sainsbury's stores, with profits going to the Royal British Legion, the same charity supported by the Poppy Appeal each November. There's even an inspirational slogan: Christmas is for sharing.
Nevertheless, there's something about the advert that's a little disturbing.
The Christmas sales period is the most important time the year for UK supermarkets. They aim to make a large proportion of their profits during this season, as shoppers stock up with treats and presents in addition to the routine weekly items. Christmas 2013 was bad news for most of the major names. Tesco's, Sainsbury's, Morrisons, Marks and Spencer and Asda all reported lower-than-expected profits. The winners were Aldi, Lidl and Waitrose, whose share of the market increased.
The main aim of the Sainsbury's advert is, quite simply, to get shoppers inside Sainsbury's stores. That's the only place you can purchase these charity chocolate bars. It doesn't matter that Sainsbury's won't make any profit from the chocolate. It's what's known as a ‘loss-leader’. They make no profit on this one item, but they've led shoppers into their store, where hopefully they'll spend money on many other products. That's when the profit will be made.
Are Sainsbury's being dishonest in any way? Not at all. They deserve a lot of credit. Their chocolate bar will raise a lot of money to help servicemen and women who are suffering as a consequence of their involvement in war, much of it in the name of our country. They've also produced a brilliant and beautiful piece of storytelling, not dissimilar to the recent BBC series The Passing Bells, showing the First World War from the perspective of both Allied and German troops. But it's not accurate history. It may be how we'd like to think of war, a game played by courageous young men, with chivalry and honesty at its heart. In fact, as we've been shown throughout media outlets these last few months, trench warfare was horrific, a waste of human life, a scar on the body of Europe. The advert shows none of this.
Time for reflection
So how might we respond? We could go and buy a bar of chocolate and enjoy eating it, knowing that we've added to the sums raised for the Royal British Legion. We may then have a browse around the store. But let's be discerning as we browse: which store gives the best value for money, which treats its staff and suppliers fairly and which has the best environmental policies?
Thank you for the opportunities to share this Christmas.
Remind us of the people who truly need our generosity, those close to us and those we've never met.
May we think carefully about the way we use the money we have.
‘Silent night’ by Sinead O'Connor