Stuff I've written. All my opinions are my own, not those of any current or former employers.
Personal blog post – see here for original article.
In two of the local bus stations I’ve recently seen a very ominous poster informing that CCTV operates in the area. Made to look like a 40s propoganda poster (in the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ vein), it starkly proclaims ‘My Eyes Never Blink’. It’s as if the advertising execs have gone: “People think CCTV surveilance in public places is creepy and sinister, why not just work with that and ramp up the creepiness?”. It’s a weird kind of honesty – instead of cooing reassurances of “it’s OK, love, we’ve got our eyes on the baddies, don’t you worry”, it’s a balls-out “WE’RE WATCHING YOU, CITIZEN”.
Which, in a funny way, reminded me of that horrible Littlewoods Christmas ad. For those fortunate enough not to have seen it, it’s a heart-smashing tribute to all that is wrong with the festive period, with children using the setting of a school nativity to praise their “lovely, lovely mothers” for providing a range of high-end consumer goods which she’s purchased with interest free credit. A blinging D&G watch for dad. An HTC mobile phone for Uncle Ken. A top-spec Macbook Pro for Grandad. A Lambourghini for next door’s guinea pig. (I made one of those up).
The ad pisses with enthusiastic gusto on many Christmas traditions, from reappropriating the traditional schooltime telling of Baby J’s birth into a theatre of consumerist horror, to stripping away the Santa myth and replacing it with the slightly less charming ”your mum orders it from a catalogue”. And it spreads the idea, marketed directly to children, that real Christmases are made from a massive pile of barely affordable tat, and mothers that do are the good ones, ergo that ones that can’t, aren’t. It’s a horrible, cynical campaign.
But, like the scary CCTV posters in Barnsley bus station, surely this is just honesty? Every Christmas ad is essentially saying the same thing – “Christmas will be better if you buy some stuff, it would be even better if you bought it from us”. The John Lewis snifflefest featuring a young lad counting down the days until he can give his parents their Christmas present, seems on the surface the complete antithesis of the Littlewoods one – a selfless little boy who can’t wait until he can bring joy to his parents as opposed to a bunch of braying brats wittering on about X-Boxes. But deep down there’s no difference, the message is the same – “giving people things is very important at Christmas, it would be better if you bought them from John Lewis”. It’s done with more finesse and in a less obnoxious way, but the intention of the advertiser is the same.
So perhaps we should thank Littlewoods for laying bare the true meaning of Christmas advertising – not wrapping it up in an engineered heartstring-tugger like John Lewis, but bringing to the surfice the true ghastly offensiveness of advertisers’ drive to teach the world that Christmas is ruined if you don’t lavish your loved ones with extravagant gifts, preferably purchased from the store in question. Like the CCTV posters the advertisers know it’s creepy and sinister, and for once aren’t hiding it.