A confession: instead of flesh and blood, arterial doo-dahs and pumpy-bits, I have a cold dead heart made of steel and carbon, redundant phone chargers and scart leads. And the reason I know this (other than that full-body MRI scan, obviously) is because I am entirely unmoved by the John Lewis ad.
Sorry about that.
I know it’s making full-grown proper people (presumably constructed of appropriately bleedy bits and squidgy emotions) break down in snivelling heaps. And of course I ‘get it'; I love that little boy, the ad is beautifully shot and brilliantly edited and I know it’s for Christmas and therefore one must suspend one’s disbelief from the apex of Canary Wharf, but… I can’t suspend my disbelief. I no more believe in a child who wakes up on Christmas morning and whose first thought is his mum and dad than I believe in Father Christmas. (No, strike that — I sort of do believe a little bit in Santa because I sat on his actual knee in Hamleys in 1969 and he was real). Is there a single real British child (of what—seven?) who has ever done anything other than wake up at some ungodly pre-dawn hour on Christmas Day and within slightly less than a heartbeat started ripping open their presents? If there is, I would love to meet that child. I’d like to interview that child — and its parents. Hell, I’d like to adopt that child.
But almost worse than all of this desperate sentimentality (and I don’t have a problem with desperate sentimentality — ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ gets me every single time) is that final (give-us-your) money-shot. Perhaps I could be persuaded that out there, somewhere, there really is a small British child of infinite unselfishness and generosity (with a John Lewis Partnership card?), however I remain to be convinced that at 5.30-ish am on December 25th it is ever as bright as midday. Go on, see for yourself: as that darling little boy hovers in the doorway clutching his implausible gift, mum and dad wake up, blinking and bleary— and no wonder, given there is a fat load of full-blown daylight going on outside their bedroom window. Oh, hang on a mo (and thank you to a reader for pointing this out), according to the clock it’s actually 8am. In which case, I can only assume the John Lewis family lives on 34th St.
And while I’m at it… you know those ads for Iceland in which the divine Stacey Soloman (I do properly love her) is excitedly heading home to Dagenham for Christmas? Well, that’s just a heart-warming bit of structured ad-reality, isn’t it? Let’s face it, Stacey is far more likely to be excitedly heading home to Dagenham for Chanukah.
Actually, I’m feeling deep and profound humbuggery about all the current crop of Christmas ads. It’s mid-November, we’ve just done half-term, Hallowe’en and fireworks and I am not even remotely ready to embrace the season of dementoid consumerism, which (to my mind) should only really kick-off when advent calendars have started being deployed. Also, there is something a little bit desperate about the scale of these ads, which, in the face of a proper recession, strike me as being even more insanely lavish than usual. Those by Waitrose and Sainsburys make me feel particularly nauseous: the monumental scale of the almost audibly-groaning tables covered in obscene amounts of roasted/glazed/sugar-dusted ‘festive’ whatever feels so categorically wrong right now that it genuinely leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
This is a similar theme to the one explored by India Knight in her excellent column in yesterday’s Sunday Times. But it’s worth reiterating: if I had just been made redundant and faced a belt-tightening Christmas, far from being guilt-tripped into attempting to create a Christmas that only truly exists in the minds-eyes of the men and women of Charlotte St (and OK, maybe the Ecclestone family), I’d want to be made to feel OK about the fact that I just bloody well couldn’t. Look, I’m not an idiot —it goes without saying this isn’t traditionally the job of the advertising industry… but it could be. Instead of ads that metaphorically ram unattainable amounts of more-bloody-stuff down our sore throats, perhaps the cleverest brains in Charlotte St could think of ways to fulfil their remit without actually making us gag.
Which observation brings me full circle. Maybe I’m even starting to warm to the idea of a Christmas advertisement that is predominantly about feeling things rather than buying stuff. Perhaps I am in fact less heart-of-a-Bakugan than solar-plexus-of-a-toasted-marshmallow? Whatever. Of course John Lewis wants to flog us lots and lots of Christmas presents but given they’ve chosen to do so in a different (even if entirely implausible) way to the Waitroses and Sainsburys, I probably won’t love them any less than I already do (and having been a store card holder for 1000 years, I have a lot of John Lewis love).
And don’t get me started on M&S. Oh, OK… quite aside from the fact that hitching itself to the X-Factor sleigh proved to be A Bad Move, Cocaine-coza-wise, I fail to see how having Micha B singing about her ‘dreams coming true’ in a tight close-up in the final shot of the ad is anything other than a not-very-subliminal message to ‘vote Micha to win’. Next year, I suggest that, having obviously decided who he wants/needs to win in about September, Cowell hands the whole tackily gift-wrapped package over to Derren Brown, who, deploying his spooky Suggestability Factor, is guaranteed to Make It So.