I was amused to see that there is little evidence that Christmas adverts from the big retailers have a measureable impact on our shopping habits. They may have become part of our Christmas tradition, eagerly awaited and delightfully competitive, but they don’t shift our cash from one retailer’s tills to another.
Of course as every advertiser will tell you, it’s all about brand awareness. I haven’t mentioned any brands, but I bet you know your trampolining pup from your gingerbread dream. It’s “brand gold” for the big boys.
They are not wrong. In creating a world in which we know John from JS, brand campaigns are highly effective. Much as I enjoy them, and the many spoofs they spawn, the message beyond the branding concerns me. Adverts, especially ones with such extraordinary reach, have a huge influence on how we think about the world about us. That’s why they talk not about their product but how we will feel if we choose their product. Words like happy, contented, excited, thrilled are more the vocabulary of these adverts than facts about the products on sale.
Nothing wrong with that in itself. These adverts are a lot of fun and often beautifully made, but they can be so harmful when we let ourselves be influenced by an unintended but deeper message. When we start to think our lives should measure up to a perfectly be-tinselled world, surrounded by expensive, plush gifts and family members, grinning perfectly around a candle-lit Hygge-filled living room. When we aim for a fictitious, unrealistic, social media-ready period.
At Cyrenians, we know that the myth of festive perfection has catalysed or compounded the challenges many of the 3500 people we journey with face. From the family unable to move away from conflict to the socially isolated or the number of people sinking deeper into debt, Christmastime’s gift is a stocking filled with stress.
That’s why I was delighted to see the Samaritans “Real Christmas” campaign which I would strongly support. Let’s not worry about achieving someone else’s idea of perfection. Let’s celebrate the things that are important to us in the way we want to. Let’s use the festive experience not as a benchmark for how life should be but as a time to give thanks for good things that are in our lives as they are. Let’s get real this Christmas – enjoy what we have, give what we can, share what we have, support the charities we feel help others best and decide for each of us ourselves what perfection will really mean for us this Christmas.
Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians