If the Victorians turned Christmas ads into an art form, today’s offerings blur the boundary between culture and commerce entirelyby Chris Townsend / November 17, 2017 / Leave a comment
It has become uncontroversial to suggest that, at some point, we as a species crossed a line, entering as we did so into the brave new world of the “Christmas advert.” Common wisdom has it that the John Lewis Partnership carried us across that threshold: for ten years in a row, the brand has attempted to up the ante with their Christmas ads. They first struck consumer gold with ‘The Longest Wait’ in 2011—the one where we think a child is greedily awaiting his Christmas presents, but it turns out he was impatient to give a present to his parents instead. Now, at the time of writing, almost as many people have watched John Lewis’s latest ad on its official Youtube channel as tuned in for the Queen’s Christmas Day speech last year. More than a newly-forming tradition, the Christmas advert has become a phenomenon unto itself.
But what is so distinct about today’s advertisements? After all, Christmas Day mass was elbowed out by mass-consumerism decades ago, and seasonal conspicuous consumption is hardly a new thing. The first shop display windows appeared in the late eighteenth century, and Christmassy shop windows were turned into an art form by the Victorians.
In this sense, the latest Christmas ads follow a long tradition, in the footsteps of the decades-old OXO family Christmases. They present sugary scenes of family togetherness set in perpetually snowy swathes of suburbia, where the dinner table is always laden with a plump turkey and a gaudy tree sits in the corner. They are often hyper-sentimental affairs which frequently tap into borderline-creepy Victorian mythologies of childhood (John Lewis’s Monty the Penguin was, at heart, a child’s understanding of adult relationships).
And yet there is also something new here— not least in the we talk about these ads. Your favourite…