Remote Control - Saturday November 15, 2014

Star of the John Lewis Christmas advert Monty the penguin

Star of the John Lewis Christmas advert Monty the penguin

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Shopping for a touching seasonal tale

Andy Williams said it’s the most wonderful time of the year, but when he recorded the perennial Christmas classic I’m sure he didn’t have the beginning of November in mind.

Yet whenever I turn on the telly I am buffeted by an onslaught of nostalgic-looking Christmas ads, accompanied by either a) tinkly piano music or b) a cover with a choral arrangement hidden somewhere. And they always have a twist at the end.

This year’s John Lewis advert, for many the one to beat in the festive ad stakes, ticks all the boxes above. A John Lennon cover by Tom Odell, complete with piano and choral echo. Music? Check.

A boy and his childhood friend, a penguin looking for love. Nostalgia? Check. Penguin turns out to be a toy, boy gets another one, penguin gets stuffed companion. Twist? Check.

Now call me a cynic, but this seems mighty familiar.

Monty the Penguin is a Frankenstein’s monster of previous John Lewis offerings, from the love-struck snowman to the boy who can’t wait to give his parents a present.Christmas? More like Halloween.

But for the first time in recent memory, the ad everyone is talking about does not plug Mr Lewis’ department store. I am, of course, talking about the Sainsbury’s advert.

Set in the trenches of the First World War, the 1914 Christmas truce is appropriated here to teach us the value of sharing.

Sharing the cash with Sainsbury’s tills, I mean.

Even though it is certainly timely with the centenary of the war starting and is affiliated with the Royal British Legion, I can’t help but feel there is something exploitative about using the deaths of millions of men to sell yule logs.

Because let’s not forget the reason these ads are being shown so early. It is not to maximise the fuzzy festive feelings of the television-owning public; it is to sell as much as possible.

A redeeming quality is that profits from the sales of the chocolate bar featured in the short film will be donated to the Royal British Legion. Even so, that is one product among thousands.

Of course, people still need to do their shopping regardless of their moral standpoint on an advert, and it is certainly more original than Monty the Franken-penguin.

Maybe I just need more time to get into the festive spirit.

James Butler