You may as well try to hold back the tide as ignore the cultural message-making that surrounds the Man In The Moon John Lewis ad. It’s still all over twitter like a cheap suit, the marketeers have plastered LinkedIn with comments pro- and anti- and newspapers with space to fill are commissioning pieces about what it says about loneliness. So I’m sacrificing the high ground, and joining in. Here are just some of the things I hate about the advert – as though it matters – with inspiration from the ghost of semiotician Roland Barthes, born 100 years ago this very week:
- The stereotypical portrayal of older people. The old man is lonely, sad and needs rescuing by a child. Undoubtedly many older people are extremely lonely, but many are not. We could do with some positive images in adverts as well as the helpless and isolated. Why couldn’t he have been befriended by the child’s granny? She could be a happy, smiley woman who’s central to her own extended family. She could help the child make sense of the old man’s plight – and suggest how to help.
- It’s a non-solution solution to loneliness. The present sent to the old man allows him to look in through the window of the child’s house. He’s clearly not invited to join the family for tea. This probably makes the givers (us) feel a whole lot better than the receiver who is, after all, still left out in the cold. Maybe a very long slide from the John Lewis toy department could have been extended to his lonely eerie by smiley Granny and they could have slid back to the Christmas party together in a daring whoosh of jollity, fun, and a flash of support stockings. But would bringing him into the house have raised too many awkward issues about how far we are actually prepared to go to alleviate loneliness at Christmas?
- Marketing trumps social conscience. I strongly suspect that, however well Age UK will do out of the ad, John Lewis will do a whole lot better. Age UK doesn’t get a name check anywhere on the advert. It will benefit from a ‘text £5’ fundraising campaign and from 25% of the sales of a mug with the campaign logo on it. There’s a range of other stuff available which is linked to the campaign, but it looks like Age UK only get a cut of the profits on the mug and a card. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with John Lewis wanting to make money at Christmas. I just feel a bit queasy about the holier than thou tone it takes while it’s doing it.
- Worthiness trumps fun. There’s not a hint of wit or laughter or real warmth in the whole 2 minutes. Nothing to make me crack a smile never mind make me feel well disposed to the notion of Christmas shopping. Next year, John Lewis, your challenge is not to alleviate suffering or bring world peace, it’s to make me smile. Go on. I dare you.
- As previously stated. It’s an advert. For a shop. Designed to make us buy stuff at Christmas. I hate it for dragging me into its self-satisfied orbit. It needs to get over itself.
If you want to make a donation directly to Age UK, by the way, you can do it here.