‘Tis the season to be controversial

It’s that time again. Supermarket heavyweights have pressed go on their Christmas ad spend, with fairly controversial results. When Christian sent an email around the studio linking to ads from Asda and Morrisons, the reaction he got was surprisingly varied. The sticking point was the representation of women in both of these ads. It’s particularly interesting because we’re used to putting women at the heart of our communications –  so when it comes to the issue of equality, we’re all generally on the same page. Except, it seems, when it comes to Christmas ads from supermarkets.  Watch the ads in question below, read our thoughts below that, and feel free to wade in below that. (All views are our own, not Oxfam’s)

Ben: If I was going to write something about this, it would be very similar to this, only without the Jewish references.  Especially: “This attitude is as following: men are idiots who can’t do anything, women are packhorses who have to do everything, the end. ‘Behind every Christmas, there’s Mum,’ intones the patronising voiceover in Asda’s advert. And behind every Asda advert, there’s an account director who phones in his ideas from the 1950s.”

Janine: I think it’s a true reflection of a mother’s life in the 21st century. Feminism and women’s rights escape out the window as soon as children come along. It’s a horrible certainty – our biological nature keeps us tied to the kitchen sink, and it happens to the best of us. The ONLY way women can become truly emancipated and have it all is when decent, affordable childcare and equal paternity rights are the norm. Then we’ll see happy relationships and the divorce rate falling!

Christian: I think the ASDA advert shows real life. Morrisons tries the same but tries to be less ‘gritty’ by throwing in a bit of surreal humour. From what I gather the ads were done following extensive market research with the target audience. The end products are obviously what people can relate to. Myself and my wife included. I’d also like to remind people that while the power of twitter is awesome, there can also be a tendency for witch hunts and overblown ‘moral outrage’ (Just think of McAlpine). As for the ‘outrage’, where do you stop/start raising gender as an issue? My wife laughed knowingly at the ASDA advert. She studied feminism at Bristol Uni, but now knows that there is a world of difference between the ideals and reality. Are you going to go and tell her she’s got it all wrong? Me, I’m preparing myself for another Xmas of arguing about which tree we’ll cut (fresh tree, of course), boxes to get out of the attic, tree lights to untangle and fix… Ah, ’tis the season to be jolly! Where’s the sherry?

Jon: Asda:  ‘Celebrating how brilliant mums are’ is one thing. But I think there’s a pretty fine line for a supermarket between saying ‘aren’t mums great’ and saying ‘a woman’s place is in the home/kitchen/supermarket’. That said, this ad isn’t aimed at me. It looks like Asda have identified ‘the mum who feels like she does everything’ as their audience. That’s their profile. That’s how they’ve briefed an agency. So that’s the ad they’ve ended up with.

Amy: I find both of these ads fairly depressing.  I can’t personally identify with what they say about men or women although I get that some people clearly can. For me, the point is that I don’t want to hear a brand say to a woman, “Look, your life is going to be extremely difficult but don’t you go thinking you should expect help from anyone. It’s going to be a slog but suck it up and we’ll help you through by making your shopping easier.” I want a brand to say: “You really should expect more.” And that’s never going to get more people through the door at Christmas time is it? So yes, I accept it’s too much to expect brands like Asda and Morrisons to be social trailblazers. But it doesn’t stop me finding these ads depressing.

Kate: Watching the Asda ad literally made my stomach sink and my blood run cold… and then hot. It made me feel angry, but I’m not really sure who with – the fictional woman in the ad for doing all the running around like a mad matyred saint, the man for smugly letting her, Asda for making an ad that merrily depicts gender roles that have not moved on since the 1950s? Probably the most interesting part of the debate for us is around creative treatment of gender and roles in these ads and what this means for us – we need to depict reality, listen to audience insights and appeal to real people, meeting them ‘where they are’, but at the same time shouldn’t we be working to challenge and break down such stereotyping whenever we come across it, gender or otherwise? On this issue, how far should we be ‘practical’ and how far ‘visionary’?