Stories | Theology | Pop Culture

Stories, Desires & the Christmas Adverts

You can tell when Christmas is here. It’s not so much the cold chill in the air or the stock of Turkey crowns in Morrisons. Instead its the John Lewis Advert that marks the start of Christmas (in November) and alongside that the Coca Cola advert, where we are told that the Holidays are coming.

I enjoyed watching the John Lewis advert, its clever and invokes a warmness and sentimentality we associate with Christmas. The new Sainsbury’s Christmas advert does the same thing.

Adverts are good at doing that. In the TV show Mad Men, Don Draper shares the secret of the advertising industry:

“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK.”

The advertising industry is rather clever, they create a shell of happiness and beckon you in. Adverts have a knack for appealing to our desires: happiness, success, sex, popularity and beauty.

The way they do this isn’t simply through telling you information about the product, giving you a list of functions the product does. Instead adverts tell you a story. They are story-tellers and they do it really well.john-lewis-penguin-xmas-ad-small

Take the two Christmas Adverts that have been aired over the last two weeks. What has been the general reaction to them? There have been tears, smiles and “aw” moments. Strange that a company selling products can do this, but the stories are good and they capture our desires and affections.

It’s not wrong to like them, they are good stories! But behind the stories is a product or brand they are trying to sell, they are trying to get you to go to their store above others and tell you that happiness or peace can only be found in John Lewis or Sainsbury’s.

Adverts do this all the time. They tell you a story and invite you in. They tell you that happiness, beauty, wealth and popularity can only be found in buying their product. That you are “worth it”, that you can attract women by the deodorant you wear, that your car will determine what kind of Dad you are or the clothes you wear will determine how popular you are.

We may think we are exempt from this. But I am afraid we are not. How often have we found ourselves thinking “If only I had this….” or “This would complete me…

Adverts capture our desires and tap into our deepest yearnings.

Its an age old trick. One found in Genesis 3:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (Genesis 3:6-7 ESV)

sainsburys-christmas-advert-2014With the whispers of the devil and the heart of Eve being captivated by the desires of the fruit, she found her heart was captured by a false delight, by a lie. She no longer delighted in the Lord, instead her affections were caught up in believing that something else could complete her.

Adverts (among other things in this world) compete for our affections and desires. Whispering into our ears a lie.

And although these Christmas adverts (and all adverts) tell us a good story, there is a lie that creeps in there. The lie that those products can complete you, that once you have what they offer, you will need nothing more. Which we know isn’t true, because we find ourselves buying more and more, never feeling fully fulfilled.

Yet Christ offers himself this Christmas, beckoning you to come to him, wrapped in human flesh, ready to give you eternal life. He is the only one that can satisfy, that can fulfil your deepest longings.

If you enjoyed those adverts as much as I did, then we need not get captured by the false hope they offer. Instead use them to look to a better hope.

As John Lewis tells us about love between penguins, we know that there is a true and better love being offered this Christmas from Christ.

As the Sainsbury’s advert tells us about peace, we know that there is true peace that is only found in the Prince of peace.


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