Patrick Freyne on Christmas ads: Marks & Spencer’s sick filth should be banned

Patrick Freyne: Why do firms want to show us that their employees see their children?

It’s Black Friday, the pre-Christmas religious festival that celebrates, I believe, the time Jesus went shopping (he went to a Temple; there are other details I can’t remember).

It’s also the time when we greet the ads of Christmas like Eoghainín na nEan greeted the first swallows of spring (Eoghainín na nEan was a soulful, consumptive dose invented by literary Ireland-fan Padraic Pearse).

After the floods we will enact these ads around campfires and the names Dunnes and Sainsburys and Amazon will become deities from a prelapsarian time of plenty. For now, here are the most noteworthy ads I've encountered so far:

A cruel man shepherds a herd of chimney-sweeps through London in the year 1869. The man pilfers exotic fruits from Mrs Sainsbury's market stall along the way and one of his sweeps, Nicholas, takes the blame and is subjected to mob justice. The child labourer is first caged then banished and left to starve and freeze in the snowy hinterlands (a concept you'll be familiar with from both the olden days and the 2019 Tory Party manifesto).


Luckily Mrs Sainsbury is a manic pixie dream grocer and uses her magical powers to save Nicholas from an icy death. She then gives him a bushel of tomatoes. Nicholas doesn't say, "I would prefer if you would keep your tomatoes and that the rich instead pay a reasonable amount of tax to ensure that no child ends up in poverty."

Instead he is inspired to become a philanthropist tinkering around the edges of human misery, just like her. He breaks into his cruel master's home and gives his fellow sweeps a tomato each, banishing scurvy for a week or so. It is then implied that Nicholas becomes Santa Claus and that he has magic powers which he will use to do a nice thing once a year while living as a tax exile in Lapland.

For some reason, Amazon steer clear of Victorian working conditions in their advertisements. In this advertisement, sentient singing Amazon packages encourage regular contemporary folk to break into song. Yes, that Amazonian swoosh logo is apparently a type of mouth and through it the boxes gibber melodically, fomenting romances, instigating outbreaks of dancing and, presumably, madness (do the boxes’ mouths lead to larynxes and throats and lungs or simply, as I suspect, hell?).

One of the singing people is, in fact, an Amazon driver. She is so happy with her lot that she harmonises cheerfully with the gaping maws of the soulless boxy abominations she serves. The advertisement ends with her returning to her home and the embrace of her children, presumably so we don't think she's had a workplace injury, something which Amazon workers are at risk of at this time of year according to a recent investigative report in the Atlantic. Meanwhile Amazon patriarch Jeff Bezos will watch this ad from his bunker on the moon wondering vaguely why his drivers aren't living in bunk beds in a compound he controls. Support independent retailers, folks!

After his van becomes dangerously entangled in Christmas lights, a Tesco van driver does not die of electrocution (They trialled that outcome with, "Christmas! It could be worse, I suppose", but it didn't go down well with the focus groups). Instead, he travels to various points in time where his Tesco food is much appreciated by ruddy cheeked urchins, wartime bobbies, a silhouette of famine-stimulating imperialist Winston Churchill, ravers, hippies, that woman from The Crown and Santa's reindeers before, in the end, returning to his own home and offspring. Corporations suddenly seem fixated on showing us that employees sometimes get to see their children. What's this about? Also, despite discovering that time is not linear we do not see the Tesco van driver travel to the future. Tesco do not want us to see the future for some reason. What the hell has happened to the future?

Minor celebrities Emma Willis (pixie-ish Big Brother shill) and Paddy McGuinness (are Englishmen legally allowed have that name?) wander a busy Christmas market describing M&S food aloud. M&S food is basically what the middle classes have now instead of a future (see: Tesco's time travelling delivery van) and consequently it's very important to us. Sadly, this is also the sort of titillating food-based erotica I worry children will see because of smart phones. This ad should be banned.

Mariah Carey, the people's princess, wanders the set of a video for her song All I Want for Christmas is You (a complete lie) handing out elaborate gifts to her crew – a silken kimono, paintings of herself riding a winged horse out of a rainbow, a box of doves – the usual stuff. Then she gets into an argument about a solitary packet of Walker's Crisps with a man dressed as an elf. She utters an argument winning, high pitched shriek and takes the crisps. The elf gets nothing. This ad is actually a documentary. It wasn't Christmas when it was shot, this is just what Mariah's house is like. Also: your television isn't even plugged in.

An animated big-eyed older sister mocks her big-eyed younger sister’s obsession with reindeers. As if to spite her, the younger sister is joined by “Archie” a small reindeer in a tutu who frolics with her until the whole family go for “reindeer treats” from beloved automated food-trough McDonalds. At this point the family turn into disappointingly tiny-eyed live-action people and it is revealed that Archie the reindeer is in fact a dog with antlers on.

We’re presumably meant to see this is a delightful example of the “imagination” of a child as opposed to evidence of a cognitive disorder or, indeed, an indictment of canine grifters. Yes, Christmas ads love to make a big deal about the imagination of a child. If any of my child relatives are reading this (children love The Irish Times) I would prefer if you applied your imaginations to creating some sort of money-generating “app” rather than hallucinating a tiny reindeer. I am, as I keep saying, prepared to provide wise counsel on the board of any company you establish.

Kevin starts the ad tied to a large grater besieged by malevolent Brussels sprouts. I agree that nothing good comes from Brussels but I feel like the ethnic tensions in the fruit n'veg world need a more nuanced treatment than this. Frankly, the issue is just glossed over.

Kevin escapes injury with the help of an anthropomorphic tomato before rushing off to convince all of his food chums, including his grotesque baby carrot offspring and disturbingly attractive carrot-wife, to becoming willing dinners (not diners). He does so by singing a Robbie Williams song. I get it. Robbie Williams' music also makes me lose the will to live.

Kevin terrifies me. His button eyes, his little slit of a mouth, the fact he’s dressed in human clothes (top hat and tails) in cruel mockery of fancy gentlemen like myself, the fact he relishes the prospect of being eaten. I mean, why does he want us to eat him so much? What’s in it for him? It haunts me.