Tesco’s Christmas advert: eroding traditional values or celebrating the fabric of today’s British society?

By Hannah Lewis-Davies

17th November 2017

Now that we’re well and truly into November, it can only mean one thing…the Christmas countdown has officially commenced.

The race is on for retailers to win over the affections – and purchasing power – of the British shopping public. With that comes the release of the highly-anticipated Christmas adverts competing for a slice of the predicted £78.69bn of consumer money waiting to be spent this year. So far, we’ve been acquainted with Moz, the monster that lives under the little boy’s bed (courtesy of John Lewis), and Paddington Bear helping a burglar see the error of his ways (thanks to M&S).  Debenhams also deserves a mention for its modern recreation of Cinderella. However, it’s the Tesco Christmas advert that has dominated the headlines.

The advert contains a selection of scenes depicting a variety of families from all walks of life on Christmas Day, capturing the chaos and stress of entertaining, managing overexcited children and dealing with the back-seat cooking of difficult in-laws. One scene shows a group of Muslim women greeting each other and exchanging gifts.

It is this two-second segment of the advert that has sparked backlash online. There have been threats to boycott Tesco due to its inclusion of Muslims in the advert. One person tweeted: “How dare you feature a Muslim family in your CHRISTMAS advert!!! They do not celebrate CHRISTIAN festival! #willnotshopintesco.” Twitter is awash with similar messages, with some people arguing that Tesco has overstepped the mark in a bid to become politically correct, eroding traditional Christian values, and forgetting what Christmas represents.

Some people –  Muslims included – are accusing brands of undertaking a tick-box exercise. There are certain elements of this that may be true. Tesco’s rather patronising #EveryonesWelcome hashtag does not really stand the test when it was revealed that the supermarket doesn’t sell Halal turkey. If it chooses to feature a Muslim family in an advert which centres around cooking turkey (the title of the video on Tesco’s Youtube channel is ‘Turkey, Every Which Way’), and the retailer is then unable to cater for them, then that immediately undermines the credibility of the advert. It may come across that Tesco was making a political statement to help sales, rather than deliver real-world impact.

Despite all the negativity thrown at Tesco this week, I feel the need to defend the retailer. I can see why the advert has sparked debate. However, I can’t help but feel that people are forgetting to take a step back and appreciate the advert for what it is. After all, what does Christmas really mean to Brits in 2017? Most would agree that Christmas is a time to spend with friends and family, regardless of what our religious beliefs are. The Birmingham Mail has this week published an article titled: Tesco’s Muslim family Christmas advert – this is how Brummies reacted. The overwhelming consensus is that of praise towards Tesco.

I am an atheist, but does this stop me looking forward to Christmas? No. Will I be going to church to celebrate the birth of Jesus on the 25th December? Highly unlikely. Does that make me a hypocritic? Perhaps. However, am I in the minority to value Christmas for different reasons than it was originally intended? Certainly not. NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey, published in September, revealed that more than half (53%) of the British public now describe themselves as having “no religion”, up from 48% in 2015, meaning that the majority of people in this country will be celebrating Christmas this year for non-religious reasons.

Regardless of what people think of the Tesco advert, hopefully it has got people thinking about what Christmas means for them, and it certainly has triggered more of an emotional response from me than a hairy monster living under the bed (sorry, Moz). And for those accusing Tesco of eroding traditional Christian values, since when has a trampolining Buster the Boxer or Monty the Penguin been any closer to conveying tradition?

It has been a challenging year for the UK, in which religious and racial diversity has been called into question and demonised, instead of being celebrated. It is uplifting to see an advert that accurately portrays and celebrates the UK for what it really is – colourful, chaotic and diverse.