Ally Owen, founder of Brixton Finishing School, wonders where the racists will do their shopping after UK retailers had a diverse showing in Christmas ads this year.
“I’m dreaming of a White Christmas”. When Bing Crosby first trilled that festive classic back in the 1940s, who could have predicted that 80 years on, those very words would be harnessed by racists and hurled over Twitter after a major retailer featured a Black family in their holiday ad.
What does the reaction to the Sainsbury’s ad say about our daily visual diet? That it is so rare to see a Black family together on television? Can we not just show a Black family delighting in the traditions of Christmas day? Can we only gently drip feed in via casting, one person of colour here and there alongside white people?
Of course, that isn’t acceptable to the trolls either. We saw that from the vile comments that came John Lewis’ way in 2017. when the retailer’s Christmas ad featuring Moz the Monster also incurred the wrath of the racists for showing a white mum with a Black dad.
I’m starting to wonder where the racists are going to do their Christmas shop? I’m pretty sure they promised to boycott Tesco in 2017 when the brand’s “Everyone’s Welcome” advert, featured among several families, a Muslim one. Cue keyboard outrage and a slew of vile racist comments.
There were no fascists in the food halls at Marks & Spencer that year either, as the mere presence of a mixed-race family at the end of the Paddington Bear ad had them spewing once again. And while the advent of social distancing and lockdown might make it a very Amazon Christmas for millions, they won’t be taking their custom there either – remember the beautifully-crafted ad featuring the priest and imam taking tea together? The bigots haven’t forgotten that either.
Ad land has a duty of care to ensure that we are not just working towards inclusion in casting, but in being actively anti-racist. When it comes to Christmas ad season, a happy Black family celebrating shouldn't be something unusual. We urgently need to start having open discussions around the deeply uncomfortable issue of casting, and the representation of people of colour in adverting.
Sainsbury’s needs to be openly praised for its handling of what can only be described as an open attack – a social media hate crime – on its creative work. The social media team could not have anticipated the volume of racist tweets that greeted the drop of a simply heart-warming ad. Gordon, Abbie, Chris and all the others on the brand’s social media channels that responded to the comments – we salute you. But why should you have to explain your ad?
Brands need to unite to show that this is unacceptable. They need to remember the commitment and promises that many made on #BlackoutTuesday and during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
Now is the time to actively be anti-racist. Celebrate the Sainsbury’s ad and rally around it. Let these festive ads live on telly across the year, rather than sitting on social channels with comments disabled.
Media allies, it is time to ask your news desks to consider the language they use when reporting these incidences. Please do not pander to the racists by softening your headlines, using words including ‘backlash’ and focusing on brands issuing a ‘defence’ as if there has been a wrong-doing. Call it what it is. ‘Racists attack Sainsbury’s festive ad’. Don’t make this about the brand having to defend itself.
And finally, a word to the competitors. The Sainsbury’s Christmas ad has driven trolls and racists from their stores, making it a much more attractive shopping environment for the rest of us.
If a brand is the sum of its customer base, then what are you, the competing retailers, going to do to prevent these racists from becoming part of your market share? They need somewhere else to shop - Waitrose, Asda, Aldi, Iceland, Morrison’s. I'm sure you wouldn't like it to be your aisles.
If, like me, you don't want to hear fascists by the frozen aisle or bigots by the bagging area, then let's unite and kick racists out of retail.
Watch the Sainsbury's ad in question below.