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I have sometimes been asked "if you had a prime time TV advertising slot to promote Transition, what would you put on it?"  This is a good time to ask that, as our TV channels pour out relentless TV adverts in the run-up to that special time of year when the UK gets set to shell out £74.3bn it can ill afford on its credit cards to buy stuff, half of which will be in landfill by the end of the year.  

In this post we’ll explore that, as part of our theme of ‘Less is More’.  The questions that underpin this month are:

  • What does it look like when people intentionally set out to live with less?  
  • What can we learn from those alive now or historically, who are living in a way consistent with staying below 2 degrees?  
  • How does the idea of living with less sit alongside the political reality that lots of people already don’t have enough? 
  • What benefits do people living with less feel they get from it? What does it add to their lives?

I thought it might be fun, for this December blog, to put on our Transition glasses, and have a look at the various Christmas adverts being put out by the UK stores, and then to have a go at suggesting what the Transition Christmas ad might look like that might fill our one minute airtime.  OK, so first of all, it’s that supermarket behemoth, Sainsburys: 

This really is so nauseating, manipulative and abhorent, the corporate adoption of the suffering of millions of people to sell bars of chocolate, that it offers nothing to our contemplation of our Transition ad, other than possibly the idea that football is a nice thing to do with other people.  It should really have proceeded no further than the brainstorming session at the ad agency, so I think we’ll just move straight on to the John Lewis one:

This is very lovely.  Made my wife cry (but then that’s not saying much, she has been known to cry at the opening credits of a film).  The reality is though that Mum here could just as easily have bought the second penguin from a charity shop, or actually made it herself.  She needn’t have set foot in John Lewis.  In fact, as an advert for a Transition Christmas, reshooting the last frame with Mum or Dad coming into the room holding their knitting needles and their black and white wool would have been close to perfect.  

Marks and Spencers instead opt for fairies:

Which is kind of odd.  Not sure what the message here is.  Again, like John Lewis, it’s an ad that takes something we are perfectly good at creating ourselves thank you very much, i.e. a sense of magic, and sells it back to us.  Magic is always a good thing to weave into what you’re doing (unless you’re Lord Voldemort of course), but this ad is puzzling really.  The Waitrose ad, on the other hand, is fascinating:

Although it is, of course, trying to sell us something, the key thing it ends up selling us is the company’s economic model.  It’s an interesting insight into a country racked by austerity and a sense of disempowerment cultivated by corporations and government, that the key selling point of their Christmas ad is "everyone who works at Waitrose, owns Waitrose".  Again, some interesting potential ingredients for our Transition advert.  Perhaps Christmas can provide a key breathing space to reflect on our values? Right, on to Tesco (not very often I say that):

Clearly this is not an ad that has a role to play in the creation of a low carbon society.  Firstly, it suggests that you’re not doing Christmas properly unless you are illuminating an amount of lightbulbs that wouldn’t look out of place on the Eiffel Tower.  Secondly, most people’s experience of the opening part of this ad is that getting your Christmas lights out of the loft is inevitably followed by finding they don’t work, and you need to buy some new ones, generally just because one of the non-replaceable bulbs has gone.  So it’s an ad that could be seen as a celebration of planned obsolescence and wasteful energy use.  Not good.  What about Boots (a UK chain of chemists)?

Very nice. But again, do we need Boots in order to bring families together?  It’s doing what advertisers love to do, promoting the things we love and cherish back to us in order to sell us stuff.  Makes us feel warm and fuzzy, and then says "oh and by the way, would you like to buy a toothbrush and some emery boards?" Don’t know about you, but I really don’t need that, I can do that myself thanks very much.  The department store Debenhams suggest that you will "find your fabulous Christmas" there:

The implication is that you won’t find a "fabulous Christmas" unless you go there.  The ad features a gang of kids who have somehow broken into their local Debenhams store and proceed to run amok, but in a good, Christmassy kind of way.  In reality of course, the police would be called and child protection officers would want to know where the parents are and why they’re letting their kids roam around closed department stores unattended.  This is more of an explicitly "stuff-based" ad, we sell stuff, come and buy it, and then your Christmas will be fabulous.  And Argos?

Again, pretty stuff-centric, "here’s all the stuff we sell, get in here and buy it" kind of approach.  But they do have Run DMC on the soundtrack, so we can be a bit forgiving, even if it is one of their worst-ever records.  There are many more Christmas ads of course out there, you will no doubt be saturated with them by the time we get the other side of Christmas.  

So here’s my first stab at our Christmas ad. It draws considerably on elements of the ads above.

It opens with a clearly wealthy business-tycoon, Sir Alan Sugar-type, sitting at a lavish Christmas meal with his family.  He is surrounded by the glittering sparkly gifts in the Debenhams ad.  There’s a knock at the door.  He opens the door to find a queue of people bringing back The Broken Crap of Christmas Past.  A good Run DMC track starts. He is handed armfuls of broken Christmas tree lights, battery operated plastic toys that only lasted two weeks, digital radios that went a bit wonky, slippers whose soles decided to part company with the rest of the slipper.  The mood is celebratory, that people have a unified sense of purpose, they feel part of something important.  

Leaving him looking bewildered, the people head across to a park over the road where a game of football is underway, all ages playing together on the ‘pitch’, lightly dusted as it is with snow.  Around the side, people are talking, laughing, people are bringing food out from their homes, setting up a shared Christmas meal.  We see people teaching children sewing and other hand crafts.  A father is showing his kids and their friends magic tricks.  We see people pulling up parsnips from their gardens, chatting to each other and pointing out the solar panels on their roofs, arriving on bicycles. Two elderly women sit talking while knitting penguins.  People exchange laughter, stories, companionship rather than lavish gifts.  People who haven’t been out of their houses for some time emerge blinking to join the party.  

The scene fades to a black background with the caption "Transition".  Then fading in slowly, "It’s not just for Christmas".  

I’m wasted in this Transition lark.  I should be working for Saatchi and Saatchi. Enjoy the month.