Ah Christmas, a time for children, grandparents and cute animals. Or so the £5.6billion spent in the UK on advertising and marketing would have us believe. However, whilst children play a diverse range of characters over the course of the year in the world of advertising, it seems that older people undergo a transformation on midnight of the 30th November. Having spent the rest of year either as technophobes or asleep in the armchair, Christmas is finally the time when they are allowed to reach out and are once again positioned as the kindly nucleus of the family.
This year the airtime has been dominated by Buster the Boxer, Sainsbury’s The Greatest Gift, and Waitrose’s Robins. Online, however, these adverts haven’t quite caught people’s attention in the same way as this one. Over from Germany, this is actually an advert from 2015 for their supermarket group Edeka, but which has gone viral this Christmas. The advert Heimkommen, or homecoming, tells the story of an old man spending the festive season alone year after year as his adult children make excuses not to come home. Then comes the year when the phone call isn’t an invitation home but a notification to let his children know that he has passed away. His children and grandchildren arrive at his door and, after exchanging a long and pained expression, slowly enter the house and…. Surprise! Grandpa is actually alive, no-one is cross or angry or displaced, there is only jubilation and cheer (cue final scene: everyone laughing and joking around a table full of Christmas food).
The social media headlines have described it as ‘the most heart-breaking Christmas advert of the year’ and this year’s ‘tear-jerker,’ but what exactly are we crying at?
The statistics around isolation amongst older people are well documented, in particular the fact that one million older people in the UK suffer from chronic loneliness. I hope the reason that the advert has gone viral this year is because the issue has finally caught our attention and from here we become more mindful of the importance of relationships – not just their passive existence but the energy and time required from both to maintain a healthy and fulfilling relationship. In reality I think this message is lost to the overall tone of the advert.
Whilst we’ve learnt that a puppy isn’t just for Christmas the same can’t always be said of the time we make for our family, and Edeka do not help to redress this balance. Christmas is presented as the time to come home but what about that relationship during the rest of the year, and when we present Christmas as a time that must be spent with family, what is really being communicated about the authenticity of that relationship? This dynamic creates the sense that the family is doing their father a favour and though they will have surely learnt their lesson for next year, it is ultimately a false gesture.
I have of course made assumptions about and elaborated upon this fictitious story. However, when things like this capture people’s attention it is usually because there is at least an element of truth and/or relatability that resonates with the viewer. The danger is that the ‘feel good’ ending risks legitimising a potentially superficial gesture, instead of challenging us to ask ourselves questions about our actions and the balance of power in our relationships. However, daring to ask ourselves these questions can results in opportunities to build more meaningful relationships with the people around us throughout the year.
Merry Christmas and here’s to a 2017 more mindful than its predecessor.