And so this is Christmas...with no ethnic faces in sight
Catch it quick: a rare and fleeting glimpse of ethnic diversity in a Christmas ad.
The ad industry not only needs to diversify its workforce - it also needs to represent Britain more accurately in its output, writes Dominic Mills.
Never let it be said that this column dodges the difficult tasks. Last week, for example, I watched all the Christmas ads back to back.
John Lewis, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Asda, Aldi, Lidl, Coca-Cola, Debenhams, Boots, uuurgh...the list goes on.
It's like swimming in a bowl of custard. You emerge feeling as though you've swallowed a pile of sickly-sweet goo.
Surprise: black, Asian and minority ethnic faces are virtually absent.
An anthropologist would conclude that Britain was made up of white, nuclear, families living in suburban Surrey.
What else might our anthropologist think? That there were no ethnic minorities in the UK? That Christmas was a whites-only festival? Or that they don't shop at any of these retailers?
Of course, we know that the answer to both is a resounding 'no'. Black, Asian and minority ethnic people (BAMEs) make up about 14% of the population and nearly all the population, regardless of religious roots, celebrates Christmas in one form or another.
Let's take some of the biggest advertisers.
John Lewis: of course we're all charmed by the little boy, Monty the Penguin and the Tom Odell soundtrack. If you've got 20:20 vision or a fast finger on the pause button, you'll see an elderly black couple kissing at 1.22 in. Well, hooray.
M&S and its fairies: well, a black girl loses her cat at 0.55 in, and maybe there's mixed race family at 1.05. But why are both the fairies white?
Sainsbury's and its epic recreation of Christmas 2014 on the western front: nothing, nada, and you don't have to be a military archivist to know that many black troops fought in WW1, or Lord Kitchener recruited extensively from the Commonwealth.
I could go on. Waitrose, for example, opens in a mixed ethnic classroom, with a brief glimpse of an Asian teacher (which I only noticed because I was looking) and, hallelujah, one of the shop assistants is black. But that's the point: she's a shop assistant, not a customer. The overall feel of the film is excruciatingly Home Counties.
Does any of this matter? Surely it does. I've written before about why the industry needs to diversify its workforce, but it also needs to represent Britain more accurately in its output.
Earlier this month the Advertising Association published a fascinating report on how advertising portrays a diverse Britain (answer: it's getting better, but off a low base) that underlines not just the social case for doing this, but the economic case too.
There's a slew of compelling observations and comments in the report. Some of them that struck me are:
Back to the Christmas ads. If there are two marginally honourable exceptions to what is a pretty un-diverse body of work, it's Tesco, below, and Boots.
The Tesco ad is not going to shoot the lights out (pardon the pun), and you sense an organisation so at odds with itself that it doesn't really know what to say, but in terms of representing ethnic minorities it does a better job than its rivals. Boots, although I found the story difficult to follow first time, includes a mixed-race family and has a smattering of diversity throughout the ad.
The wooden spoon, though, goes jointly to Coca-Cola - an Asian child in a window - and Debenhams which, (if you look really, really hard) has a mixed-race kid. Hmmm, you think...only whites shop at Debenhams?
Coke's performance is all the more shameful because in the US it boasts of dedicated multicultural marketing teams and makes a big play of its commitment to diversity. But obviously not when it comes to Christmas.
So why is the representation of diversity so poor? One possibility is that Christmas is all about an idealised recreation of childhood, and for most of the ad industry - itself lacking in diversity - that means going back a few generations to an era when Britain was much whiter than it is now.
Zaid Al-Zaidy, CEO of McCann London, has a different perspective. "I worry less about misrepresentation and, upon reflection, more about missed opportunity. For instance, there's been a lot in the news about the forgotten black soldiers of WW1, so the Sainsbury's ad could have reflected this, thereby adding depth and empathy to their story. And the Lidl and Tesco dinner tables could have reflected a modern Britain with a 'mixed race' family.
"But in the rush to execute, such 'technicalities' often get left out. If advertising agencies were more diverse themselves, these things just simply wouldn't happen."
So are the ads, then, just a representation of agencies themselves? Is their own lack of diversity the reason their output is culturally blind?
Well, it might be. But it's a poor excuse.
SSE, the orang-utan...and 500,000 lost customers
Regular readers of this column will know I'm not much taken with SSE's loathsome orang-utan ad.
I feel duty bound, therefore, to draw readers' attention to SSE's half-year results last week, in which Britain's (self-described) 'broadest-based energy business' let it slip that it had lost 500,000 customers over the past year.
So, let's get this straight: while SSE is boasting about how 'proud it is to make a difference', its customers are voting with their feet, 210,000 in the past six months alone.
You'd think, wouldn't you, that all the time and energy it spent devising this spectacular corporate wank SSE might have been better devoted to looking after its customers. As any fule kno, it's better to keep customers than to have to recruit them.
Just saying...I'm enjoying a little schadenfreude.