5 Controversial Christmas campaigns

IMG_0392We all know the deal with Season’s Greetings, right? Brands throw themselves into the spirit of December with the same gusto Santa chomps down on cookies, attempting to win our hearts— and purchasing decisions— through positive tales of people coming together, being nice to each
other, and taking stock of their loved ones.

But not all companies think in the same way.

Traditionally here at Smoking Gun in December we’ve rounded up the finest ads and marketing efforts from the history of the festive period, but this year we thought we’d do things differently. Without further ado, then, here five of the most controversial Christmas campaigns ever, proving it’s not always goodwill and peace on Earth at this time of year.

Edeka – Controversy rating: 4/10


German supermarket Edeka gave everyone something to think about with this 90-second story of an old man who spends every Christmas alone because his kids, and their kids, can’t be bothered to visit. Solitary turkey dinner after solitary turkey dinner eventually gets the better of him, and he dies. The family head to his home for the funeral, as you— the viewer— wells up. Then the unthinkable happens, as grandad reveals the whole thing was a ploy to get all the generations together again. Fake deaths aren’t exactly standard for seasonal celebrations, but thankfully for the company most people got the message.

John Lewis – Controversy rating: 5/10


There’s nothing wrong with this year’s edition of the UK’s most hyped
Christmas advert, is there? After all, it’s just a kid who befriends the farting, burping, fun-loving monster living under his bed. Sadly for John Lewis, though, not only has the clip been greeted with a lukewarm response— see our Blagger’s Blog for more on that [LINK]— after its launch the author Chris Riddell came forward claiming the whole premise was stolen from his notebook, and children’s yarn, ‘Mr Underbed’, creating a scandal that could potentially sully the entire campaign.

Greggs – Controversy rating: 6/10

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Everyone’s favourite bakery, this year Greggs opted to turn the Nativity scene into an ode to their greatest product; the humble-but-incredible sausage roll. Replacing Baby Jesus with pork in pastry might raise a few smiles, but committed Christians across the UK have voiced their objection, leading to plenty of discussions about how far too far actually is when it comes to salesmanship. Having said that, it also meant Greggs hasn’t been far from the headlines in recent weeks.

Narcos – Controversy rating: 8/10

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The smash hit Netflix series wears the global cocaine trade on its sleeve— after all, it’s the story of Pablo Escobar’s rise from simple guy fencing knocked off tellies to global drug baron. Even so, when posters began appearing in Spain showing a profile shot of the notorious protagonist along with the phrase ‘Oh, Blanca Navidad’, there was widespread outcry. To clarify, that translates as ‘Oh, White Christmas’, a clear reference to the notorious powder, with equal objection aimed at how the billboards glorified someone who brought death and destruction to an entire country.

Bloomingdales – Controversy rating: 10/10

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We’re not sure what the New York-based luxury department store was thinking with its poorly worded 2015 catalogue, but it certainly wasn’t the potential implications. On one page a woman is shown laughing and looking off camera, while a man stares at her from the other side of the frame. Perhaps they are in love, maybe he’s thinking about what to buy her for Christmas. Neither of these potential back stories explain why the words ‘Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking’ were positioned between the two models. The company issued a formal apology and admitted this was in ‘bad taste’. Rape campaign groups were understandably outraged.