Donald Trump and Christmas Crackers… Wait, What?
This week the USA chose a new president and, well, it wasn’t the one we were expecting. Despite valiant efforts from the creative industries to encourage Americans to get out to the polls, voter turnout plummeted (current estimates are around 50%), and the country appointed a former reality TV star. It’s fair to say that the usual industry hype around the big Christmas ad campaigns has been, if not overshadowed, certainly coloured by the election results.
From what I’ve seen online, the consensus about the new John Lewis Christmas spot – an annual adland highlight – seems to be: “Maybe if we wrap ourselves up in its warm embrace of comforting goofiness, the real world will just go away…”
That’s not how things work.
Even a hair-of-the-dog election-hangover glass of vino wasn’t enough to block it out... On Tuesday evening I joined the production community in a Donald Trump piñata party (gloriously cathartic), courtesy of Madrefoca and Sarah Clift, director of the brilliant film 'La Madre Buena'. On Wednesday morning I was feeling pretty fuzzy and confused before I'd even had a chance to check the news on my phone. That afternoon, I found myself chairing a panel at MusicVidFest with Outsider’s Dom & Nic and John Madsen, and Neil Davies of the Mill (a forensic insight into their awesome Chemical Brothers video Wide Open, since you ask). We held our nerve for 50 minutes, staying focused on the topic of promos, despite our dazed fugue states… and then slumped straight into the BFI Southbank bar. It was less a spontaneous drink and more an impromptu (and beer-fuelled) support group.
Along the way we picked up Dougal Wilson, who had been grilling Dom & Nic from the front row of the audience. Any other year, if you found yourself in a bar with the director the of the John Lewis ad the day before it aired, I’d barely be able to ask about anything else. Not this week, not 2016.
On the one hand there were so many big, competing emotions to process – and oh boy did we need the talk therapy (with a side order of posh chips in curry sauce). On the other, beneath the cartoonish headlines and broad shock, the circumstances that led here are so big and knotty and complicated. I think we needed to figure out exactly what we each thought.
There’s so much to unpick: growing resentment of ‘the elite’ amongst people with nothing left to lose; our species’ inability to get past its women problem; our under-evolved brains’ anxiety in the face of information overload and constant change; the role of the media; a system that puts profit over people… and so on.
Back when Brexit happened (hey remember that?) I wrote that, for better or worse, it marked real disruption. While disruption is a buzzword that tech people and social people and ad people love to throw around when they’re talking about… I dunno… a new app or something, real disruption is profound and unavoidable. Like, say, the election of a wall-enthusiast by a disenfranchised and anxious population.
No amount of comfort-food content can tune that out… and nor should it. And if our industry really is as good at listening as it purports to be it should be able to hear the pain and confusion that’s arising from the delirious age of disruption. People are worried about jobs, stability, their future and that’s resulted in social divisions, defensiveness and, in the case of many Trump supporters, the urge to seek solace in toxic opiates like misogyny and racism. I guess the creative and strategic challenge – for governments, businesses, communities – is how to acknowledge peoples frustrations and enact deep change without ripping up the progress that’s been made in terms of tolerance, rights, science, life span, education over the past 100 years. (Personally I think Bernie Sanders might have been the person to bring those ideas together, but that’s irrelevant now.) Developments in automation and AI, as well as growing threats to water security and the current and future consequences of climate change mean that the coming decades are going to be extremely hard. Humanity will need to pull together to break out of its behavioural ruts for genuine change to happen. And by that point, I’m sure ‘problems with the ad agency model’ will be the least of our worries.
And in the meantime, maybe this will help you make sense of the past few days: