Dave Trott: What's a connection?

A week or so ago, the BBC asked me onto a radio programme.

It’s called Moral Maze, and it does what it says on the can.

It debates moral issues.

There were four panellists: all journalists from The Mail and The Guardian.

Guests are questioned, on air, by that panel.

All I knew was that it was going to be about Sainsbury’s Christmas ad.

The four panellists were obviously anti-advertising.

But they had a moral problem with this ad in particular.

The ad takes place in 1914, it’s Christmas and the British and German troops come out of the trenches and play football.

Seems fair enough: centenary of WW1, a million poppies in the Tower of London, Sainsbury’s sell bars of chocolate to raise money for the British Legion.

It all links, so no problem.

Except for the panel of journalists.

One journalist, from The Daily Mail, said history should be treated with reverence, this was trivialising it.

I said I thought it was the one nice part of the war, when humans stopped killing each other for five minutes.

She said, how could I possibly say the First World War was nice?

Er, I don’t think that’s what I said.

But a journalist from The Guardian tried a different tack.

Was I saying that it would be okay for Ryman, the stationers, to use Anne Frank in an advertising campaign?

(Anne Frank was the young Jewish girl who hid in an attic from the Nazis, keeping a diary.)

This question took me back for a minute.

Anne Frank died in the death camps, what could that possibly have to do with Ryman?

Then the penny dropped: a diary, Ryman sell diaries.

Do they actually think what we do is as crass as that?

The question was so dopey I got confused.

They hadn’t got the point of what we do at all.

If there’s a genuine connection, it works.

If there isn’t it doesn’t.

Ryman is about stationery.

But Anne Frank wasn’t about stationery, she was about persecution.

Anne Frank might work in an ad for Amnesty International which is also about persecution.

But it only works if there’s a genuine connection.

It’s like saying Jesus was nailed to the cross, B&Q sell nails: let’s use Jesus in a B&Q ad.

Jesus isn’t about nails, Jesus is about universal love.

Suppose it was an ad for Oxfam, about millions of children dying, and it ended with a quote from Jesus: "Even as you do it to the least of my children so you do it unto me".

Then it might work, because there’s a connection.

But nails isn’t a connection anymore than paper is a connection.

The point is, nothing is intrinsically wrong to use as long as there’s a genuine connection.

The Sainsbury’s ad has a genuine connection.

I’m pretty sure it’s not advertising being tasteless here.

I’m pretty sure, for once, it’s not us being thick.

I’m pretty sure it’s the journalists misunderstanding what we do.

The only question is, were they doing it on purpose or are they really that dopey?

I think those journalists should stick to journalism.

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