Certain objects and rituals attract a level of consumerist fetishism like no other. Box fresh sneakers. Being the first to unbox the latest Apple gadget. And yes, for many women, there's nothing comparable to the pleasure of receiving an unfathomably expensive handbag.

This ad by UK brand Mulberry parodies the Nativity story in a light-hearted and tongue in cheek manner. Away in a manger - or the 21st century equivalent, surrounded by boxes and in the midst of unpacking - a man presents a Mulberry bag and the scene spins off into a pleasant and watchable piece of silliness. The attention to detail is well done and the casting superb. It's hard not to be enamoured by two 'shepherds' with strong West Country accents - think Sam in The Lord of the Rings: "I made a promise, Mr Frodo. A promise. 'Don't you leave him Samwise Gamgee!'"

Spoilers ahead, so you might to watch the ad first.

Naturally though, any ad with religious imagery is bound to be the subject of discord, and in this case 42 people were angry and offended enough to put in official complaints to the ASA.

However, in a move which surprises me, given how eager the ASA are to bring down the ban hammer on anything that upsets, no breach was found.

In their review, the ASA first noted:

Forty-two complainants challenged whether the ad was offensive to Christians because it replaced the baby Jesus with a handbag. The complainants objected that it undermined central messages of their faith; that the important scene was being used for the purpose of consumerism; and that it was blasphemous.

It is pretty hard to argue with these accusations. Here we have the nativity, a central scene to Christianity, the birth of their Lord and Saviour, being parodied for the purposes of entertainment and crucially, for sales. So yes in many ways, even though this is a gentle parody, when you strip out any emotive factor it's religious satire for the sake of selling.

Mulberry countered by saying:

... the comment made by the man – "Guys, it's just a bag" – made it clear that no comparison with the baby Jesus was intended. ...They believed the Nativity scene was a recognisable and central concept to British society. As such, they believed it was legitimate for a British company to use the scene in a way that would be recognisable by their customers and which reflected the humour of the brand, and the fun and excitement of Christmas time.

It really could have gone either way on this. As a libertarian and a lover of free speech, I'm glad this amusing ad wasn't banned. Very glad. But surprised none the less, when ads are regularly banned for much less.

The ASA concluded:

... we noted that the ad was based on the bible story of the birth of the baby Jesus in a stable, and the visits by the shepherds and the wise men bearing gifts. ... Later on, after the shepherds and 'wise men' had admired the bag, the man said, "Guys, it's only a bag", which we considered was likely to be interpreted by viewers as referring to the playful and ridiculous nature of the comparison with the Nativity story, and was more likely to be seen as a humorous reference to consumerism than ridiculing the story. We acknowledged that the ad might not be to everyone's taste, but considered most viewers would understand it as a light hearted take on the Nativity story, intended to poke fun at the effect of consumerism on Christmas rather than mocking or denigrating Christian belief. Because of that, we considered the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.

Funny how one single line can make or break a piece of communication. And maybe that's the real Christmas Miracle, because I can imagine getting 'Guys, it's only a bag' signed off by a company which makes luxury handbags must have been some kind of feat of nature. I can see the conversations and arguments now "But it's so much more than just 'a bag'! It's an expression of identity!"

Good on you, Adam & Eve DDB.

Client: Mulberry Agency: Adam & Eve DDB
Commercials: 
Country: 

Leave a comment

about the author