A new TV campaign for John Lewis home insurance glorifies transsexualism so blatantly that I wonder about their clientele. Ads are supposed to be aspirational, so what aspiration is being promoted here?
A boy of about 10 wearing makeup and a long dress pouts like a child prostitute while systematically trashing the house. His mother and sister look on placidly and with tacit approval.
The damage covered by the insurance on offer could have been shown in hundreds of different and more interesting ways, with most perhaps depicting a more plausible situation. Why choose a little trans in the making?
Perhaps John Lewis ought to change its slogan from Never Knowingly Undersold to Never Knowingly Underwoked. But the real point implied here goes beyond advertising.
In my day, an ad like that would never have been made. Advertisers were then wary of selling their soul for a pot of message outside their brand. Political advertising existed, but it was the advertising of politics, as practised by candidates, parties or causes.
Much of it was done pro bono or, to be less charitable, as a way for agencies to promote themselves. When flogging commercial brands, admen knew to keep politics out.
It’s easy to see why. Any political statement is by definition divisive. Advertising, on the other hand, seeks as wide a sweep as possible. Alienating large swathes of the market isn’t what keeps admen in Porsches.
Since then, however, the cork has popped out and politics has overflown into, well, everything. Including, by the looks of it, advertising.
Home insurance is a side line for John Lewis. The company mostly operates high-end department stores. In marketing terms, its target audience is defined as B+ and up.
Any adman of my generation assumed that, when an ad showed people ecstatic about the product advertised, they would represent the demographic cross-section of the desired market. No longer.
Thus a recent campaign for Peter Jones, a John Lewis department store, featured overjoyed black people, their lives transformed by the merchandise on offer.
Now, Peter Jones is in Sloane Square, not far from where I live, and I’ve been shopping there for over 30 years. In all this time, I haven’t seen many black customers.
If Peter Jones was thereby trying to expand its customer base, it was on a losing wicket. Sloane Square straddles Chelsea and Belgravia, and neither area boasts a large enough black presence to make a difference.
I suspect there may be more transsexuals than blacks there, but not enough for the current ad to make commercial sense. So why show that cross-dressing vandal tyke?
The principles of advertising couldn’t have changed that much in the 15 years I’ve been out of the gig. Advertisers must still eschew political controversy that may prove divisive and therefore financially deleterious.
So is John Lewis cutting off its commercial nose to please its woke face? The answer to this question is truly sinister.
John Lewis is confident in its belief that showing a child trans no longer courts controversy. Gender dysphoria is just a bit of innocent fun devoid of any moral or social connotations. Part of the rich panoply of life and all that. Kind of cool, as a matter of fact.
The old advertising principles haven’t changed – society has. And advertising is a concave and convex mirror held up to society to show its features, grotesquely enlarged and so much more obvious for it.
The ad ends with the strapline Let Life Happen. Alas, this kind of life has happened already. How on earth are we going to unhappen it?