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Asda Christmas ad furore is misplaced

There’s quite a furore over Asda’s Christmas advertising this year with complaints that it’s sexist. It may be but the supermarket is not the only culprit of this crime and is getting more than its fair share of criticism.


Asda’s ad depicts a mum working hard to get all the aspects of Christmas right so that the family enjoy the festive season. It has attracted a few dozen complaints to the ASA and it may be formally investigated.

Asda makes a generalisation about family life that doesn’t ring true for many households in the UK. There are a lot of dads out there that do the bulk of the work at Christmas and year round and many other households that split the chores, but to generalise, mums do do most of the work at Christmas.

The ad creative is based on some thorough research that Asda conducts every month with more than 4,000 British mums. It polls and surveys its customer base - 80 per cent of which are mums - and has a pretty good understanding of what makes them tick. It has boiled this down into a simple plot which reflects a truth about Christmas, about mums and about families.

Mums and targeting mums have been at the core of Asda’s marketing for as long as I can remember. It speaks a truth to the majority of its customers and I think most people, even if the ad doesn’t depict their own experience, can relate to it.

Before I get accused of being anti-feminist let me be clear: sexism is a bad thing. It’s bad for women and it’s bad for society. It should be stamped out in the work place, the gender gap in salary should be erased and there should be more women on boards of big business but Asda’s Christmas ad alone is not to blame.

Asda isn’t saying all women should stay at home and handle all the domestic drudgeries and live a life where their only satisfaction is derived from pleasing husbands and children while men go out to work and do manly things, it is merely holding a mirror up to society’s inherent sexism.

It may not be a particularly clever or progressive ad but lets not demonise Asda here. It’s no more guilty of this than other supermarkets or advertisers.

Watch the full ad here and make up your mind.

Iceland has long used “That’s why mums go to Iceland”, P&G’s much lauded 2012 Olympic campaign slogan was “Proud sponsor of Mums” and Boots’ entire “Here come the Girls” ad strategy in recent years has been built around the headline idea that women prepared more for things than men.

Boots’ 2011 Mission Impossible style Christmas ad showed many of the same scenes as Asda’s ad this year. Women buy and choose the presents, wrap them, sort out the Christmas lights and send all the cards all in one big military style operation. Its winter ads show women battling on with all aspects of life while men succumb to “man flu”.

Some brands are more offensive in their treatment of the stereotypes than others but while many do lean on gender stereotypes - far from decrying women and banishing them to domestic roles - they are celebrating women’s role, their resourcefulness and capability.

These advertisers aren’t helping to cast off stereotypes but they should not be vilified for reflecting truisms. There is a role for advertising to play in breaking these social norms and encouraging more equality in society but if we don’t like the truth it depicts, we have to change society not just bitch about a single Christmas ad campaign.

Readers' comments (10)

  • Stereotypes definitely have a place in advertising and most people can accept that. In a 30 or 60 second ad we do not have enough time to see well developed characters,we need stereotypes so we can immediately know what's going on.

    In my house, Christmas has always been a day when mum gets the day off and all the kids do hours of chopping and washing up. I'm sure there's an advert idea in there somewhere but it may offend vegetarians or the anti-child labour lobby.

    Come on marketing week, these articles about 0.000001% of viewers comlaining about ads are getting seriously dull. Is this really news?

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  • ASDA rightly point out 80% of their shoppers are women. They have made mums the focus of all their marketing attention, setting up their Mumsdex panel to ensure they are as close to their customers as possible, and flexing their offer to meet Mums needs.

    Unfortunately this emphasis means they’ve inadvertently come up with an ad that can be interpreted as sexist, but it’s unlikely that was their intention! Perhaps Saatchi & Saatchi should have spotted the potential to offend, ensuring Dads/Lads were involved in the ad a positive way.

    All in all, it's great to see a change of direction for ASDA, but a pity it's caused upset.

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  • Is it any wonder 80% of Asda's customers are female when they ignore 50% of the population by only targeting women with their advertising? They only surveyed their "mumdex" women for this advert, so it is hardly surprising that men aren't exactly represented very favourably. Sexism will never disappear if advertisers keep promoting sexist stereotypes. Yes, it may be true that you can't appeal to everyone all of the time, but you can surely be less patronising and less denigrating in an advert.

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  • How can it be offensive to congratulate someone for taking taking care of the family and creating happiness ?
    As a Dad I would like to have more time to do more and help, but hey this is reality.
    Why would people hide behind clichés, and not just enjoy a bit of family life ?
    It is not offending women to recognize they work harder than men !
    @Rosie : great article !

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  • "Sexism is a bad thing. It’s bad for women and it’s bad for society." I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly. But it's also bad for men, and men can also be the victim of it, increasingly it seems in advertising. Funny, but I don't see any furore from the many ads that demean men in the most blatant way. I'm thinking of the yogurt advert where a reclining Amanda Holden uses a semi-naked man for a footrest. Or the greetings card ad that ends with the voiceover woman persuading a man to take his top off. Or the Maltesers ad where two women re-arrange their sleeping boyfriends so they're basically sexually assaulting each other. What would the reaction be if the genders were reversed? Yes, I can appreciate there's an element of men getting their turn on the karma roundabout here, but you can't expect rules to be applied to one gender but not the other. Isn't that what got us here in the first place?

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  • Any advert can be deemed as sexist, cleaning products with women in....betting adverts with males in.....where does it stop....those complainers more than likely need a job....and I should probably get back to mine.

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  • I don't have a big issue with advertising targetting women. So I don't have an issue with the "here come the girls" advert. However, the Asda advert says that "behind every great Christmas there's mum". I'm a single parent dad with a daughter who was seriously abused by her mum. There are other children who have lost their mum. The stereotype in the Asda advert is inappropriate in today's society and research indicates that an increasing number of men are doing the family shop. However, what I find my upsetting is the portrayal that a great Christmas can only be delivered by a women.

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  • Sexist?? I think this advert is spot on. Would it still be called sexist if it was a man or even portrayed with homosexual couple? Yes women tend to be focussed on in advertising and can be seen as the "favourites", but looking at our nations recent history it wasn't that long ago when women were the ones who had to stay home caring for every need of the home and their man - let's be honest, it was considered their place. This is definitely not the case now, and in some families it could not be further from the truth if they tried, but for majority of families reality isn't far away. So what if media is slightly behind the times... My question is, would all these questions be asked if the main focus in the advert was a man?? I think it would be, maybe even more.

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  • The issue is not whether this ad actually depicts the truth or not (and I strongly maintain that it doesn't come close to reality, because I know a lot of fathers who do actually make a significant contribution to domestic affairs in the run-up to Christmas and on the day itself (and for 364 days after that too)). The issue is that it has utterly undermined our attempts to develop a more balanced society and to educate our children away from the stereotype that women do everything and men do nothing around the house. This advert should be pulled immediately. If it isn't, I shall take it upon myself to complain vociferously to the Equality and Human Rights Commission

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  • I think it is an absolutely wonderful advert and I genuinely laughed out loud with delight the first time I saw it. Asda have captured the real essence of Christmas in this one and it made me think of all the efforts my mum would go to when I was a kid. I applaud them for the approach and don't see it as sexist in the slightest.

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