Tesco's message in its Christmas commercial this year is that "nothing's stopping us," from travel restrictions to stock shortages, as the U.K. celebrates despite the ongoing pandemic. And that includes an already controversial scene in which Santa shows off his vaccine passport.
U.K. anti-vaxxers are flocking to social media to complain about the ad, because of a scene that shows Santa brandishing a so-called "vaccine passport."
The ad, by BBH London, debuted on Saturday night and has already attracted 1500 complaints to the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), making it the country's most protested ad of the year so far. Meanwhile, anti-vaxxers on social media are calling for a boycott of the retailer's supermarkets.
The ad, from BBH London, is an unabashed minute-and-a-half of fun set to "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen (also chosen as the soundtrack to Lego's holiday ad this year).
It opens outside a Tesco store with a woman who is determined that nothing will stop her from enjoying Christmas dinner with her family. She dons a pair of goggles and hops on an e-scooter to get there. We also see scenes of a delivery driver determined to get to a family on the top floor of a tower block; an elf who's bribed into keeping Santa's grotto open; and Santa himself, who's threatened with quarantine but triumphantly produces his double-vaccination "COVID pass" at the border gates. And there's even a playful reference to food shortages, with people improvising with other vegetables when carrots aren't available for their snowman's nose.
The spot was directed by Si and Ad of Academy Films. While its celebratory message is similar to many other retailers this year, Tesco is more unusual in that it does at least refer to the ongoing disruption to life, albeit in a playful way.
Anti-vaxxers and anti-lockdown protesters are vehemently opposed to the idea of so-called "vaccine passports," which are required by the government to enter some public venues in Scotland but not, as yet, in England.
British Prime Minster Boris Johnson has so far avoided making them a legal requirement but has threatened to keep them "in reserve" if COVID-19 escalates again.
However, business such as theaters and concerts venues are increasingly asking for proof of double vaccination via a government-issued QR code. The pass is also required for most international travel.
The ad, which broke on Saturday, immediately provoked complaints on Twitter with one woman posting: "Did I really just see a Christmas TV ad on ITV for Tesco to Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop me Now’ hit with families having fun / flying abroad etc & then a guy smiling flashing up his smart phone with a COVID passport on it?? Omg. I am NEVER shopping at Tesco again."
However, others pointed out that if anti-vaxxers boycotted Tesco it would actually make the supermarkets safer.
The ASA must now consider whether to uphold any of the complaints against the ad. According to an ASA spokesman: “The large majority of complaints assert that the ad is coercive, and encourages medical discrimination based on vaccine status.”
In response, Tesco has issued the following statement: "We respect everyone's views and we know that Christmas is a hugely important time for many of our customers and, after last year's events, that is truer now than ever. We set out to create a campaign which took a light-hearted view on how the nation is feeling and it has been well-received by colleagues and customers. We are still in the midst of a pandemic and the advert reflects the current rules and regulations regarding international travel."
The TV ad is running in 90-second, 60-second and two 30-second versions with a wider campaign including press, outdoor, radio, social, in-store and PR.