• Ben Brooks-Dutton

It’s beginning to look not much like Diwali: How exclusion and racism may divide us this Christmas

Much to my dismay - and only thanks to a quick Google search - I just found out today that the song Together In Electric Dreams is not actually by The Human League, but rather by the group’s lead singer, Philip Oakey, and the legendary Italian composer and producer Giorgio Moroder. This’ll happen when your parents raise you on greatest hits albums that squeeze in spuriously reclaimed tracks. Still, for my family and me, The Human League, like Christmas, signifies togetherness - I can’t remember a single celebration from my childhood that didn’t feature the band’s unique synthpop sound.


Speaking of festivities, today is Diwali - the Festival of Lights - celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains around the world. Why, then, despite all the talk about diversity and inclusion in 2021, did adland choose today to ‘launch’ Christmas?


‘I didn’t know it was Diwali today,’ many might say innocently.


It can, of course, be confusing, because unlike, say, Christmas Day, which follows the Gregorian calendar, Diwali’s date follows the Hindu lunar calendar and, as such, is not set in stone.


‘So how would I have known?’ some might ask.


The same way I just found out that I was wrong about the song I thought I knew so well - covered in the John Lewis Christmas ad that launched today - Google. Inclusion often isn’t rocket science.


Rocket science, however, does feature in the new Christmas spot - as does an alien and a Black family.


A quick scan of much of the commentary on Twitter would suggest that while many viewers are fine with beings from outer space experiencing Christmas for the first time, it doesn’t half drive them mad when Black people get involved. I mean, these commentators are “not racist or anything”, but they do want answers about why, when they only make up three per cent of the population, are Black people in ‘about 80 per cent of the ads’.


I guess what many people who don’t work in adland or brandworld may not understand is that Christmas is more of a corporate competition than a cultural collaboration; brands don’t come together to set casting diversity quotas that are truly representative of the nation. So when all the brands launch their ads at Christmas, and when some target consumers begin to feel frustrated by what they see on TV (or probably online) doesn’t reflect their view of the country, it’s not a conspiracy - it’s mostly just advertisers following ‘representation’ trends.


What brands must begin to do is ask themselves what they are being representative of - and if that is of all of the communities that make up society, then representation is not just for Christmas. Representation (and true inclusion) doesn’t happen through casting - it happens through insight and strategy.


Sadly, we’re still seeing too few brands and advertisers leading trends. This, for many social media commentators, will be a Christmas of cultural outrage, which may lead adland to run scared from (what is most likely performative) inclusion. The challenge the biggest brands and advertisers must face is how to strategically plan inclusion across all campaigns, aligned to a progressive cultural calendar.


This would mean that if a brand could sincerely say that it had done everything it could to reflect society over the course of 365 days, Christmas ads would not launch on Diwali. It would also mean that the charade of the conversation about statistical representation in ads could be called out for what it actually is: racism.