Holiday commercials are more sinister than sweet

Horrendous corporate labour practices are hidden by cheery ads

Holiday advertising isn’t something to awe. Screenshot courtesy of Walmart Canada via YouTube

by Madeleine Chan, Opinions Editor

Every year after Halloween ends, they come flooding in: holiday commercials. Not just the ones that feature holiday music, deals, and colours i’m talking about the commercials that act like a whole ass short film. Large companies spend thousands on crafting intricate narratives that try to pull on your heart strings and get you into that “giving” holiday mood. While these may seem like little, joyous treats that play in the middle of your favourite show, they hide a more sinister truth. These commercials are predicated on the suffering of low-wage employees that manufacture and sell these companies’ products, amongst other nefarious capitalistic practices.

This year, a lot of the messaging in these ads seem to be centered around bringing joy to everyone after a struggle-filled, pandemic-laden year. One such commercial from Walmart Canada features an animated teddy bear making a rousing speech to other toys in the store about going out to provide “holiday cheer.” While of course these messages of hope themselves are nice, their sentiments hide large pitfalls in the company.

Walmart is notorious for under-paying retail staff and fostering poor working conditions. Another frequent advertiser Apple relies on forced labour in China amongst other horrific labour practices. Not to mention Amazon — who recently released a commercial about the struggles of a young, racialized ballet dancer — still ignores rampant workplace racism that affects its largely racialized workforce. These are only three examples of companies that have these practices.

These businesses aren’t aiming to win Best Featured Short at the Oscars or legitimately brighten the spirits of the populace. Their ultimate goal is simply to get them on consumers’ good side, and have them shop there instead of with another retailer. Their innocent messaging is just a method to get people there. 

Of course, to make money in a capitalist system large companies like these need to continue advertising to bring in profit. So, I’m not saying that they necessarily need to stop with these types of commercials or that it’s even feasible — although it would be nice — but that we shouldn’t take them at face value. As consumer-citizens we should hold corporations accountable for their actions and not simply buy into their narratives of false joy and wholesomeness. We need to critically look at their impact on the world and whether that is something we want to play into. And while it is not our sole responsibility to fix the suffering created by these companies, we can at least try to by not praising teddy bear commercials.

This holiday season, consider what these facetious commercials are truly saying, or not saying, and where consumers’ dollars should go instead. I’m sure local and BIPOC-owned businesses, who don’t have excess funds to purchase some “heartwarming” air time, would appreciate the money more.