In the annual battle for the best Christmas TV advert from British retailers, Tesco has, on the face of it, done a stand-out job. In its minute-long advert, we see 14 families celebrating Christmas. On first view, you have to hand it to Tesco for representing Britain in all its wonderful diversity.
In one scene, three Muslim women and a young child embrace each other in a tinsel-decorated house with a wreath hanging on the front door. Viewers who have taken to social media saying they are boycotting Tesco for including Muslims in a Christmas TV advert are showing their ignorance. You see, many Muslims – myself included – will spend time with our families, eating and watching movies on Christmas Day. In this way, we’re no different to most families in Britain for whom Christmas has no religious significance whatsoever.
So I’d understand you thinking that Tesco has done a good thing to represent Muslims. But pay attention to the core messaging of the ad, which begins with the words “turkey, every which way” and ends with “However you do Christmas, we’ve got a turkey for you. Everyone’s welcome at Tesco."
On YouTube, Tesco captioned the video with: “Every family has a different turkey tale… However you cook yours – from barbecuing to basting – we’ve got a turkey for you. #EveryonesWelcome”.
I rang Tesco to ask about the availability of halal turkey. My family, like many Muslims, only eat halal food. Tesco customer service told me they don’t sell halal turkey and won’t be making an exception even over the Christmas period.
This was confirmed by Tesco in a tweet to Zohra Khaku, CEO of Halal Gems, a British halal food start-up.
While Muslims feature in the ad, Tesco has not followed through with the consumer experience because they don’t have a turkey for everyone, if Muslims are included in their definition of everyone.
Tesco is following other brands in representing Muslims as an aesthetic.
For many of us, Islam guides our values, which includes our food choices. I don’t mean to be a party pooper but popping a couple of hijab-wearing Muslim women in an ad is not enough. Let me be clear, I am not really bothered that I won’t be able to get a halal turkey at Tesco. What bothers me is this ad is another lazy attempt at representation. To feature a Muslim family in a campaign focused on the premise of turkey for everyone, but to offer no halal turkeys reeks of tick box diversity.
The celebration of Christmas by Muslims already sparks debate. Many Muslims defended the advert saying that they celebrate Christmas, complete with Christmas trees and fairy lights. Others view Christmas as a cultural festivity rather than a religious one and take the opportunity for a break. Some vehemently oppose and say Muslims should not be engaging with Christmas.
This is the first time that Muslims have been represented by Tesco in a marketing campaign. It’s ironic that it happened to be for a Christian holiday. While I commend Tesco’s efforts to celebrate the diversity of Britain today, unity does not equate to uniformity. And perhaps this ad would have come under less critique if Muslims had been represented in previous campaigns.
There are plenty of opportunities to include Muslims in marketing campaigns. Take Tesco’s Food Love stories, which focused on recipes from real customers. Featuring a Muslim in the campaign would have been a perfect chance to represent Muslims as well as advertise the diverse halal products Tesco offer. And the commercial incentive for Tesco was there – the retailer does stock a reasonable range of halal products.
During Ramadan and Eid, Tesco promote particular items with celebratory banners. This demonstrates an understanding of the Muslim consumer, but as this new Christmas TV ad has highlighted, there is a lack of understanding of how this consumer should be represented in a way that is sincere to them.
Why not have a Ramadan ad campaign? This would represent Muslims but also enlighten non-Muslims about the sacred month. Integration is not a one-sided process. It’s about appreciating and displaying the cultures, backgrounds and beliefs beyond superficially jumping on the bandwagon of diversity.
The ad is likely to put many Muslims in the mood for some halal turkey, and if they don’t want to settle for some cold turkey slices from the halal aisle I suspect they’ll look elsewhere.
What a pity, Tesco. Another opportunity missed. There’s always next year…
Nafisa Bakkar is the founder and CEO of Amaliah, a platform dedicated to representing Muslim women
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