Under the Influence

This 2021 holiday ad received thousands of complaints

UK supermarket Tesco ran a Christmas commercial. It brought in the second-highest number of advertising complaints in UK history. The reason may surprise you.
(Kristy Wigglesworth/The Associated Press)

Just before Christmas 2021, UK supermarket Tesco ran a holiday commercial.

The theme of the ad was underscored by the music - Queen's song "Don't Stop Me Now."

The commercial was really a rallying cry during a very tough year - celebrating the fact that nothing was going to stop British folks from celebrating Christmas this year. The fun commercial showed people celebrating through power blackouts, celebrating when their car breaks down, and getting creative with snowman noses when there was a produce shortage. But what was unexpected was the fact the commercial ended up getting the most complaints of the year in Britain.

And it was all due to a five-second sequence in the middle of the commercial. It showed Santa standing in front of an airport customs officer. Then Santa flashes his green vaccination passport:

That was it. That was the five seconds that created so much controversy. Most commercials that people object to usually attract anywhere from 50 to 200 complaints. And 200 is a big number. The Tesco ad got 5,000. It was the second-highest number of ad complaints in UK history.

The objections came from anti-vaxxers, who cited the scene as being "coercive and encouraging medical discrimination." With that number of complaints, the Advertising Standards Authority had to step in to assess the commercial. After review, the regulators said the ad "doesn't break our rules and there are no grounds for further action." So the commercial stayed up.

Tesco said in a statement that the ad took a light-hearted view on how the nation was feeling. And that while the country was in the midst of a pandemic, "…the commercial reflects the current rules and regulations regarding international travel." And as we all know, Santa has to do quite a bit of international travel.

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