Comment & Analysis
Nov 10, 2015

Old, Lonely People are Not Just for Christmas

Paige Reynolds argues that the John Lewis ad glamorises loneliness, while offering no real solutions.

Paige ReynoldsJunior Editor

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days you have probably seen the latest edition of “supermarket ads that should be feature films” clogging up your Facebook newsfeed and flashing across every possible social media platform. I am, of course, referring to the infamous John Lewis Christmas ad.

Don’t get me wrong, last Thursday I indulged as much as the next Christmas-loving, trend-watching millennial. In fact, the desire to see the hotly anticipated advert was so strong that my housemate actually set an alarm for the release time to make sure we were not a minute late for its unveiling. If you haven’t seen it, please read no further, as it would be nice for you to enjoy it before I callously pick apart both its intentions and our reactions.

The setting of the ad is as follows: pretty young girl sees sad old man alone on the moon and, in the holiday spirit, decides she must let said old lonely man know someone is thinking of him. She sends him a present attached to some balloons and they both get teary-eyed with the joy such a simple gift can bring. It really is quite touching.

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These adverts play on our heart-strings, filling us with Christmas guilt and boundless empathy, but they give us no real solutions. Of course we should raise awareness of loneliness in old age. But a few tears, a cute girl delivering a scientifically-questionable bunch of balloons, and a fragile-looking old man won’t cure what is an exponentially growing problem.

What’s most worrying is that, if you rewatch the ad on YouTube, there is no mention of Age UK, the charity it has supposedly teamed up with. There is also no mention of the charity partnership on John Lewis’ social channels, such as Instagram or Pinterest. At least last year they included a feature about the Monty the Penguin campaign in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund. There are links on the website, but these links only relate to donations. There’s little proactive information about how you can make a difference in your local community. Instead, John Lewis are selling related products in store with all the proceeds going to Age UK, but with this they are simply capitalising on the common human fear of loneliness. As the UK Independent points out, “the irony is that as the advertisement ends, the old man is still on the moon… still alone… his sense of loneliness has only intensified and all the material gifts in the world won’t make the slightest bit of difference.”

Just like puppies, old, lonely people are not just for Christmas.

Questions of ethical advertising aside, perhaps the advert does serve its purpose in some way. Perhaps it has encouraged some of you to be proactive and contact charities which aim to help the old. Some of my friends who shared this video on Facebook also asked for ways they could help the old people in their area. But how often do these best intentions go beyond a Facebook status? Are you really calling up local nursing homes or the charities themselves? I know I’m not. But regardless of whether individuals are trying to get involved, it still seems like there’s no clear-cut way for us to help the old and lonely. Even if we want to, how do we go about it?

Just like puppies, old, lonely people are not just for Christmas. Real work is required to change the way old people are treated in this country and across Europe. We only have to look at the problems with abuse in nursing homes and the lack of support provided to elderly people by the government to see that more must be done.

ALONE, Friends of the Elderly and Age Action are all registered charities in Ireland where you can apply to volunteer.

It’s clear that companies such as John Lewis aren’t doing much to help. So how can you help? It seems it would be rather hypocritical to pen an article shaming the lack of solutions provided by these large corporations without showing you how to take matters into your own hands. ALONE, Friends of the Elderly and Age Action are all registered charities in Ireland where you can apply to volunteer. While most do require some form of training, there are many activities you can involve yourself in once that’s done. From driving to befriending to simply listening, there are myriad things you can do if your cold heart is truly moved by the weary old man in the John Lewis advert.

Welling up to a corporate Christmas advert won’t solve much, but there are steps you can take that will.

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