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November 06, 2010


Ian Christie

I think I agree, but it will be interesting to see if you are right about the impact on revenue and attitudes.

I'm surprised the BL has felt any need to go down this route, as the traditions of remembrance have been remarkably more resilient and even resurgent in recent years. By comparison the loss of observance for organised Christian religion has been striking, among other instances of cultural amnesia induced by consumerism, the transfer of memory to the Internet, and the History-Is-Bunk tendencies of neoliberal modernity. How far this maintenance of tradition is a result of new energy for remembrance from Blair's wars and/or the many WW2 anniversaries in recent years, and how far it represents a kind of secularised vicarious faith-by-association that provides solemnity of religious gravity without pinning it down to any particular beliefs or commitments, is an open question. You're right that the strength of the Poppy tradition stems in large part from its lack of precision.

Dick Pountain

I agree entirely. I first started to feel the corrosion a few years ago when TV adverts started exploiting music I've loved - Velvet Underground, Mingus, "Another Little Piece of My Heart" etc etc - to sell sugary liqueurs or whatever...

Will Davies

the traditions of remembrance have been remarkably more resilient and even resurgent in recent years

Yes, I thought this too. And I agree that it is unnecessary for the British Legion to therefore intervene so aggressively. It strikes me that poppies are already extremely established - newsreaders, football managers, office workers, politicians.. these are ubiquitous, and happily so. Perhaps the adverts are targetting those who can only be mobilised/incentivised by a violent attack on their subconscious, a la anti-drink drive ads.

Secondly, I was at a wedding in France recently, where (due to separation of church and state) there was a necessary civil element, in the town hall. Sarkozy is pictured on the wall and the Tricolore is prominent. And it got me thinking - there are very few opportunities to experience the national via the local in the UK, for reasons to do with our archaic constitution. But if there is one example, it would be to do with memory of war: virtually every village in Britain (and many associations and clubs too) has some sort of war memorial. To the extent that we need to find a path between empty liberalism based around national rules, and contingent communitarianism based around strong local identities, it strikes me that commemorating war plays an important role in Britain. This too is ignored by these two adverts.

And finally, ask the following question of the posters. Are they actors/model in the photographs, or not? Then consider that both possible answers are illegitimate. If they are models (one presumes that wounded soldier is photographed in a studio) then this is manipulative and immoral - that woman and child are mimicking grief for their own private gain. But if they are actually 'authentic' in whatever sense, then they are turning their pain into a spectacle, a la Princess Diana.

Ian Christie

Thanks Will.

'The national via the local' - you rightly mention the war memorial as a case in point in this respect. There is a superb book by Geoff Dyer on World War One memorials, The Missing of the Somme.

'The cosmic and the national via the local' could be the motto of the Church of England. As with the poppy, the genius of the C of E is its imprecision and ubiquity - a church in every corner of the land, and a space in which many interpretations of what Meaning is being evoked are allowable and even encouraged. One of the numerous tragedies of our society in general and the Churches in particular is the erosion of this basic element of the C of E and the wider culture's lack of appreciation for what is at risk.

Bruce Davis

This post should be used at the start of any university or MBA course on 'marketing'. The idea that people might 'think' about what they consume and produce their own meaning is still light years from the conception of the consumer from which most marketers operate. The world would be a better place if we could somehow unthink unthinking marketing thinking.


As it happens I do work in advertising and have done my fair share of ads for charities encouraging donations. But I am at a loss to explain why the poppy has been given a modern twist like this. Especially when those who do feel passionately about modern day soldiering can freely give to ‘Help for Heroes’. Why the British Legion would want to encroach on their territory and give its past the elbow?

Will Davies

Bruce, Abdullah - thanks for your more expert input. Maybe I'm being harsh by tarnishing 'advertising' in general with this particular brush.

It just seems so unnecessary, both symbolically and economically.


so very cathartic reading this post. part of me wants to put the other side of the story but I don't think there is one - oh how i hated those posters. i guess i can see a case for freshening up the silhouette of a Tommie on the Western Front but I'd rather they chose a picture of Hamburg after a firestorm, some letters of this ilk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tN55otCOUo or just published this table: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties. The poppy appeal underlines the fact that war is part of all of us - the campaign makes it about somebody else. A new media reprise: if you can read between the sledging in the comment stream, the way wars past are remembered on youtube is good. e.g. I know this video is cheesy-as but it's kind of sobering. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oav6I0DcfY

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