DID YOU HEAR the one about the advert which led to a huge petition for ‘trying to cause gratuitous offence to members of the Christian community’? Unfortunately it’s no joke – the petition has probably done more to harm the public perception of Christianity than the ad.
Chocolate maker Cadbury launched the ad in January to celebrate 50 years of the Crème Egg, in a campaign called the ‘Golden Goobilee’. The campaign consists of a 60-second advert ‘celebrating the different ways Cadbury Crème Egg shoppers have enjoyed their favourite Easter treat for the past 50 years – whether they are a licker, dipper, baker, “eggspert”, “discreater” or sharer’.
The sharers, who are professional dancers and life-partners, are seen dancing in a garden and holding one Crème Egg between their lips, while the voiceover says: ‘Sharers? Yeah, we are down with that.’ Their segment of the ad lasts less than ten seconds. Both dancers present as masculine, though one identifies as non-binary. Media reports refer to the scene as a ‘gay kiss’, though the couple’s lips barely touch.
The petition against the advert, which at the time of writing has received more than 81,000 signatures in five weeks, describes the scene as ‘a highly-charged sexually provocative act’. It also claims it is ‘an image which many consumers have complained is both disgusting and off-putting’, though It provides no evidence of this. It continues:
“Cadbury’s are clearly hoping to cause controversy and escape criticism, by claiming that any objections must be rooted in ‘homophobia’, but members of the LGBT community have also expressed their dislike of this campaign.”
How it’s possible to both ‘cause controversy’ and ‘escape criticism’ at the same time is not explained, though the petition author clearly fears being called homophobic. The claim that ‘members of the LGBT community have also expressed their dislike of this campaign’ is also not substantiated.
The petitioner claims to speak for the Christian community in attributing a motive to the ad:
“Cadbury’s are well aware of the religious significance of Easter. Therefore, they are trying to cause gratuitous offence to members of the Christian community during the most important feast in their calendar.”
However, the campaign makes no mention of Easter, and this claim ignores the fact that the use of eggs as a symbol of fertility and new life in Spring predates Christianity and isn’t a part of the religious symbolism of the festival. Even the name ‘Easter’ is derived from the name of a pagan goddess of Spring called Ēostre.
If that weren’t bad enough, it goes on to equate the advert with child abuse:
“Exposing children to sexualised content constitutes a form of grooming. It is well-known that children will often copy what they see on the screen.”
One of the dancers in the advert replied to the criticism on Instagram:
“So it’s OK when an advert sexualises a woman to benefit the male gaze and make other women feel inadequate if they do not live up to this beauty standard. But it’s not OK, in 2021, to have an advert of a multi-racial (strike one) gay couple (strike two) on your screens for 10 seconds (strike three) eating/kissing/sexualised (strike four). Does anyone see how ridiculous this is? Like actual LOL.”Callum Sterling, Instagram 11/01/2021
In response to the petition, Cadbury said it has
“always been a progressive brand that spreads a message of inclusion’ and to ‘showcase the joy our products bring, a clip of a real-life couple sharing a Cadbury Creme Egg was included in the advert.”
The couple, Callum Sterling and Dale K Moran, say people have taken a ‘gimmick’ and ‘sexualised it’. They told PinkNews they have experienced a ‘rollercoaster’ of emotions which caused them to question the media, consumer mindsets and even their religious beliefs.
They described the first wave of responses to the campaign as ‘overwhelmingly positive’ and mostly from the UK, and the second wave as a ‘backlash’ when the advert spread worldwide.
In response to the claim that the advert is ‘grooming’ children to copy their behaviour, they explained that narratives reinforcing heterosexuality and traditional gender roles ‘are constantly fed to queer children, and everybody else, from the moment we start consuming media.’ Callum added,
“I think anyone that decides to live their life as an out person with pride, especially if you’re a little bit different from the norm, [will encounter] someone with opposing opinions on how you choose to live your life.”
He described the second wave of the response as ‘a lot more negative’, and how it had made him question humanity and reflect on his religious beliefs. Callum told PinkNews he is a ‘very open’ Christian, and the religious groups who lambasted the couple and commercial left him with a ‘really bad taste in my mouth in regards to religion’.
‘It makes me question the religion itself,’ Callum said. ’It’s been a real whirlwind’.
The Premier Christian News website, which tends to promote a conservative Christian response to current affairs, published a surprisingly balanced report on this story:
“Some say the advert should not feature a gay couple in an Easter advert because it is offensive to Christians, others say the advert is too explicit, regardless of the sexual orientation of the couple. On the other hand, some people have pointed out that kissing is frequently used between straight couples with far less complaints.”
They interviewed Luke Dowding, Executive Director of OneBodyOneFaith, who said he was delighted there were more LGBT+ people being represented in the media, but added: ‘I think for Christians, perhaps what should be of more concern is the commercialisation of Easter’ and that ‘issues of how chocolate is grown, how farmers are supported, whether chocolate is fairly traded are perhaps bigger issues that Christians might want to focus on.’
Speaking about the claim that the product is often bought by children but has an advert which is ‘sexually explicit’, Dowding said:
“I’m not sure the sharing of chocolate or the expression of a kiss could be expressed as ‘sexually explicit’, regardless of the orientation of the couple but I agree that there is media out there that perhaps is inappropriate for the consumption of children, but it really is down to the parents to decide what they want their children to watch or not watch.”
Premier also spoke to Mike Davidson, the Chief Executive of the Core Issues Trust, which supports ‘men and women with homosexual issues who voluntarily seek change in sexual preference and expression’, whom they also refer to as ‘ex-gay or once-gay persons’. He said:
“I can well understand the need to defend and protect Judeo-Christian values in society, I’m just not sure that Easter eggs is the place to do it. Is that really the place where we want to have an argument about what we want to project in terms of the values that are important to us?”
I never thought I would find myself agreeing with anything Mike Davidson has to say, but on this one issue, I couldn’t agree more.
The creator of the petition, Catholic campaigner Caroline Farrow, told Premier:
“Many evangelical and Catholic Christians, as well as those of other faiths are likely to be offended by the advert, which deliberately seeks to undermine biblical and traditional Christian teaching about sex and sexuality. It’s important that Christians are not rail-roaded into accepting the prevailing liberal orthodoxy and even more important that brands which seek to have broad appeal. from elderly pensioners to vulnerable children, and capitalise on their trusted status, don’t let down their customers.”
Evangelicals and Catholics are not known for accepting the validity of each other’s Christian faith. As a cradle Catholic who now supports Christians from many traditions, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard one sort of Christian say that another sort is not a ‘true Christian’. But on the issue of ‘othering’ LGBT+ people, Evangelicals and Catholics seem fine with forming an unholy alliance against LGBT+ people instead of demonising Christians from another tradition.
In my role as Coordinator of the Open Table Network, I gave an interview to BBC Radio Merseyside last month, and was told they might ask me for a comment on this story. In the end we spoke for around ten minutes on LGBT+ History Month and the Open Table Network so there wasn’t time to respond to the controversy around this advert. However, in preparation for the interview, I asked Open Table supporters on social media for their comments. One said the ad was:
“outrageous… I mean, sharing a creme egg? Really? Have you seen the size of those things? And yes, the ‘outrage’ this has generated from predictable quarters has become the story. Most of us probably wouldn’t have taken much notice of the ad otherwise.”
- ‘this is nothing more than a very clever marketing ploy by the multinational corporation that now own the Cadbury brand… not only do they get to portray themselves as pro-LGBT+, the news stories about it also result in free advertising far beyond the scope of the original campaign.’
- ‘It’s essentially a marketing campaign by a company so this is a business issue. Cadbury have clearly made the calculation that this advert is good for business.’
- ‘The idea that it is offensive to Christians because of the link with Easter is a bit stupid as the symbolism of eggs predates Christianity and isn’t a part of the religious symbolism of the festival.’
- ‘It’s not anti-Christian – unless you make the argument that any advert for chocolate eggs not mentioning the religious elements of Easter is anti-Christian.’
- ‘It’s no more anti-Christian than the secular materialism of the John Lewis Christmas advert in a world of such economic disparity. ‘We’ don’t own Easter or Christmas – if we were secure we’d recognise the cross cultural universality which seeks to reinterpret, tell afresh… so let’s tell the Christian story afresh as part of that patchwork.’
- ‘It should be remembered that Cadbury was founded and run by Quakers until quite recently. I don’t imagine they would have found this necessary to prove the inclusive nature of their faith?’
- ‘While the whole thing seems to be a storm in an egg cup (!) on the back of a poorly conceived ad, there is maybe a useful discussion to be had here about the underlying prejudice and ‘othering’ of LGBT+ folk that seems to underlie the Christian petitioners’ propensity for taking offence in this way?’
- ‘If only Christians would unite like this behind issues that really matter we might find the church resembling Jesus a little more.’