The date was Dec. 24, 1914 – Christmas Eve.
In the battered trenches of World War I’s Western Front near Saint-Yvon, Belgium, a crisp, winter wind was wisping away the scents of gunpowder, smoke and blood.
But on that same breeze, exactly 100 years ago this Christmas, the British troops, worn and weary in their midnight trenches, heard a familiar tune come wafting over the battlefield. It was the German troops, just a few yards away in trenches of their own, singing the traditional Christmas Carol, “Stille Nacht.” English speakers know the song better as “Silent Night.”
One by one, the enemy combatants of both armies rose from their trenches and carefully crossed into “no-man’s land,” an unexpected and uneasy truce beginning to form.
As dawn broke that Christmas Day, the men who only the day before sought to slay one another were exchanging gifts and engaging in a friendly game of football upon the deadly battlefield.
In a retelling of this amazing true story, the United Kingdom’s third biggest supermarket, Sainsbury’s – together with the Royal British Legion and the ad agency AMV BBDO – created a moving advertisement depicting that holy night and fictionalizing a gift of a chocolate bar from a British to a German soldier.
Sainsbury’s now sells that vintage-looking candy bar in its stores, with half the purchase price donated to the Royal British Legion charity.
But using the famous World War I story to promote a grocery store, many have argued, was a dirty trick. Hundreds of complaints poured in to the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority claiming the ad “offensive” or claiming it was “misleading” for not immediately revealing itself to be an advertisement.
The U.K.s advertising regulator, however, has now announced it has no plans to launch an investigation, much less ban the advertisement.
According to a Business Insider report, the Advertising Standards Authority has heard the complaints and is closing the case.
In a statement the U.K. ad watchdog explained, “While we recognize that some have found the use of the First World War for advertising purposes to be distasteful, the ad is not likely to break the rules surrounding harm or offense. We also considered that the ad is obviously distinguishable from editorial content and is therefore not likely to mislead.”
The advertisement has now been seen nearly 13 million times on YouTube, and Sainsbury’s told Marketing Week earlier this month it was selling 5,000 of the chocolate bars every hour.
The controversial advertisement can be seen below: