Tesco ad featuring Santa with Covid vaccine passport cleared by watchdog

Exclusive: Christmas advert prompted more than 5,000 complaints, plus criticism on social media from anti-vaxxers

Tesco’s festive TV campaign featuring Santa Claus bearing a Covid vaccine passport has been cleared by the UK ad watchdog despite anti-vaccination campaigners making it the second most complained about advert of all time.

The advert, titled “This Christmas, Nothing’s Stopping Us”, prompted more than 5,000 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which determines whether marketing campaigns have broken the UK advertising code.

The ad shows the public determined to enjoy a proper Christmas with family and friends after lockdown restrictions prevented gatherings last year.

However, in one scene a reporter appears on TV with “breaking news” telling viewers that “Santa could be quarantined”. Father Christmas is then shown presenting his Covid pass at border control, proving he has been vaccinated to a customs official so he can enter the country without restriction.

“Having carefully assessed the 5,000 complaints we received about the Tesco Christmas ad campaign, we have concluded it doesn’t break our rules and there are no grounds for further action,” a spokesman for the ASA said. “We consider that the depiction of Santa displaying a proof of vaccine status in an airport is likely to be seen as a humorous reference to international travel rules people have experienced this year. It is unlikely to be interpreted as a message about these rules or the Covid-19 vaccine more widely.”

The scene sparked controversy on social media, attracting criticism from those in the anti-vaccination movement.

The ASA received 5,009 complaints from members of the public who felt that the scene encouraged medical discrimination and the need to be vaccinated.

Sign up to the daily Business Today email or follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk

The 90-second ad, which is set to Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, is being supported by a mix of press and out-of-home advertising, such as poster sites, billboards and bus stops and sides, as well as radio, social media promotion and in-store displays.

“While we understand that some people disagree with the vaccine programme and may find the ad in poor taste, we have concluded that the ad is unlikely to be seen as irresponsible or cause serious or widespread offence on the basis suggested,” the ASA spokesman said.

Tesco’s Christmas campaign has officially become the second most-complained about ad of all-time in the UK.

The betting company Paddy Power’s 2014 ad campaign drumming up business from the murder trial of the South African athlete Oscar Pistorius, offering punters “money back if he walks”, remains the most complained about ad of all time, with 5,525 complaints.


Mark Sweney

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Tesco Christmas ad: 1,500 complain over Santa with Covid vaccine passport
Watchdog is reviewing claims that scene is coercive and encourages medical discrimination

Mark Sweney

15, Nov, 2021 @2:42 PM

Article image
Noel parking: Tesco van appears on roof to start Christmas ad blitz
Supermarket launches festive campaign with truck supplying parties through the ages

Sarah Butler

15, Nov, 2019 @3:54 PM

Article image
Tesco aims to light up its fortunes with sparkly Christmas TV ad
UK’s biggest retailer joins £1.5bn battle of the supermarkets for share of crucial seasonal spending – which will see social media targeted heavily as well as TV and print, write Sarah Butler and Mark Sweney

Sarah Butler and Mark Sweney

09, Nov, 2014 @5:05 AM

Article image
Tesco says sorry over online Christmas delivery queues
Huge demand for delivery pass service forced shoppers to wait for hours to secure festive slot

Sarah Butler

13, Nov, 2020 @12:37 PM

Article image
Former Tesco executive Carl Rogberg cleared of fraud
Two other directors were found not guilty in December after judge threw out the case

Zoe Wood and Sarah Butler

23, Jan, 2019 @10:19 AM

Mighty Tesco feels bite of the Hamster

Morrisons, Sainsbury's and Asda have grown faster than Tesco, despite its new Discounter range, and Christmas will see Richard Hammond and Des O'Connor go head to head as the TV faces of Morrisons and Tesco. By Julia Finch

Julia Finch, City editor

03, Dec, 2008 @12:01 AM

Article image
Tesco stopped rivals opening nearby stores, watchdog finds
Regulator censures supermarket for leaning on landlords not to let premises to competitors in 23 locations across UK

Zoe Wood

14, Feb, 2020 @1:45 PM

Article image
Tesco advertising up for grabs

Tesco signalled that a major overhaul of its brand and image could be on the cards by putting its multimillion- pound advertising account up for grabs

Zoe Wood

11, Apr, 2012 @6:44 PM

Article image
Tesco sausage ad given the chop
Watchdog rules commercial misleadingly implied that meat came from free-range pigs. By John Plunkett

John Plunkett

14, Sep, 2011 @9:26 AM

Article image
Two Tesco directors cleared of fraud as judge labels case 'weak'
Crown court jury instructed to acquit duo over the £250m black hole in profits in 2014

Zoe Wood and Sarah Butler

06, Dec, 2018 @6:11 PM