“Tone-deaf” ad leveraged by charity to raise awareness


12th December 2022

An ad for Waitrose supermarkets has been branded “tone-deaf” by homeless charity, Depaul.

The poster in question shows a biscuit being dunked into a cup of hot chocolate alongside a headline that celebrates “chilly winter nights.”

According to the youth homeless charity, this ostensibly innocuous concept is insensitive on account of where it appears; the “unfortunately placed” ad was posted within an area of Manchester renowned for high numbers of people sleeping rough.

Sensing an opportunity to raise awareness for those in “urgent need of a safe warm place to stay,” Depaul responded with a poster of its own.

“LOOK FORWARD TO CHILLY WINTER NIGHTS,” reads the Waitrose ad, “OR LOOK AFTER THOSE WHO ARE DREADING THEM,” says the Depaul poster beside it.

Rather than an act of callousness from the supermarket, this is an example of deft tactical action by Depaul. In all likelihood, Waitrose would have had little-to-no control of exactly which sites their poster appeared at, let alone any knowledge of how homeless populations are spread across UK cities. Conversely, Depaul has raised awareness for a very good cause via free column inches generated by the story.

In response to the criticism, a Waitrose spokesperson said: “This advert focuses on a seasonal product, typically enjoyed during winter. We understand that many people are facing challenges at the moment, which is why – together with our customers – we’re working with charities to offer support. These include food banks which help homeless people, and organisations helping families cook healthy meals on a budget.”

Within the same statement, the supermarket claimed to have donated enough food to prepare 10m meals since 2017.

This is not the first time the Waitrose marketing team has had to negotiate controversy in recent weeks. In November, the supermarket unveiled its Christmas ad which showed two farmers comparing skin tans. A host of critics accused the brand of failing to take sun exposure seriously and of being insensitive towards skin cancer patients. Waitrose cut the scene from its ad and apologised in response.

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