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Sausage rolls, the Nativity and viral marketing

Mixing religion with marketing - death trap or genius?

By Isabelle Walker

In the lead up to Christmas, many businesses will be implementing their marketing strategies to draw the festive crowd. This week irreverent pastry purveyors in the UK, Greggs, launched its Advent Calendar advertising with gusto. Specifically, it tweeted a picture of the Nativity with the ‘saviour’ replaced with a ‘savoury’ sausage roll.

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In place of Jesus Christ in a manger, Greggs released a picture of a large pork sausage roll in the manger, surrounded by the Three Wise Men. 

Instantly there was uproar from sections of the Christian population in England (and also dismay from the writer’s perspective of the new allowance for 280 characters in Twitter posts…). 

One of the outraged, Simon Richards, tweeted: 
 

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While another, Paul Clark, doubled down on Simon’s request, saying: 

There have also been arguments made that though it is ‘okay’ to make fun of Christianity, this wouldn’t be acceptable with any other religion – and that this should be examined as an example of Western double standards. 

Greggs has since apologised and said in a statement: "We’re really sorry to have caused any offence, this was never our intention."

Although there was initial backlash, it now appears Greggs may have in fact nailed this one. 

Where the marketing team was likely going for a harmless joke, the new advert turned into a Twitter storm, and has now gained more attention and publicity than had a backlash not occurred. Now, the conversation is moving towards: 

  1. kudos for hilarious Christmas marketing
  2. people being offended too easily and
  3. delicious puns.


Case in point: 

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Whether or not Greggs intended for there to be international, sausage roll/nativity related fall-out with its cheeky Christmas marketing remains to be seen. Indeed, a viral story such as this is very rarely planned. 

Further, the readers of the Telegraph in the UK tend to think replacing the Christian Messiah with a sausage roll is more than acceptable for advertising purposes (see opinion poll of 6.2K voters below). 

Regardless of the original intent – likely just playing on the irreverence the brand is known for – the Sausage Roll (susejd rol) Nativity Scene has skyrocketed Greggs into the spotlight (and likely sold a few pastries while it was at it). 

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