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14 December 2015

The Robert Dyas Christmas advert: what does sexuality have to do with drill bits?

In a proudly low budget production, soundtracked by an instrumental version of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”, a middle aged woman says, “I’m bisexual and I always find something I love at Robert Dyas”.

By Eleanor Margolis

Has anyone else had a strange dream about Robert Dyas recently? Like… it’s a TV ad or something and all these Robert Dyas employees are holding up products and stating their sexuality. A man called Marcus who “likes volleyball” announces that he’s gay, then twists an inflatable Minion so its one eye is facing you, impishly, while you chew on this astonishing little jumble of non sequiturs like a wad of radiator and salt flavour chewing gum.

“We’re all mad here,” the minion seems to say, tauntingly, as you grapple with what Freud referred to in The Interpretation of Dreams as the “navel” of a dream; an “unplumbable” core, so detached from reality that it simply cannot be understood. Except, maybe it isn’t a dream. In fact, here it is; the ad for a chain of DIY shops, which makes Dalí and Buñel’s Un Chien Andalou look like an especially unthreatening episode of Peppa Pig. While writing this, I’m periodically flicking my nose to make sure I’m awake. I have been having vivid dreams since I switched to a new antidepressant. Incidentally, I recently had one in which an archangel appeared to me and announced that Justin Bieber is going to come out as gay, and it’s going to break Twitter. So, consider yourself warned.

But Robert Dyas, though. You know, that place you go when you need rawl plugs or one of those things rolls of toilet paper go on (I don’t know what to call them)? You probably don’t even notice you’re there. It smells faintly of cardboard and it’s the most sexless place on earth. I’ve always liked it though. Once, when I worked in marketing, in Bumblefuck Nowhere suburbia, I used to spend my lunch breaks pacing the brightly-lit aisles of a nearby Robert Dyas, breathing in the comfortingly cardboard-y air. I’d admire spanners and pretend my life had direction.

So, the incongruity of the distinctly crotchless Robert Dyas and sexuality is quite startling.  In a proudly low budget production, soundtracked by an instrumental version of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”, a middle aged woman says, “I’m bisexual and I always find something I love at Robert Dyas”. She’s wielding a spiralizer – one of those Goop-worthy kitchen gadgets that turns courgettes into low-carb “spaghetti”. She looks like your friend’s aunt Joyce. The kind of woman who would inspire this sort of conversation:

“How was your Christmas?”

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“Well, you know my aunt Joyce?”

“The one who tweets pictures of her cats at Harry Styles?”

“Yeah. She hit the Baileys really hard and, right when my dad was lighting the Christmas pudding, announced she’s bisexual.”

“Oh, really? Good for her”.

Joyce, the bisexual, is the only non-hetero woman in the ad  (another woman announces that she’s straight). I’m guessing the creatives behind this ad, who were clearly going for full on avant-garde, considered lesbians in a DIY shop too much of a cliché.

But what does it all mean? What does sexuality have to do with drill bits? And what happened to the principle of “show, don’t tell”? If Robert Dyas, like so many other brands, are suddenly keen on chasing the pink pound, couldn’t they have just shown a same-sex couple shopping in one of their branches? According to a few of the video’s comments on YouTube (which range from, “im [sic] a trans person… and im not welcome at robert dyas” to “This is fucking gay”) the ad is actually parodying an American commercial from 2009, for something called the Red House Furniture Store. In the Red House ad, which is, as it turns out, even lower budget than the Robery Dyas one, some of the shop’s employees and customers state their race, before pouring accolades onto its chairs. As in, “I’m a black woman, and I love the Red House”. It climaxes, quite stunningly, with the jingle, “The Red House, where black people and white people buy furniture.” This does suggest that, with its slogan, “Robert Dyas, where gays and straights can buy drills and much, much more”, the Robert Dyas is, in fact, self aware.

Whatever the big cheeses at Robert Dyas hoped to achieve with this (still) mind-blowingly bizarre ad, they’ve managed to go viral and, in their own special way, attack the problem of LGBT visibility in advertising. On the whole, I’d rather my sexuality, and that of millions of people worldwide, wasn’t used to sell kitchen implements to bored, suburban parents. But the fact I now feel entirely safe to take a date to a branch of Robert Dyas and make out against a rack of AA batteries fills me with something I can only describe as “Christmas spirit”.