He Said What? Marks & Spencer Denies Its G-Rated Christmas Ad Contains an F-Bomb

Grey London spot is tied to new Paddington movie

Headshot of Tim Nudd

Beloved children’s character Paddington Bear stars in Grey London’s new Christmas commercial for British retailer Marks & Spencer. And a charming little tale it is—though the focus has been derailed a bit by the question of whether the burly burglar in the spot says something rude to little Paddington.

The ad, timed to the opening of the movie Paddington 2, begins with Paddington dreaming of marmalade after he’s settled into bed on Christmas Eve. But soon he hears a thud on the roof, and stumbles upon a burglar—but believes he’s actually Santa. Paddington then takes the startled burglar on a tour of the neighborhood, giving the stolen presents back to their rightful owners, and becoming buddies with him along the way.

Eventually, the burglar starts to feel the Christmas spirit too. And at the 1:12 mark, he goes in to give Paddington a hug. “Thank you, little bear,” he says—but a number of viewers in Britain shockingly thought he said something else.

A quick browse of Twitter shows just how many people heard an F-bomb come out of the burglar’s mouth. Here are a few of the tweets:

If you listen closely to that moment in the ad, it’s certainly not as clear of a “Thank you” as it could be. Although Marks & Spencer disagrees. Asked about the controversy, M&S said there should be no confusion. The spokesperson told Adweek:

He’s saying, ‘Thank you, little bear.’ We think it’s really clear. We wouldn’t change the ad.

It’s hard to believe M&S would consider stirring up a controversy like this on purpose. On the other hand, you can understand why people were taken aback.

M&S is hopefully amused and not annoyed by the development, as the spot itself is delightfully made—and deserves more eyeballs regardless of how people arrive at it. And in a first for M&S, the advert has been turned into a children’s Christmas storybook, which profits to be donated to the NSPCC to help fund its vital Childline service over the Christmas season.

“Paddington has enchanted children and families all over the world for nearly 60 years which is why we couldn’t turn down the chance to bring the wonderfully endearing, much-loved British character and his world into the heart of our Christmas campaign this year,” says Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, executive director of customer, marketing and M&S.com. “We always want to surprise and delight our customers; the timing is perfect as we’re partnering together just ahead of the release of Paddington 2.”

“Paddington injects the sense of joy, love and neighborly spirit that makes Christmas feel magical and our story reflects the inclusive, make the most of every moment approach that we take to our customer conversations,” adds Rob Weston, brand and marketing director at M&S.

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@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.