British retail giant Marks & Spencer (M&S) has issued a public apology and has removed a Christmas advert post on its Instagram following a social media uproar.

The controversial image, depicting traditional Christmas paper party hats in red green and silver hats burning in a fireplace, was perceived by some on social media as resembling the Palestinian flag.

The retailer, founded in 1884, clarified that the advert was recorded in August, before the Israel-Hamas conflict escalated, emphasising the inadvertent nature of the association.

In response to the backlash, M&S promptly deleted the Instagram post and issued a statement on X (formerly Twitter), expressing regret and explaining the playful intent behind the image.

The company emphasised that the goal was to highlight the light-hearted notion that not everyone enjoys wearing paper Christmas hats during the festive season.

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Support and criticism

While the advert drew criticism from some social media users who found the imagery distasteful, others defended M&S, highlighting the traditional Christmas colours of the hats.

Queer Eye presenter Tan France, featured in the advert, dismissed the criticism, pointing out that the ad was shot in August, distancing it from the ongoing conflict.

Regulatory scrutiny

The Advertising Standards Authority received 40 complaints about the Instagram post but is currently reviewing them to determine if further action is necessary.

The regulator clarified that it is not currently investigating the advert itself.

M&S’s apology and withdrawal of the Christmas advert underscore the challenges faced by global companies in navigating sensitive geopolitical issues in their marketing campaigns.