John Lewis Christmas Ad: A Symphony of Anticipation, Commuter Reactions, and the Unexpected Twist in Advertising
Written by Emily Luscombe, Chief Client Officer at Instinctif Partners.
Every year, I wait with eyes peeled, earbuds at the ready, for the big reveal. That momentous point in mid-November when Britain’s best-loved retailer sets the tone for Christmas.
That anticipation of the imagery, the soundtrack, the talking animal. But what really fires me up is the debate. Everyone in Britain seems to have a view on this particular advert.
Apparently, I’m not alone. On the 7.33 to Waterloo, my earbuds failed to connect. I started merrily playing to 100 fellow passengers the somewhat unexpected sounds of Andrea Bocelli announcing John Lewis’s big bet 2023 (does John Lewis even sell Venus Flytraps? Wasn’t this always the point…with the stuffed penguin that comes to life, the badger-bouncing-trampoline, that you might want these on your Christmas list…?)
But as I turned to apologise to said commuters, I realised no one was complaining. They are all listening too! “Oh, fantastic. Is that the John Lewis ad?” “I need to listen – where did you find it?” “Oh, are you in marketing? Me too…” (Cue the best train networking since the mid-COVID era when everyone spoke to each other, albeit through three layers of fabric, because you were one of only three people on the train).
And so, as we roll into Clapham Junction, everyone plugs in for a listen. 3 minutes pass. Silence.
“I don’t get it.” “Is this a spoof?” “It’s not actually pleasant to watch.” “It’s a bit highbrow – not exactly Lily Allen, is it?”
Almost universal disappointment. Back to the Today programme.
M&S tried a similar approach this year. At this point, I should probably confess that I may be the late Meatloaf’s biggest fan, so I am entirely biased here. Sophie Ellis-Bextor did him justice. The ad is another dark twist, but with wicked good humour that, albeit courting controversy, did do it for me. The creepy horticultural assault on the senses? Not so much.
I like to think I am pretty creative. I get brand strategy. I don’t fully get this effort by Saatchi & Saatchi, John Lewis’s new creative shop after they stepped away from long-time partner adam & eve DDB. But I am also quietly impressed. Because John Lewis isn’t trying to sell Venus Flytraps, they are trying to get people talking. And if my sample of commuters is anything to go by, they’ve well and truly done it. Again.
Advertising is supposed to be subjective. Reactions are always personal. Often polarised. The ads that get talked about most in mainstream media generally have to offend and be subject to ASA review to secure column inches. This morning, the JL ad 2023 has earned itself an editorial in most national papers. They needed a creative treatment that was fresh, would spark conversation, possibly not appeal – but certainly not offend.