John Lewis Ads, past and present

4th July 2021

Christmas has certainly arrived early this year, with reports stating a 50% increase in searches for ‘Christmas gifts’ compared to previous years and browsers starting their Christmas shopping in mid-July. It’s no wonder all the major retail brands have jumped on this and dropped their Christmas adverts weeks earlier than their usual launch date, and the beloved and eagerly anticipated John Lewis and Partners’ ad is no exception.

The creative agency behind the John Lewis adverts? 

Nope. It’s not us. But we still love them just the same! Previously created by London Agency, Adam and Eve, the adverts have become among the most popular television campaigns of all time with people up and down the country, scrambling to discover what date the new John Lewis advert will be released, year on year.  But why are they continually such a success and how have they become such an annual talking point?

Christmas Sentiment

Christmas is a time that evokes emotion in the majority of households in the UK. To some it is a time to bring family together and for others it is a time to reflect on what has been lost.

John Lewis have been producing big budget adverts for many years, but the ‘Long Wait’ campaign in 2011 was the first to really strike a chord with the nation. Directed by Dougal Wilson, it depicts a small boy, like so many others desperately waiting for Christmas day to arrive. The view makes the assumption that he is waiting for his own gifts, however, when Christmas morning arrives it turns out that in fact he was eagerly awaiting the 25th, so that he could give a gift of his own to his parents. Paired with a cover version of the Smiths’ ‘please, please, please, let me get what I want’ the ad caused wide spread discussion and clouded many an eye with a tear or two.

From then, the campaigns have continued to grow.  From a trampolining boxer dog to a man on the moon, the John Lewis Christmas adverts have pulled at heartstrings and become a Christmas tradition in their own right.

Carefully selected soundtracks  

The music selected is key to the advert’s success, with well known singles being recrafted especially for the advert’s soundtrack. Artists featured on the John Lewis advert soundtrack naturally see their sales rocket; four of the chosen songs have hit the UK top 10, with ‘The Power of Love’ covered by Gabrielle Aplin and ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ covered by Lily Allen both reaching number one. The original artists also receive a boost in record sales.

Films in their own right

With big budget directors, clever short stories and top class animators, the John Lewis ads have become films in their own right.

The ‘Bear and the Hare’ animation which showed the friendship between two woodland animals, showcased the adverts as short films more than any before.

Merchandise and charity support

In addition to regular seasonal sales, the ads have also helped to boost sales of merchandise for the stores. ‘Monty the Penguin’ toys sold out within 24 hours of his release. In fact, penguin toy sales on eBay increased overall by 300% following the lovable penguin being featured in the advert. Sales of the ‘Man on the Moon’ merchandise also happily benefited the Age UK charity.

2017 saw Moz the Monster introduced to our screens, following leaks in the press of a “Gruffalo style monster”, it seems the speculation was pretty close to the truth. Moz strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young boy called Joe who is unable to sleep at night, thanks to Moz snoring under his bed. 

10% of the takings of the “Moz the Monster” plush toys was donated to Banardo’s. 

Famous faces 

2018 featured the UK’s very own Elton John, and his lookalikes, as we watched a young Elton receive his very first piano. 

We’ve been doing John Lewis Christmas ads for some time now and what’s on my mind is how we move it on creatively but hold on to the heart of what makes them special, I hope audiences will watch this and really enjoy the national treasure that is Elton John.” ” Craig Inglis, customer director at John Lewis. 

In a typical flourish of marketing campaign genius the signage at their flagship store was adjusted to show just “John” in a teaser prior to the advert release. 

Fakes, alternatives and serious competitors

As with all creative industry success, there will of course always be competition and impersonators and the John Lewis adverts have not been without their fair share of piggy-backers. 2016 saw student Nick Jablonka launch his A-level coursework, masquerading as the long awaited offering from the retailer. Fooling the nation with over 375,000 people viewing it in the first few days alone. 

2018 saw Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot fighting for the top spot, with their own parody of the Coca Cola “Holidays are coming” short film. Last year Kevin made a return to our screens alongside the “leafy blinders” beating John Lewis to their release.

The 2020 John Lewis Christmas Advert

Released on 13th November, the 2020 John Lewis Christmas advert ‘Give a Little Love’  injected some joy into what had been an otherwise bleak year for retail and the public. At one point, the retail giant had considered not doing the advert at all but felt that the message of spreading kindness and promoting charity was needed more than ever. 

The advert follows a chain reaction, with one act of kindness inspiring another. We loved the variety of illustration techniques that had been used to add a fresh dynamic to the advert including CGI, drawn elements, clay stop frame animation and more. Instead of one team of creatives, John Lewis employed multiple artists and designers to bring the advert together, reflecting the essence of the adverts message right through the core of its production. As a creative agency, we take our hats off to them for that!

We love speculating about what the adverts will be and how they will be perceived and of course should we have been given the opportunity, what direction we would have taken it in. It has become somewhat of a tradition on the release date to gather around a desk to watch it together.

The 2021 John Lewis Christmas advert is here!

In keeping with last year’s message of kindness and charity, this year’s advert ‘Unexpected Guest’ encourages the idea of being kind to those you love and strangers alike. Following 14-year-old Nathan who spots a UFO crash landing on his bus ride home, Nathan takes it upon himself to show space traveler Skye the magic of Christmas. John Lewis’ customer director Claire Pointon says “After the last 18 months, we wanted our advert to really celebrate this as we look forward to a brighter future… We know our customers are excited for this festive season more than ever, as they reconnect with family and friends.”

Over the years, the John Lewis ads have become more akin to short films, but this year’s production in particular resembles what we’d expect of the next installment in the Marvel film series. Therefore, it’s fitting that the advert is getting a cinema run after they were shut throughout 2020, Pointon added that “Bond has brought cinema back and the ad is going to look beautiful on the big screen.”

This ad is all about joy and escapism, and the immersive experience doesn’t stop there. John Lewis have taken it upon themselves to create space themed Snapchat filters, as well as setting up Christmas stations in 10 of their stores where customers can experience standing under the spaceship and make their own animated gifs. Previous years have seen a cuddly favourite sell out on the first day, but this year, the retail giant found there weren’t any stand out options for merchandise. Instead all products featured in the ad are available to buy in stores including a sustainable version of Nathan’s Christmas jumper.

Any way, thats enough from us, we know you are likely only here to watch the latest instalment in the John Lewis Christmas legacy, so here you go…

Is the newest advert a success?

Well that of course is in the eye of the beholder, but we certainly approve.

As far as a creative agency and retailer is concerned of course John Lewis and their ad partner have already achieved their goal, they are getting tongues wagging and some serious publicity, often without even releasing the advert… when it is well received too, well that’s the icing on the (Christmas) cake.

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