John Lewis Ads, past and present.
9th November 2023
This year’s high-street Christmas adverts are officially rolling out, and many (including us) couldn’t wait to see the always much-awaited John Lewis Advert and discover what the chosen song would be this year. Often the go-to advert of the season, the high-street giant certainly has competition nowadays with Aldi, M&S, Asda and more vying for that top spot.
We all know the past few years have been a real challenge for many reasons, and with these early November ad releases, it seems Christmas has arrived early. With consumers looking to not only spread the cost but also to spread some much-needed joy, these festive adverts could not come at a better time.
The 2023 John Lewis Advert – Snapper: The Perfect Tree
The Nu Image team gathered to watch ‘Snapper: The Perfect Tree’ this morning, and it certainly has us feeling festive! The ad follows a young boy named Alfie who receives a seed for ‘the perfect Christmas tree’. To everyone’s surprise, a Venus flytrap with a big personality grows with his help, lovingly named ‘Snapper’.
Snapper wants to join in with the festivities and does it in its own unique way, but is eventually cast out for growing too large and mischievous. Alfie is upset, but in the end joins the chilly plant in the garden, soon followed by his family to celebrate around the Venus flytrap instead. The plant gives out presents with such happy energy that the family finds even more joy in this alternative Christmas tree. We do love a happy ending.
Compared to last year’s wonderful and heart-wrenching advert about a dad learning to skateboard for his foster child, this year’s ad is a lot less emotionally intense. With the tagline ‘let your traditions grow’, this ad’s message is all about doing what you love this Christmas, celebrating both old and new traditions.
Nowadays, with the difficulties many have faced in the past years, Christmas can look different from one person to another. No matter how your Christmas looks, no matter the traditions you’ve taken up and the way you do things, it’s a time to celebrate and share your love with those special to you.
The fun and festive vibe is a great way of getting people excited for Christmas who have maybe had a tougher year, showing that you don’t have to stick to the classics to make the day memorable. You don’t always need the decorations or the lights or the traditional finishing touches, as long as you have love.
John Lewis has said of this year’s advert, “Many of us have our own unique festive traditions and that makes them even more special. This film celebrates themes of family and evolving traditions and shows that a ‘perfect’ Christmas is finding joy together with loved ones, whatever your traditions.”
A new classic
For the first time in years, the ad soundtrack wasn’t a pop cover. The song this year was written and produced specifically for John Lewis, a joyous and energetic semi-operatic piece titled ‘Festa’ by Italian classical tenor Andrea Bocelli.
What starts as the typical soft piano you expect from a John Lewis ad, quickly turns into a fantastic piece of complete Christmas mania in musical form. It’s fun and it’s loud, the perfect song to celebrate all types of Christmas. But, will it reach the top 10 in the charts like previous contenders? We will have to wait and see.
The creative agency behind the John Lewis adverts?
Nope. It’s not us. But we still love them just the same! While the John Lewis ads were previously created by London Agency, Adam and Eve, this year they’ve moved to a new agency. Saatchi & Saatchi of London started working on the ad in May and we think they’ve absolutely delivered.
CCO Franki Goodwin said, “It does feel a little bit like taking the reins of a movie franchise” which is understandable. The John Lewis ad is the giant of festive advertising, and no small task to undertake, but the agency has said that opportunity has come with the pressure.
Alongside Saatchi & Saatchi are the French collective Megaforce, directing the ad. Their work on Nike and Burberry sets them apart and helped stop the ad “sway into saccharine”, Goodwin says. They were also said to be instrumental in securing the rock opera soundtrack. They purposefully went with lyrics not in English, so as not to distract audiences from the story.
So, why are the John Lewis ads continually such a success and how have they become such an annual talking point?
Christmas is a time that evokes emotion in the majority of households in the UK. To some, it’s a time to bring family together and for others, it’s a time to reflect on what has been lost.
John Lewis has 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, desperately waiting like so many others 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 widespread discussion and clouded many an eye with a tear or two.
Since 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.
This year, John Lewis has gone in a different route with a rock opera soundtrack to be remembered, which will be released as a charity single by Andrea Bocelli later this year. We’ll definitely be adding it to our festive office playlist, with its Queen-esque chorus singers lifting our Christmas spirits already.
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 were donated to Banardo’s.
There was very little product placement in this year’s ad, focusing more on the message of family and tradition, but for those who have fallen in love with Snapper, there are lots of lovely pieces to buy at John Lewis dedicated to the plant, who is undoubtedly unusual yet perfect in his own way.
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. In recent years, Kevin made a return to our screens alongside the ‘Leafy Blinders,’ beating John Lewis to their release. And of course, who can forget the controversy surrounding Cuthbert the Caterpillar’s arrest in the Aldi Christmas advert in 2021.
The 2021 John Lewis Christmas advert
In keeping with the previous year’s message of kindness and charity, 2021’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 traveller, Skye, the magic of Christmas. John Lewis’ customer director Claire Pointon said, “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.”
This ad focused on joy and escapism, and the immersive experience didn’t stop there. John Lewis created space-themed Snapchat filters, as well as set up Christmas stations in 10 of their stores where customers could experience standing under the spaceship and make their own animated gifs. In years prior, we have seen a cuddly favourite sell out on the first day of the advert release, but in 2021, the retail giant found there weren’t any stand-out options for merchandise. Instead, all products featured in the ad were available to buy in stores including a sustainable version of Nathan’s Christmas jumper.
The 2022 John Lewis Christmas advert
Not a dry eye in the house with 2022’s impactful ad. ‘The Beginner’ followed a dad and his hapless attempts to master the skateboard before the arrival of his foster child, Ellie, ensuring the pair would have something in common.
Pairing back the glitz and glamour and focusing on reality was fitting following the few years we have endured, and certainly using their reach to talk about and raise awareness around such an important subject is a commendable move. It proved a hit with the viewers, with many crediting it as the best and most emotionally hard-hitting advert produced by the John Lewis team yet. John Lewis stated, “In a challenging year, we felt it was important to demonstrate that it’s what we do that matters most,” adding it was proud to use its Christmas ad to “generate conversation and action around an often overlooked issue.”
Whilst product placement was kept to a minimum, in order to support the featured charities consumers were able to buy select products in-store such as the Lewis bear, pyjamas, a tote bag or a skateboard, with 25% of the sales donated to Action for Children and Who Cares? Scotland.
Was the new advert worth the wait?
We love speculating about what the adverts will be, 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.
Overall, the new advert has been a hit here. We loved the lightheartedness of the ad, paired with its encouraging message of being proud and embracing your traditions, no matter what they are. It’s sweet, energetic and a little bit silly, getting us excited for the holidays while supporting our differences.
Above all, it portrays compassion and love. Traditions have changed over the last few years and not all of them are going to be for voluntary reasons, but the true meaning of Christmas remains the same: love. Dress up your Christmas however you want, it will still be beautiful if it is full of love for each other.