The new John Lewis ad with Elton John fails to deliver Christmas

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands in the Market

The new John Lewis 2018 Christmas advertising is finally out. It was well known the British retailer would be using Elton John, but not many of us knew to what extent. The ad does a great job in showing Elton’s entire life story, moving backward, to see the source of his inspiration for music. It is well done. However, it’s not a Christmas ad. It doesn’t capture the joy of giving. There’s no surprising twist. It’s a celebrity ad, but is it a John Lewis ad?

I’ll give this sir Elton spot a solid 7/10.

It’s a 9 if it was for an Elton John movie coming out. It’s a 6 for Christmas. Yes, it’s enjoyable. Warm. Good story telling. It’s good but not great. Sadly, Elton won’t save Christmas for the John Lewis stores.

Ugh: Borrowed Equity

The idea of “borrowed equity” is where you take something well-known in the marketplace and try to link it to your brand communication. It rarely works. It’s fine to use a song to tell your story, but never let the story get in the way of your brand. In this case, the Elton John equity overwhelms the John Lewis brand, and it overwhelms the power of Christmas. It becomes a great Elton John ad, not a great John Lewis ad.

When I see brands use “borrowed equity,” it usually means they find their own brand too dull. Look below at the 2011 John Lewis ad, and tell me if it is boring. Alternatively, did the people at John Lewis get bored with your own brand?

This Elton John ad could easily have been used  to announce the merger of John Lewis and Waitrose, and we would have thought “hey, that’s a nice spot.”  As for a Christmas ad, this one flops.

The pressure seems to be getting to brands

For a few years, there was hysteria and anticipation for the John Lewis Christmas ad, but that may be dying down if they fail to deliver. During the era amazing John Lewis advertising they were able to link the advertising with sales growth of 5-8%. The connectivity with consumers was helping buck the declines other retailers were facing with e-Commerce.

The ad will generate a lot of talk value at the lunch table and in the pubs. However, that talk will be fairly mixed. Some will say they nailed it; others will say they’ve seen enough of Elton John, and others will say it’s not about Christmas.

Will it work?

What it won’t do is separate John Lewis from the pack this holiday season, nor will it drive consumers into their stores. It fails to communicate on the joy of giving, which John Lewis had nailed so well. It will be memorable for those who love Elton John, who is likely over 50 or 60, but certainly not under 25.

So now the ad team will start working on those scripts for 2019. My advice: watch the 2011 spot and give your consumers a story like that. It’s ok if it looks similar. That’s what people want. Comfort.

Here’s the best Christmas ad John Lewis made:

History of John Lewis Christmas advertising

Look below at the history of John Lewis Christmas ads. To me, the best ones are 2011 (I’d say this is a 10/10), 2010 (I’d give it a 9/10) and 2014 (Another 9/10).

2017: Moz the monster

Last year’s spot was extremely safe. Likely the last few years, John Lewis has bounced around quite a bit, struggling to nail down a spot that delivered on the formula of 2009 to 2012 when they were pure magic.

To me, the ad is OK, but not great. It’s cute, but not brilliant. It falls a little flat, compared to previous John Lewis ads. It has a monster, which a cross between Monsters Inc. and the Monty the Penguin they did a few years ago. I didn’t like that one either. Ugh. I just wish it was better. I wish it was like 2010 or 2011 when John Lewis made the best Chrtimas ads.

2016: Buster the Boxer

Pretty simple story. Kid likes to bounce on things. Dad builds a trampoline. Animals come out and bounce on it. Dog sees them and is jealous. Dog bounces on the trampoline before the kid gets to it. Kid disappointed?  Mom and Dad disappointed? No one seems happy. But a dog on a video gets tons of views.


2015: Man on the Moon

This spot was great on story telling, but it might have gone overboard on sad. But I truly loved it. My second favorite John Lewis ad next to the 2011 spot.

Yes, the man on the moon is a metaphor (sorry, there really isn’t a man on the moon) for reaching out and giving someone a gift. For me, this ad quickly reminds me of when my own kids are on the phone or FaceTime with my mom. There is a certain magic in the innocence and simplicity when the very young talk with older people. They both seem to get it, maybe sometimes more than the in-between ages where the innocence of Christmas is lost within their busy schedules.

2014:  Monty the Penguin:

Pretty simple ad, a little similar to the 2017 spot. The imaginary penguin becomes his best friend, and in the end, he gets a penguin toy for Christmas. In 2017, the imaginary monster becomes his best friend and the monster gives him a toy so he won’t be scared at night. Pretty damn safe. Seems to be targeting younger moms and their toddlers.

2013: The Bear and the Hare

This ad a bit of a departure, going to animation and utilizing on-line and in-store media. This campaign seems trying too hard to capitalize on their success. Doesn’t feel like a fit for the depth of story-telling of the 2010 or 2011. I get the sense they felt they were too dark on tone in 2012, so they went very light in 2013.

2012: Snowman

The “snowman” ad went a bit too dark for me with missed the tone feeling like a slight miss for John Lewis. I felt they were trying too hard.  Maybe feeling the pressure to keep the campaign alive by being different when really the consumer just wants the fast-becoming-familiar-John-Lewis-magic each year.

2011: Counting down

This is my favorite John Lewis ad from 2011, about the boy who couldn’t wait for Christmas. Great story telling about the boy who could not wait, but with a nice surprise at the end. You will notice the “Man on the Moon” feels very similar. But that’s OK, traditions are allowed to have some repetition to the ritual.

2010: “Your song”

This is also a great one from 2010, with the story telling improving over the 2009 spot and Ellie Goulding’s cover of “Your song” is incredible. With the multiple stories throughout the spot, it has that “Love Actually” quality to the ad.

2009: Sweet Child of Mine

This ad was the starting point for the great advertising John Lewis would do. Engaging video story-telling with a soft cover of a classic song. These would become the trademark of the great John Lewis ads over the next few years.


I guess I’ll have to wait for the 2019 John Lewis Christmas ad!  🙁


Christmas is about 8 weeks away. Expect to see this spot a lot on your social media feed. But, also expect the other UK retailers to compete as they did last year.

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