Every year over the last decade, John Lewis has released the Christmas TV ad that defines the bar for what other British brands must exceed. There must be a ton of pressure on the brand team and the agency. Below, I will show every John Lewis ad over the last decade for you to compare the 2019 ad against. Moreover, we can now start to see quite a lot of wobbling from year to year. This year’s spot introduces a cute fire-wielding dragon named Edgar, who keeps burning everything with his flames, until they find a better use for his talents. The simple moral of the story is we all have our strengths. It scores high on the cuteness factor, but low on being different enough to breakthrough, and lower on creating magic for the season, with no tears or goosebumps. It will do well, but not be one of the John Lewis ads that are talked about for years. Overall, a solid 7/10. I wish it was higher.
The 2019 John Lewis Christmas Ad
Scoring the 2019 John Lewis Christmas ad
- In year 10 of Christmas ads, any John Lewis Christmas spot will grab some attention. This year’s version will be moderate at best.
- We’ve seen this type of spot from John Lewis with Moz in 2017, the penguin in 2014, and the bear in 2013. Being around unpredictable is fine, but bouncing doesn’t build assets to be used in the future.
- A very simple fable with a simple message of we all have our strengths is ok, feels a lot lighter than other years for John Lewis.
- High on cute, low on stickiness. Nothing overly emotional to make this a memorable John Lewis spot. Five years from now, it likely won’t be on anyone’s top 3 list.
The best advertising must balance being creatively different and strategically smart.
When ads are smart but not different, they get lost in the clutter. It is natural for marketers to tense up when the creative work ends up being “too different.” In all parts of the business, marketers are trained to look for past proof as a sign something will work. However, when it comes to advertising if the ads start too similar to what other brands have already done, then the advertising will be at risk of boring your consumers, so you never stand out enough to capture their attention. Push your comfort with creativity and take a chance to ensure your ad breaks through.
When ads are different but not smart, they will entertain consumers, but do nothing for your brand. Your advertising must be smart enough to trigger the desired consumer response to match your brand strategy.
All the previous John Lewis Christmas ads
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 ads generate a lot of talk value at the lunch table and in the pubs. Obviously, depending on views, that talk will be fairly mixed. Some will say they nailed it; others will say they’ve seen better John Lewis. My favourite is from 2011, 2010 and 2015. What are your top 3?
2018: Elton John
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. 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?
2017: Moz the Monster
This 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 feels like a cross between Monsters Inc. and the Monty the Penguin they did a few years ago.
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.
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.
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.
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 one is my favorite John Lewis Christmas ad. Tells the story in a very emotional way and communicates the art of giving which is what the season should be about.
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.
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.
Here are some of the best Christmas ads I have seen
John Lewis is certainly a beloved brand and one of the examples in our book
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