The new John Lewis Christmas ad for 2021 is out and feels very safe with a predictable story about an alien spaceship landing in the forest. I don’t hate it or love it. That’s what happens with a safe ad.
I’ll give this year’s ad a 6.0 out of 10.
Have a look below.
The problem with safe
John Lewis has been releasing Christmas ads for over a decade. Back in 2009-2011, they set up an expectation of greatness. Since then, everyone anticipates the release, usually on a Friday in early November.
There is little story. The spaceship lands, kid meets alien, teaches them about a few superficial elements of Christmas. The alien leaves with a sweater. The kid never taught them about the meaning of Christmas.
It’s ok. A few will like it. No one will love it. No one will hate it; other than those of us in the industry who expect more. It does not speak to anything happening in 2021. There is no lasting message. And not even a song we’ll remember. This won’t be anyone’s favorite, no one will debate it in the pub or around the Christmas table.
In the graph below, it falls down into the “Not smart and not different” space. It will be forgotten before we open our gifts.
But, I do look forward to the 2022 ad.
Past John Lewis Christmas ads
For over a decade, there has been hysteria and anticipation for the John Lewis Christmas ad, but that may be dying down if they fail to deliver. During the era of 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. Obviously, 2020 and 2021 have been difficult times for all of retail. This won’t really do anything to help.
Out of all the John Lewis Christmas ads, my top 3 favourites are 2011, 2010, and 2015. What are your top 3?
2020 John Lewis Christmas Ad
John Lewis Christmas ad reignites the magic of John Lewis, similar to how 2011 introduced the idea of giving. We see a simple meandering storyline with small little ways to give a little love. The moral of the story is we can all do our part, a message we have heard many times in 2020. Yet, they do so without overt Covid talk. It will do well, but maybe in a more subtle way than the best John Lewis Christmas ads of the past. Not quite goosebumps, tears or magic. Overall, an 7.5/10.
2019: Edgar the dragon
Last year’s John Lewis Christmas ad introduced a cute fire-wielding dragon named Edgar, who kept 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 is ok, a bit safe, but not be one of the Christmas ads that are talked about for years. Overall, a solid 7/10. I wish it was higher.
2018: Elton John
This ad is a 9 if it was for an Elton John movie coming out. However, it’s only a 6 for a John Lewis Christmas ad. 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 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 John Lewis Christmas ad was extremely safe. Likely the last few years, they hve 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. This ad falls a little flat, compared to previous 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. I truly loved it. My second favorite John Lewis Christmas 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 John Lewis Christmas 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 “familiar-John-Lewis-magic” each year.
2011: Counting Down
This 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 Christmas ad 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 John Lewis Christmas ad was the starting point for the great advertising 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.