EXCLUSIVE: How The John Lewis Christmas Ad Was Made

As John Lewis's much-anticipated Christmas advert launches, we chat exclusively to Rachel Swift, head of marketing for brand, about how it all came together.

It’s that time of year, people. The much-hyped John Lewis Christmas advert has landed, which can only mean one thing – the festive season has officially begun! Watch the ad below, and find out how Monty the penguin came to life from the creative brains behind the operation, the retailer’s head of marketing for brand, Rachel Swift. Rachel also happens to be Marie Claire‘s latest @Work mentor, so scroll down to find out how you could get a chance to learn from her, one-on-one…

With the tag line, “Give someone the Christmas they’ve been dreaming of”, we can promise that you will fall in love with the oh-so-adorable story of one boy and his penguin. Scroll to the bottom to watch the ad.
Here, Rachel gives us an insight into how everything came together…
The concept:

‘The creative idea changes every year but the heart of our Christmas strategy remains the same: it’s all about thoughtful gifting, because at John Lewis we feel that people can go the extra mile to find the perfect present for the one they love. We connect that idea with emotional storytelling to create a really powerful campaign. 
The whole process starts very early in the year. We give our advertising agency a month off in January, while we review last year’s campaign and look at what our competitors did. We then give the agency a clear brief about what we want and they come back to us in March with about 5 or 6 creative ideas. At that stage, we tend to gravitate towards the idea that’s a bit different and that people are most likely to have an emotional reaction to. As soon as we saw this concept, we had a strong feeling that it would resonate with customers. But it’s all a very organic, fluid process, and there’s lots of tweaking and revising over time. The idea evolves quite a lot from what we initially see to what you see now, and we work really closely and collaboratively with the agency throughout.

The penguin:
As soon as we heard the name Monty, we thought it was so befitting! He just looks like a Monty, doesn’t he? We modelled him on real-life Adelie penguins. We got footage of the penguins in their Antarctic environment and essentially transferred their behaviour to a human setting. When you see Monty collecting Lego and dropping it into the box for Sam, the little boy, that was based on the way an Adelie penguin picks up stones to build a nest. Because of the CGI element, we had a model of Monty that the actor, Rhys, had to interact with while shooting. One of the great things about Rhys was the he was able to do that so authentically. 

The shoot:
The build-up to the shoot takes quite a while, because it’s a long process in terms of getting the right casting. There’s also a huge internal operation that has to take place at John Lewis, where we get all the clothes and props ready, because everything you see in the advert is available to buy from us, right down to the Christmas decorations and wrapping paper. Some of it even has to be specially manufactured because it’s not in production while we’re shooting in July. It was a five-day shoot, but we ended up having to have an extra day on set because we had some really bad weather during the snow scene – there was a torrential storm and the fake snow was melting away as fast as we could get it on the ground! 
The soundtrack:
Choosing the song is quite a tricky process. We narrow it down to two tracks that we like, and then ask artists to come in and demo on them to see what works. The music is absolutely crucial – it really makes or breaks the ad. We had quite a few tracks on the table, and we were right up to the wire when it came to making a final decision this time. As soon as we heard Tom Odell’s version of John Lennon’s “Real Love” we knew straight away that it was the one, though. It’s such a beautiful track and the lyrics really bring the relationship between Monty and Sam to life. We needed an artist who could do the song justice and bring their own personality to the track, and Tom was great. He’s such a nice guy and was really easy to work with. We gave him a clear brief about the sentiment that we wanted him to communicate and the pace that we wanted for the song. The picture and the sound have to work really harmoniously together.’
A whole host of Monty-inspired products are launching in store today, including fluffy toys and a children’s book called “Monty’s Christmas”. You can listen to the story, narrated by Dermot O’Leary, by downloading the app now. 

Fancy being mentored by Rachel? Every month, Marie Claire introduces an inspirational and successful woman, who could help turn your career around. Apply here before 31 January 2015. 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iccscUFY860

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