John Lewis

A top ad exec explains why John Lewis adverts actually make us cry

And how they go about avoiding a Kendall Jenner Pepsi disaster...

Words by Victoria Fell

‘Tis officially the season, thanks to the release of the John Lewis 2018 Christmas advert today, featuring Elton John.

Since 2011, the retailer has been making us laugh, cry and occasionally scratch our heads (we’re looking at you, Moon Man) with their yearly offering.

But what’s the magic formula for a perfect festive advert? We spoke to Vicki Holgate, chief strategy officer at FCB Inferno (the agency behind Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign) to ask her why John Lewis are so successful with their campaigns:

How do you go about making a great ad?

‘The first step is to understand your audience and their hopes, dreams and goals in life. People are driven by their goals, and once you understand those, you can work out what the product can credibly offer to help achieve them.’

How do you avoid a Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad disaster?

‘It is easy to get blinkered if you persuade yourself that what you are doing is right and you don’t allow any questioning.  Often people are too scared to raise their hand to challenge a particular direction, and once money has been spent it is hard to pull the plug. Working in diverse teams can really help here because it naturally brings different points of view which acts as a checking mechanism.’

Do you think there is a ‘magic formula’ for John Lewis Christmas ads?

‘There are lots of layers to people’s needs with regards to adverts, and this is particularly true at Christmas time. The pressures of gifting, bringing people together, coming home and family relationships, as well as the nation’s mood, come into play.
 It sounds simple, but it is based on the work of a number of scientists, anthropologists, psychologists and economists.’

What can bloggers and social media influencers learn from advertisers about creating a strong personal brand?

‘Definitely the art of understanding what is driving that audience. Conversely, brands can learn a huge amount from the honesty and authenticity that bloggers and influencers exude.’

How does the ad compare to previous years?

The Long Wait (2011) was probably the first one that really started making them famous and is still my favourite. It was the first of its kind and had such a surprising twist that caught everyone out – that he was waiting so eagerly to give, not to get –  and the story and execution were an absolute masterpiece.’

Why do John Lewis adverts make us cry?

‘It’s well known that advertising that capture people’s imaginations and triggers emotions is more likely to be successful, and, as previously mentioned, emotions are heightened during the Christmas period. John Lewis realised both of these things,  so they changed the nature of their advertising to specifically target this.’

Is the mini feature film advert formula here to stay?

‘Christmas has become the UK equivalent of the Superbowl.  The size of the audience and the anticipation of the advertising has become a phenomenon, but this kind of build-up only works if that ad is of the highest quality.  It is a perfect value exchange – the ad is selling something, but also brings joy into the lives of the people it is selling to. Get it right and ads will bring joy to both your customers and shareholders.’

For extra #festivefeels, we’ve rounded up the past six years of John Lewis Christmas adverts – enjoy!

The Long Wait – 2011

Vicki’s favourite, this was the first time John Lewis used its Christmas ad to tell a full story.  If that wasn’t enough of a gamble, the ad doesn’t even explicitly feature their products AND the whole thing was soundtracked by a Smiths song, a band not traditionally known for being uplifting. Despite all of this, it just works.

The Journey – 2012

The Journey gave us all major relationship goals when the snowman travelled for days to get his snowlady wife a pair of John Lewis gloves and a scarf. Make your partner watch this before Christmas shopping to set the bar high.

The Bear & The Hare – 2013

A sweet friendship between a bear and a hare, a Lily Allen soundtrack and a very special present – enough said.

#MontythePenguin – 2014

We simply had to include this gorgeous depiction of a little boy and his favourite toy. A combination of picturesque winter scenes, haunting music and unbelievable CGI makes this one of the strongest John Lewis ads to date.

Man on the Moon – 2015

The man on the moon made us more emotional than most John Lewis adverts, with the chain choosing to spread an important message about loneliness around the festive time instead. Just the name makes us grab for the tissues!

Buster the Boxer – 2016

Moz the Monster – 2017

Dogs are great, trampolines are great – but combined? They’re seriously, seriously great. For pure Christmas joy and escapism , John Lewis‘s 2016 advert cannot be beaten.

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