Advertising Strategy / Opinion

In changing its paradigm, John Lewis misses the mark


Advertising is a tricky thing to get right.  And, if you have a stand-out success, difficult to live up to.

John Lewis has released its latest TV spot which, in my opinion, falls short of the mark they established last Christmas.

Last Christmas, John Lewis stole my heart (along with thousands of others) with this truly stand-out piece of creative:

The insight was absolutely spot on.

And the switch, at the end, was a stroke of pure unadulterated genius.

The advert connected deeply across the social spectrum, with pretty much every channel I’m connected to falling deeply, deeply in love with the message.

Fast forward ten months, and we have this:

The ad story is fairly simple.

Department store commits to the Never Unknowingly Unsold tagline in 1925.

Boy (in 2012) meets girl (1925) thanks to some mystical time travelling portal (I assume).

They fall in love, embark on a relationship.

It’s a universal, unchanging phenomenon.  (Although she’s old enough to be his grandmother. At least.  Possibly his great-grandmother.  Not that I’m judging.)

And, in the background, the store sticks by its values.

Laying aside any references to The Lake House for a moment,  I don’t think that the ad works.

Where’s the emotional sucker punch that makes even the childless and least paternal amongst us (me) well up with tears on every viewing?

For that matter, where’s the message?  Are all of the products and clothes featured in store  (This didn’t matter at Christmas, because John Lewis were pulling a Tiffany’s)? What, exactly, am I meant to take away?

The problem is that John Lewis have changed their paradigm.

Christmas 2011 worked not because it was an advert for a retailer, but because it spoke to the viewer on a deep emotional level.

We were, we know or we birthed that kid.

All of the values of the store were wrapped up in that one brilliant piece of creative.

Today’s offering doesn’t compete on emotional value, no matter how much the story tries to obfuscate the issue with tales of enduring love and soppiness.

What the ad is actually competing on is price.

I have no doubt that the John Lewis marketing team will shed a tear over that statement, because their Never Knowingly Undersold line relates to quality and service, as well as price.

But in this financially strapped times, when consumers are worried about the coins in their pocket, the message is going to be read as one of price.

It translates, roughly, as “You can get the stuff you’re going to buy elsewhere from us at the same or lower price, as far as we know.”

Wrapping a price message up in an imagined love story just doesn’t cut it.

Sorry, John Lewis, but there it is.

(Added to this, your Never Knowingly Undersold landing page, linked from the Youtube video page, kills any passion that I might have had following the advert)

Competing on price is never, ever easy and is usually the domain of the FMCG super providers who can happily slash margins and overheads to drag the consumer kicking and screaming into the fold.

Which is not the tack that John Lewis need to be taking with their core brand propositions as it would be completely out of tune and out of character with their core DNA.

Strategically, the idea of the ad is a good one.

I imagine that the initial pitch brief read along these lines: “Underline the brand’s stability and commitment throughout changing ages as a sharp relief to the universal turmoil that we’re all wrapped up in.”

However, the tactical execution is neither new, insightful nor compelling.  Even if it is pretty and has a wicked soundtrack.

Never Knowingly Undersold may be well true.

But, in this instance, John Lewis have been mis-sold.

Let’s hope future tactical execution can hit the Christmas 2011 highs – because that’s where the real story lies…

Neil Hopkins is a Marketing and Branding Theorist at heart, and a Marketing Communications Manager by day. His blog – interacter – is the primary location he shares insight and information relating to marketing, branding and advertising strategy.
You can follow Neil on Twitter, circle him (like an escaped bull) on Google+ or track him down in any number of other ways.

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3 thoughts on “In changing its paradigm, John Lewis misses the mark

  1. 1) Love the concept. Didn’t like the execution. Split screen is unoriginal and ugly. Lighting is all over the place (e.g. the bike ride) and in many places is poorly lined up (e.g. cinema). It doesn’t work for me. I’d have liked to see a better ending too – something that gave a clearer conclusion.
    2) Never knowingly undersold = completely lost. An acceptable brand affirmation advert, but nothing more. The price message is never touched.
    3) The blatant inclusion of the Samsung tablet is crass and undermines the advert. It is a bad product placement decision and brings no value to either company. Ironically, it will date the advert too and stop it becoming reusable in future years.

    In summary, not bad, but far from what was possible given the heritage, brief and budget. Not a classic this time. Sorry.

  2. Pingback: Christmas is coming. Adland’s getting fat. And it’s not good. | interacter

  3. Pingback: An opportunity missed for John Lewis this Christmas | interacter

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