Advertising Strategy / Opinion

An opportunity missed for John Lewis this Christmas


My most eagerly-awaited Christmas advert has just been released – and I can’t help being disappointed.

John Lewis’s latest work maintains a story-telling theme, when I think that they should have spent the time (and money) developing narrative.

If you haven’t seen the ad yet, here it is:

It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

You can’t fault the direction, song choice, story thinking.

You can’t fault John Lewis or Adam & Eve DDB for trying (although I’m tempted to suggest that last year’s offering was so perfect it adheres to the ‘If it ain’t broke…’ rule).

However, there are three small criticisms I want to raise at the get-go.

1) The ad is on an epic scale.  Even before I learnt that it was filmed in New Zealand and that the brand is offering up a holiday to the country as a social prize (neat integrated thinking), I was reminded of shots from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

This is a bit of a problem, because Christmas isn’t epic.  It’s a season made up of many intimate, small, memories and actions.    Christmas is the small presents chosen with meaning, the surprised faces, the satisfied glow of a meal well cooked.  Epic is too big.

2) The action is outside looking in.  The young girl sees her snowman disappear, and opens the curtains to see him reappear a few days later.

The brilliance of John Lewis 2011 is that we – the viewer – are part of the action.  We’re drawn into the situation by virtue of the camera angles and the emotional deluge that the direction brings.

2012, by contrast, is all about watching someone watching something else.  We, and the girl, are distinct from the actual action of the ad by virtue of the window that she looks out of.

3) There’s no dramatic tension.  It’s an interesting idea, well executed, but there’s not the huge tear-jerking twist.  After 2011, sweet doesn’t quite cut it.

But these criticisms aren’t where I think that the biggest opportunity was missed.

Last year’s ad won heart and minds.

It made people cry.

It resonated.

It was a story set within the larger story that we all lived – have lived – in Christmas’s present and past.

So why not capitalise on that?

Why not develop narrative, rather than push out another story?

Earlier this week, I blogged about storytelling being the Thing of The Moment, and suggesting that brands might like to consider developing narrative instead of stories.

John Lewis had the perfect opportunity to do just this.  And they missed it.

Here’s what I would have done…

I would have re-employed the same family, the same actors, to star in this year’s ad.

I’d have looked at what other break-through, cut-through, pieces of insight there were around Christmas, and developed the advert around these in the same domestic setting.

Perhaps we could have had a story centring around the parents sneaking into their son’s bedroom to fill his stocking, which he greets with expressions of joy when he awakes in the morning.

“He’s been!” The little boy could cry, scampering through to his parent’s bedroom.  “He’s been!”*

Perhaps we could have had the little boy tying a string from his big toe to the door handle, so that when Santa creeps into his bedroom, he’ll be awoken.  We’d see the parents cut the string as they lay out presents – what awe, what wonder would then be transmitted as the boy awakes?**

Or maybe we could have had the family buying gifts for another relative, someone going through hard times, someone who will take more from a family Christmas than a car load of presents.

Perhaps we could have had gifts bought and donated to someone less fortunate.  Imagine that.  Christmas as altruistic giving, which could be supported in-store by a charity gift drive.  The possibilities here are endless.

You see where I’m going with this…

My suggestions build narrative, not story.

The reappearance of the family links one year to the next, reinforcing the brand’s other message that they’ve been in business and stable for generations.

If narrative is the collection of small, interlinked, stories, then working this into Christmas 2012’s message would have been perfect.

It would demonstrate that dependability, reliability.

It would benefit from the positive associations with Christmas 2011’s advert.

It would give us, as viewers, the chance to experience the family growing up, living their lives in a perfect representation of an ongoing narrative.

And it gives huge opportunity for future advertising campaigns…

The ad is good, don’t get me wrong.  But I think in choosing story over narrative, the brand has missed an important opportunity that it will be more difficult to capitalise on in the future.

But enough from me – what do you think?  I would love to know your opinions.

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.

*The little boy is, of course, referring to Santa.  Any allegations that this was me when I was 4/5 may, or may not, be unfounded. Or true.

**My Grandfather, apparently, did this as a small boy.  It’s his story, which he told me when I was very young.  And I’ve never forgotten it, believing as I did at the time in Santa Claus.

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3 thoughts on “An opportunity missed for John Lewis this Christmas

  1. I agree, beautifully shot and styled but lacking the warmth of last year’s ad. Saying that it was always going to be hard for John Lewis to top last year’s effort as it was the perfect Christmas ad.

    Not sure about building a narrative though as it would feel too generic and would restrict them going forward. At least they have been brave and tried something new and original and for that I applaud them, even though it doesn’t reach the heights of last years effort.

    • Hiya Stephen

      I agree – 2011’s work is one of those stand out ads that topping would be almost impossible to do. Even if something of equal/greater impact was delivered, that ad would still be the first in the line…

      As for the narrative, I disagree (but then I would!). Granted it couldn’t run forever and shouldn’t be seen in the same light as BT or Gold Blend, but linking the two works could still have given an impression of evolution, progression etc.

      Narrative like this would probably have a couple of year life span, if that. But you could follow the family for a while as they make the most of the John Lewis range of products for all seasons.

      You could have the John Lewis family as per BT’s evolution, although it would have to be handled in a much more refined style!

      Seeing this ad does make me wonder what they’ll do next, although with slightly lower expectations….

      Neil

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