Posted 10th December 2017 | By ExtraMile

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The John Lewis Christmas advert is an annual, much-anticipated event, and every year hordes of us are ready to devour the latest offering. This year’s story has received mixed reviews here at ExtraMile HQ, but one thing is for sure, they always get us talking.

So, what is it about them that resonate with us – why do we, as consumers, lap them up each year?

There are a number of reasons. Firstly, they are emotionally manipulative – they exploit our desire to feel all ‘warm and gooey’ at Christmas. This, coupled with the high quality, cinematic effect and sweeping music, is a very powerful tool. Ultimately, they capture a certain ‘spirit of Christmas’ that aligns with the morals of all our oldest and most loved Christmas tales – the spirit of giving.

The formula has evolved slightly over the years to bring us the new format of advert we’re so familiar with now. Let’s take a look…

2007 - Shadows

This advert pre-dates the “giving orientated” nature of the following ads and instead focuses on the ‘magic of Christmas’. It plays on the age-old Nutcracker idea of our toys coming alive – even the music is reminiscent of a playful, Tchaikovsky-esque scene (it’s actually Prokofiev taken from Romeo and Juliet, but still). Although Children aren’t the only characters, the ad makes them the focus, bookending the appearances with kids (more on children later…). It ends with the slogan “Whoever you’re looking for this Christmas” (hint – John Lewis has the perfect gift for anyone) which is an idea they hold on to for a few years.

2008 - From Me to You

This marks the start their trademark ‘paired down’ singing – choosing an already famous song and slowing it down (incidentally sung by John Lewis employees). Again, children aren’t the be-all and end-all here but the children’s voices are predominant – focussing on their voices at the start and end. It continues with last year’s idea that “if you know the person, you’ll find the present” (at John Lewis of course), reminding us all that Christmas giving isn’t commercial – it’s personal.

2009 - Sweet Child o' Mine

Another year, another paired down classic song sung by a little-known band. This year is when the “giving” aspect is really fortified, as we focus not only on the ‘right’ present, but also the emotional responses connected to those. Looking at the inner child of the gift recipients add a sweet touch to the ad, and at first you could be fooled into thinking this is actually about the receiving end, until the last line; “Give someone that feeling” (you’re buying happiness, not a scarf).

2010 - A Tribute to Givers

As the title suggests, this year’s ad fully embraces the giving spirit of Christmas, highlighting the care, attention to detail, and love that goes into choosing, and wrapping (and hiding!) presents for your loved ones. Incidentally there are two versions commonly found online, one with an Ellie Goulding cover of ‘Your Song’ and the other with The Bird & The Bee’s covering ‘How deep is your love’ – both about doing all you can to show someone how much you love them.

2011 - The Long Wait

Similarly, to the 2009 ad, you might think, at first, this is about receiving - our protagonist is a child clearly impatient for Christmas. But is that to get his presents? No, it’s for gifts “you can’t wait to give”, again highlighting that good ‘spirit of Christmas’ feeling we can achieve from buying and giving presents (specifically from John Lewis). The formulaic slowed-down, well-known song (female singer again) and emotional conclusion are all here (unsurprising as this is the third ad in a row by the same agency, Adam & Eve).

2012 - The Journey

This year is the first that introduces us to a non-human main character. The ad depicts a lovable child’s snowman, battling through an epic journey to get a gift for his snowwoman counterpart, powered along by another melancholic love song. He’s literally going to great lengths to give, and the last line neatly ties together the brand’s Christmas ad’s two common themes; giving and love - “Give a little more love”. Now when you shop for Christmas gifts at John Lewis, you’re no longer buying a scarf or happiness, you’re buying love.

2013 - The Bear and the Hare

Another year, another loveable character – or two! This advert for me, marks a turning point for John Lewis. Humans now don’t feature at all – it truly is a story with characters and a plot. We see people come back into the frame over the following years but this advert, and many afterwards, are a celebration of the characters. Is this perhaps because John Lewis are now marketing the corresponding soft toys for you to take home and love too? (They actually sold out of Bare and the Hare goods a month before Christmas.) You can not only “Give someone a Christmas they’ll never forget”, but also give them a character from the advert they’ll never forget too.

2014 - Monty the Penguin

Encompassing all the themes of giving, love and bringing the ‘spirit of Christmas’ alive, this clever (and wonderfully formulaic) advert brings a child’s beloved toy to life. This is one compassionate child, recognising that his little buddy Monty also needs someone to love at Christmas. It’s perfect – capturing our hearts with the emotional conclusion (and another heart-wrenching song), seeing the joy of Christmas through the eyes of an innocent child, inspiring us all to be more compassionate ourselves and give from the heart – plus Monty was of course available for sale in John Lewis stores nationwide.

2015 - Man on the Moon

This year’s advert was heralded by a lot of people I’ve spoken to as the “saddest” John Lewis Christmas campaign. Featuring a lonely older gentleman, cut off from the rest of the world, and a young girl who went to great lengths to reach out to him at Christmas (with a gift of course). Without an animated character to make us smile, our heartstrings are tugged and we’re reminded to “Show someone they’re loved this Christmas”. The store also teamed up with charity Age UK, to again remind us all to have some Christmas compassion.

2016 - Buster the Boxer

Buster the Boxer was a shock change in tactic for John Lewis – yes, the lovable characters were still there (this year proceeds went to The Wildlife Trusts) but the plot moved away from weepy and they went for a comedy instead. Was this because last year’s was “too sad”? Or was it because 2016 was such a bad year that we needed something light hearted to pull us through?

2017 - Moz the Monster

Another year, another character. Another themed toy to sell, and in support of another worthy charity. It ticks all the boxes that the John Lewis Christmas ad has become famous for - a heart-warming ending (not too sad, not too funny), a child and his imagination, bringing his adventures to life, a remake of a famous song echoing the sentiment of the storyline… So, is it getting too predictable now? Although I’ve heard mixed feedback on this latest instalment you could argue that Christmas is formulaic, and why should we demand anything else from John Lewis? For me, it does encapsulates that warm, gooey feeling we like to embrace at Christmas-time, and rather than feeling like we’re owed to be awed, I’d rather sit back, enjoy the silliness of it and soak up the emotional manipulation like a Christmas pudding soaking up brandy!


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