John Lewis’s Christmas journey to the perfect ad

Regardless of the season, 16.5 Million views in 14 days for an advertisement on Youtube is a great success. This year’s Christmas ad for the British department store, John Lewis, was launched on November 6th and has already topped last year’s clip by 2.5 millions views. How can a Christmas advertisement engage, touch and reach so many people one and a half months before Christmas Eve?


The success of the ad is astonishing- countless likes, tweets, shares, comments and even parody videos. Although it seems like an overnight advertisement success, it is not; John Lewis came a long way, starting 7 years ago.


Humble beginnings from 2007 to 2008


We have to go back all the way to 2007 to find the first John Lewis Christmas ad, which cost about £6m and was an expensive return for the company after a three year pause on TV. The ad does not even come remotely close to this year’s clip, using squeaky violin in the background and a shadow theatre to perform a purely commercial Christmas.


In 2008, we start to see faces and what they want for Christmas. The message is clear: whomever you want to get a present, you will find it at John Lewis. The message is very rational and does not play on warm Christmas emotions.



Instead, both clips play hugely on humour and approach Christmas as a commercial event where we all need to buy gifts. So, let’s tell the viewers why they need buy gifts from John Lewis.


Christmas childhood memories sell best (2009 – 2010)


All of this started to change in 2009, when children became the focal point of the advertisement and were used to create melancholic Christmas feelings. Also, this concept supported the vocals in the background music. The viewer is taken through a series of events where children are unwrapping their presents. In the beginning, it is not made clear that these children are actually adults and only in the end does John Lewis clear the air and state that their gifts can create the Christmas feelings of childhood.



It seems that John Lewis analysed their Christmas campaigns a lot and selected the right elements and emphasized on those in the following years. While in 2009 the vocal song starts half in the clip, in 2010 the singer tells a story from the first second; the music and picture are in perfect sync. Moreover, John Lewis emphasizes that Christmas is not just about Christmas mornings and the unwrapping of presents, but is actually the giving, packing and hiding part that shows how much we care. Suddenly, the focus changes from the one who gets the gift to the one who gives the gift. This is supported by the focus on subtle emotions, reactions and feelings of the people in the ad instead. The articles and items you can buy at John Lewis become less relevant. In 2010, John Lewis used a new element in their ad: they asked a singer to air a new track in their advertisement. Ellie Goulding’s track ‘Your Song’ created additional momentum, thus resulting in more than 6 million Youtube views for the advertisement.


Let’s tell a Christmas Story (2011 – 2012)


In the following years 2011 and 2012, the ads became a story. In the first one, a young boy waits to give his gift to his parents. In the 2012 ad, a Snowman travels across the city to buy a gift for a female Snowman next to him. Both go an extra mile for Christmas. In both clips, viewers watch and wait eagerly to find out what the little boy and the Snowman do in the end. In both cases, the clip surprises us and creates a nostalgic feeling since both characters have their own Christmas journey to someone they love. The story and characters become the complete focus in both ads and John Lewis focuses less on the actual gifts.




The Characters tell a story


In 2013 John Lewis uses cartoons for the first time to tell the Christmas story of friendship. We sympathise with the hare, who would like to celebrate Christmas with the bear for the first time. Only on Christmas morning, the bear joins the other animals because the hare gave an alarm clock as a gift earlier. John Lewis lets the two characters come to life and not only as cuddly animals and articles in their stores but also on Twitter and Facebook, engaging with their viewers.



For 2014, John Lewis has been able to recreate the Christmas feeling of nostalgia again. Combining all the advertisement elements that worked over the last years, this ad sits at the top. Like in the preceding year, the ad is a mixture of fantasy and reality. In the end the main character gives his imaginary penguin Monty another cuddle penguin. The ad touches us on several levels and creates feelings of belonging, childhood and wishful thinking. When the mother sees her son she anticipates our feeling of ‘awe’, when we only have to realize a second later that it was just an illusion and the boy gives us one last affectionate smile.



A national event


The developments in John Lewis advertisement are surprisingly big- from a product promoting clip that draws us towards John Lewis three days before Christmas because we forgot to buy something, to an ad that tells a story that we want to share with our loved ones because it touches us so deeply. These ads have become the beginning of our annual Christmas Journey in the UK and I am excited what John Lewis will do next year.


Written by Susanne Webster