Quite how the Christmas advert for department store John Lewis became a favourite part of the Christmas Holiday season is open to debate.
It just did.
And they were great, and they were emotional even for the most cynical bah humbug Christmas-denier, backed by brilliant re-workings of contemporary songs.
Typically launched early and at their peak hugely anticipated, they have kick-started the festive season in the U.K. for more than a decade, perhaps the closest in peoples’ minds to the Macy’s holiday windows that any British retailer has achieved.
And then they weren’t so great.
And they were formulaic, over-thought and somehow missed the mark, despite the increasingly lavish millions of dollars thrown at them.
But in 2022 John Lewis is back (see advert below), leading out a set of retail commercials that take as their themes strong family and community values at a time when people are feeling under pressure and many are planning to reduce their holiday season spending.
So John Lewis has shovelled the fake snow off the driveway, put the celebrities back in the box, and the merchandise opportunity-characters have gone, replaced by a stripped back Christmas ad which ultimately raises awareness of young people in the U.K.’s care system.
John Lewis: The Beginner
The department store’s annual campaign, this year entitled The Beginner, focuses on a middle-aged man’s painful and fruitless efforts to get to grips with a skateboard, which mostly involves incomplete tricks, plus trips, falls and collisions.
Set to the soundtrack of an extremely doleful version of Blink 182’s All The Small Things, in a rendition by U.S. singer Mike Geier, it seems to embody the very essence of a mid-life-crisis.
The big reveal is that he is, in fact, preparing for the arrival of a new and bashful foster daughter – Ellie – who turns out to be an ardent skateboard fan.
It’s an unexpected punch to the emotional stomach. No, you’re crying.
The campaign is thought to have cost a little over $8 million including securing primetime TV and online slots, and it is in complete contrast to last year’s big-budget production which featured a crash-landing alien girl.
Yet it somehow failed to land and seemed instead to embody the rudderless direction in which the retailer was, at the time, drifting.
Caring Angle to Christmas
John Lewis’s caring and charitable angle for its latest ad – the company is supporting a campaign for children in the care system and has an extensive eco-system in place – reflects a similar tactic adopted by rival Marks & Spencer, which has chosen to highlight the beneficiaries of the retailer’s near $1.2 million donation to 1,000 community groups and good causes through its Neighbourly platform.
Other retailer giants, including the U.K.’s biggest retailer Tesco, plus Christmas perennials Argos and Boots, have focused on a return to family get-togethers.
John Lewis, normally the forerunner of the holiday season advertising roster, has actually launched its ad slightly later than last year and several other top retailers – including German discounters Lidl and Aldi – have already got in there earlier.
Lidl has plumped for a Christmas teddy bear, while Aldi has borrowed from movie Home Alone for its Christmas carrot Kevin (it’s a long story).
John Lewis has also chosen shorter ad slots in a tough market where the cost is up by as much as a quarter for some TV slots as the country prepares for the football World Cup in Qatar, a tournament which rather than being held in the summer will instead clash with the festive build-up.
Holly Kicul, senior advertising manager at John Lewis, said of the change in tack: “We could have heavily gone for Christmas magic and fun but that didn’t feel the right thing to do this year with everything going on. It felt the right thing to use this platform we have to get this message out. We wanted to have laughter but in a different way to what we do normally.”