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John Lewis Advert: A Campaign That Can’t Just Be For Christmas

Imagine the brief: you are part of the agency representing a retailer that has created some of the most memorable and beloved Christmas advertising campaigns for nearly two decades.

Your client, the UK based John Lewis Partnership plc (JLP), has had a torrid year to date. Losses for the first half of the year equated to £99 million and the business has stated that the outlook for the rest of this year was “highly uncertain owing to the cost of living crisis”.

Here’s the rub: the retailer is as ever dependent on a successful Christmas period, it is indeed a critical time of year for this business. The company’s Chair Dame Sharon White reminded the BBC Radio 4 audience recently on the Woman’s Hour programme that “two-thirds of our profits are made in that crucial last eight weeks of the year.”

The pressure is on, intensified by the success of some of the previous John Lewis Christmas campaigns. These have helped to create number one hits and launched the careers of relatively lesser known artists.

There are certain elements that are key to the JLP Christmas advert format. To pull at the nostalgic heart strings, there is usually a popular song from the archives that is re-recorded in a wistful way by a different artist.

These have included The Beatles’ Golden Slumbers performed by Elbow; Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s number one, The Power of Love, with a new version from Gabrielle Alpin and last year, Oakey & Moroder’s eighties anthem “Together in Electric Dreams” was recreated by 19-year old Lola Young.

There is also a tradition to focus on the story-telling rather than the product push. That said, there has recently been a hero product developed to partner the advert’s theme which has seen everything from heart-shaped umbrellas to Christmas jumpers sell out in hours.

The 2022 landscape is a rocky one….. so exactly where to pitch this advertisement is everything.

Consumers are time and cash poor; they are exhausted with a constant promise of a ‘better Christmas’. Since 2020, the festive season has been hijacked by a pandemic, a cost of living crisis and now the war in Ukraine. The political backdrop of the past twelve months has meant uncertainty and a loss of confidence, with three different Prime Ministers and what seems to be a constantly evolving cabinet office. Added to all this, the nation has experienced the death of HRH Queen Elizabeth II, after seventy years of service, and the accession of King Charles III.

Yes indeed….pitching this year’s eagerly awaited JLP Christmas spectacular would be no easy feat for Adam & Eve, the London-based advertising agency that has conceived the brand’s adverts since 2009.

Other retailers have already released their Christmas advert contenders. ASDA has brought the joy with a comedic effort featuring scenes from the beloved film Elf. Supermarket giant Tesco has made a nod at the restless political turmoil across the nation by creating a broadcast for ‘The Christmas Party’ complete with a manifesto of price-cuts and ‘standing up for joy’.

“We decided to officially stand up for joy this Christmas. Through our campaign, we take a look at those moments during the festive period that unite us all – including the delight of eating delicious desserts, sitting around a table together with loved ones, movie nights in our pjs and even the inevitable confusion around bin day – to put a smile on people’s faces as we prepare for a season of meaningful celebrations,” commented Alessandra Bellini, Chief Customer Officer at Tesco.

Marks & Spencer is possibly the JLP Group’s closest competitor. At Christmas, it has traditionally reminded the UK of its corporate stance of social responsibility, celebrating and supporting local charities with a ‘Gifts that Give’ campaign.

The brand has unveiled its Christmas clothing and home campaign which highlights its partnership with Neighbourly, a platform that enables business to help local good causes. The retailer will help to give £1 million to a thousand local community groups, highlighting that it is particularly important to do so this Christmas, with 69% of local community groups reporting both a rise in pressure on their services and a drop in their overall funding.

Set to the anthemic Harry Styles song ‘Treat People with Kindness’, the advert features volunteers from some of the charity initiatives supported by the retailer. Whilst a nod to their customers who help to make the donations happen through purchases would not have gone amiss, the advert strikes a balance in a year where getting the tone of voice just right is everything.

It makes sense therefore that the creative for the JLP 2022 Christmas advert “The Beginner”, sits at the heart of the company’s corporate social responsibility programme. It is accompanied by a cover of the Blink 182 song – All The Small Things by entertainer Mike Geier.

From November 10, consumers will catch a glimpse of the advert which JLP hopes will win over the festive consumer.

The set up is simple. A gentleman spends time trying to get to grips with using a skateboard. Clearly a novice, he experiences more than his fair share of scrapes and falls as he tries to master the art. His partner patiently supports his endeavours whilst preparing for Christmas and what seems to be a new arrival or special guest.

The guest indeed is a very special one: a young girl, Ellie, that seems to be with her social worker and who is a child in the UK care system. She is carrying with her a treasured skateboard. The advert was supported with specialist advice from Action for Children and Who Cares? Scotland.

The advert highlights the retailer’s corporate commitment to social responsibility, supporting local authorities and charities in helping leavers from the care system.

Government statistics published this summer indicate that of the 12 million children living in England, just under 400,000 (3%) are known to the social care system at any one time.

As part of a company mission set out by White in January 2022, the business has acknowledged the ‘cliff edge’ that many leavers from the care system experience when it comes to education, training and employment. In a statement on January 17, White highlights a “social mobility scandal” with “a staggering 40% of care-experienced people … not in education, employment or training.”

A targeted plan has been put in place by the retailer, mindful not to simply offer job opportunities but to also support safe housing, with financial and emotional help “for people who have already gone through so much at such a young age.”

The care system and the generations of young people going through it need support and the work to be done is beyond the remit of JLP. Indeed the brand must continue to find partners, experts and alliances to support them with this very bold ambition.

The retailer has indicated that it understands clearly the road ahead; a promise that is made to young people who have been repeatedly let down time and time again, is one that just can not be broken.

Is it the right thing for the retailer to raise awareness of its ambition in a Christmas commercial just a year into the initiative? Is this advert a worthy conversation stater or is a 30, 60 or even a 90 second Christmas commercial – mainly dedicated to the novice skate-boarder – the right channel for such an important but often misunderstood social challenge?

The public will soon decide.

We need heroes in business to make a difference to the world in which we live – economically, environmentally and socially.

A campaign of this nature can not be just for Christmas, it must be for life and I know that many will hope this is a promise which the retailer does keep.