How John Lewis took over Christmas – and restored festive cheer to all Britons

Andrew Mulholland
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Sam and Monty, from the John Lewis Christmas ad

When I was young, Christmas was a magical time, filled with wonder and delight. But as I grew older, and Father Christmas was revealed for who he really was (thanks dad), the shine wore off. Sure, I still look forward to it, but the crass commercialisation has slowly chipped away at this special time, and a sense of cynicism has replaced what was once so precious.

And that is why I love the schmaltzy John Lewis ads, the latest of which was unveiled yesterday, this year starring Monty the penguin and his friend Sam, a little boy. Created by the talented elves at Adam & Eve DDB, the ads allow me, for a short 30 second period, to re-kindle my safely-concealed love for the festive spirit.

This is a very clever trick indeed. My rational side knows that this is an advertisement for a department store – just another marketing gimmick to get me to buy more stuff. But my emotional side overrules, tells me to take a glass of eggnog, sit back and enjoy. After all, the ads don’t appear to sell anything other than the magic of Christmas – no buy-one-get-one-free offer, no hard sell, no star-burst to pop my bubble. John Lewis has unashamedly gone for my emotions, and in return is rewarded by my brand loyalty.

Look a little deeper, and the mechanics become clearer. In this latest ad, we see the action unfold through the eyes of a child – the one audience that still believes, and the one audience that allows us to reconnect with our own inner child. The story-lines are loosely based on the books we were read when we were young, and the ones we now read to our own brood (this year appears to be a mash-up of Lost and Found, a current favourite within the Mulholland household, with a touch of Calvin and Hobbes thrown in for good measure).

And it works, because not only do John Lewis’s sales consistently outperform the seasonal market, the column inches (both real and virtual) punch well above their weight. This is a double reason to celebrate, as the bravery of the client to resist the temptation to stuff an ad with enough product to overload Santa’s sleigh should be richly rewarded. John Lewis had the ambition to own the festive season, not just sales of brightly coloured socks. That, in so doing, the retailer has restored my love of the festive season (no mean feat, given that I’ve been turning into the Grinch of late), is the icing on the Christmas cake.

So what can we learn from this? Why can’t others copy this approach and reap similar rewards? To my mind, it’s the same reason we love Father Christmas. There can only be one, and he’s been there for years, not selling anything other than goodwill to all men (and women). So even though we know he was our dad (thanks again, and apologies for the cooking sherry), or see multiple versions walking down the high street, we don’t care.

For me, and millions of others, turning on the TV to see the latest John Lewis Christmas ad fills me with as much joy as turning on the lights around the family tree. It rekindles my love of the season – what was lost is now found – and I can’t think of a better reason for festive cheer than that.

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