This year’s campaign follows the well-trodden path of pulling at your heart strings in the hope of loosening your purse strings. But has John Lewis gone a touch too far this time?
It has all the elements we have come to expect: a doleful cover version of a big pop song (Half the World Away, by Oasis), a wide-eyed child and a bucket of emotion, but this year the tone is decidedly bleaker than in the past.
As John Lewis and its emulators know, sentimentality can work. After all, that is precisely what has propelled the department store to the dominant position it’s in now: its ad campaigns are parodied, imitated and almost revered.
But great expectations are hard to meet and this year could be seen as the equivalent of John Lewis’ difficult second album. The ad is certainly a tear-jerker – but will it win over shoppers?
John Lewis will argue that its advert is not about hard selling but engendering a sense of generosity and compassion at Christmas. That may well be the case, but when a company is spending a cool £7m on one campaign, you can be sure there’s a hard-headed commercial imperative behind it.
Contrast this approach with Argos, which is bravely going up against John Lewis by launching its Christmas ad on the same day.
They sell many of the same type of products, but say they have “called time” on sentiment. The general goods retailer instead promises a high octane advert around extreme sports, highlighting both its offering and its same-day delivery.
It’s the total opposite of John Lewis: a tongue-in-cheek and nakedly materialistic advert that knows what it is and what it’s trying to do.
Argos has broken ranks at a time when the UK economy is picking up steam. Wage growth, employment rates and consumer confidence are high. Perhaps it’s time again for a bit of naked consumerism this Christmas.
Ultimately, the consumer will decide which approach has most merit. The proof of this Christmas pudding is not in the eating, but in the singing tills.
Watch the 2015 John Lewis Christmas advert: