This year's John Lewis Christmas ad didn't hit the spot. Here's why

The highly anticipated campaign fell flat compared to previous efforts.

By Isobel Jones PR360

THE HIGHLY ANTICIPATED John Lewis Christmas ad dropped into my WhatsApp messages this week, sparking a conversation on how the season has become a secondary theme for brands.

The clip is filled with moments from singer Elton John’s career – grand pianos, 1970s tour buses, parties and the like.

Over the last number of years, we’ve seen the theme of Christmas ads shift from jolly, warm and festive to dark and sorrowful, usually with a political or social message.

Why is this? Is it because we have become more emotionally invested in what brands do for the environment, political problems and social issues, or is it just a result of a change in advertising trends and a need to be more “emotive”?

Some brands would say that in order to resonate with consumers, you must provoke an emotional response, which in turn drives action.

John Lewis’s Christmas ad for 2015 - ‘The Man on the Moon’, launched in partnership with charity Age UK – proved just that.


The campaign aimed to raise awareness of the millions of older people who are lonely not only at Christmas but throughout the year.

To support the ad, the retailer developed a full-on communications campaign that involved PR and marketing, which drove sales for the company and donations for the charity.

Most people who saw it still remember it. It struck a chord with people because it made them reflect on their lives, feel empathy and compassion, and compelled them to take action.

It did this while remaining true to the theme of Christmas, which for many is a time for giving, kindness and love.

Politics prevail

Provoking an emotional response in consumers should be at the forefront of any communications campaign.

More recently, we have seen some Christmas ads provoke emotion but completely forget to ‘speak’ to the festive season.

An example of this is the ‘banned’ ad for discount supermarket Iceland, which was axed by the British advertising watchdog due its political nature.

Despite not making it to television, it found its way onto the internet and subsequently went viral.

Horse meat found in beef products
Source: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The advertisement – a repurposed film produced by environmental NGO Greenpeace – is indeed highly political, drawing attention to the issue of palm oil and deforestation while also driving the message that Iceland is committed to phasing out the use of palm oil in its own brand products.

It’s an upsetting video, and one clearly aimed at children as opposed to adults with its cartoon characters.

What I find interesting, though, is that while it’s described as a Christmas ad, the theme isn’t even remotely related to the season, but it still resonated with people and prompted them to share the video online and have a conversation about palm oil and deforestation.

Here we see an emotional advertisement inspire discussion and hope for change.

Missed the mark

Iceland’s ad succeeded in provoking an emotional response in viewers without the theme of Christmas due to its highly political nature.

But there are many “Christmas” ads this year that neither provoke emotion nor talk to the festive holidays at all. John Lewis’ 2018 offering is one such example.

There’s no doubt that the UK group has created some of the most incredible Christmas campaigns, but this year’s just doesn’t hit the mark.

There are no political or social issues mentioned, no real emotions provoked, and most of all, there was hardly any mention of Christmas at all. Elton John seems to have taken over to promote his new film and 2020 tour.

More importantly, this is an example of how a brand can rely too much on video to connect with an audience.

It will be interesting to see how the company utilises its PR and marketing departments to drive sales, because one thing’s for sure: people won’t be going to John Lewis to buy a piano for Christmas.

Isobel Jones is a senior client executive at PR360.

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