Nothing screams Christmas like a John Lewis ad!
Last week saw the release of the highly-anticipated Christmas advert from John Lewis. Gentle festive chimes set the scene as a young boy discovers an alien spaceship that has crash-landed on Earth. Among a night-time backdrop of dazzling lights and wintery breath, the child soon befriends the alien and teaches her about Christmas traditions. It’s a slightly different angle from the retailer that has been raising the festive ad bar year on year. Emotionally, it’s less likely to have you weeping into your wrapping paper than 2012’s ‘The Journey’. But that’s not all. The previous three John Lewis ads all originally aired in mid-November. This year, we’d only just said ‘goodbye’ to Halloween when we were treated to ‘Unexpected Guest’ on November 4th.
A very uncancelled Christmas
Christmas 2021 has been long-tipped to be the one where consumers splash the cash more readily than usual. After the disappointment of last year’s somewhat ‘cancelled’ Christmas, and with the slow beginnings of return to ‘normal’ life, we’re ready to throw everything at this festive season. The glitter is being spread far and wide; Mariah is blasting loud and proud in supermarkets nationwide; restaurants are churning out the home-brewed cauldrons of mulled wine like there’s no tomorrow…
There’s a real sense that there’s a lot riding on Christmas 2021. We’re a nation both excited and desperate to celebrate with our nearest and dearest. Name a better tonic to a tumultuous year (to say the least!) than all-encompassing magical escapism? Even if you’re a bit of a Scrooge, you can’t deny the gentle buzz of walking down a December high-street adorned with enough twinkly lights to send shivers through COP26…
And this year, none of us are prepared to let anything spoil the fun. Especially not retailers, the ones that largely pull the ribbons. Despite those supply chain issues that are causing disruptions large enough to rival the behaviours of Elf on a Shelf, industry leaders are managing to find some festive magic of their own. Christmas range launches have been brought forwards in attempts to smoothen out some rather hefty bumps in the road.
Star-studded casts for star-studded messages
So generally speaking, there’s your reasoning behind the earlier advert release from John Lewis. In the true spirit of ‘anything you can do, I can do better’, other retailers pressed play on their ads, too. Marks & Spencer employed the light-hearted combination of Dawn French and Tom Holland to bring the world-famous Percy Pig to life. Boots chooses to highlight the feeling we craved most last year; the joy of being with friends and family. Sports Direct’s offering ends by telling viewers to ‘GO ALL OUT THIS CHRISTMAS’, much like they did when casting their ad. Our very own fairy-tale of New York, Emma Raducanu, features, alongside Jack Grealish and Big Narstie to name but a few.
Despite their wide-ranging concepts, what the adverts all have in common is their messaging. To be a true success, the story must tug on the emotions that we’ve widely felt during the last year. And it’s safe to say that this year, emotions will be running higher than usual. The brains behind the adverts are privy to the fact that, despite it being the first time in what feels like an awfully long time that we’ll have friends and family in one place, some key loved ones will be missing.
For that, and from what I’ve seen, I get the impression that the ads are playing it more safe than usual. Most John Lewis adverts struggle to leave a dry eye in the house, whereas this year’s offering is far more light-hearted. But what all the ads have in common is that real injection of Christmas magic. When I learnt the truth about that old man and his sleigh, I was told to still ‘believe in the magic of Christmas’. I think that’s what this year is really all about.
The magic of the Christmas ad
In a world where ‘traditional’ advertising – the likes of print (newspapers, magazines), billboards, and radio – has seen a momentous shift towards digital and online, our festive TV ads have stuck the test of time. Regardless of whether you actually use your TV for terrestrial shows or it’s simply the screen you use to view on-demand entertainment, I bet you’ve already watched (searched for) at least one of the aforementioned ads.
They’re the only ad breaks that we make an event out of sitting through, sooner than getting up to make a cup of tea. The Coca-Cola ads have become as famous for their chimes as their storytelling, with the lorry lights a firm festive icon. Rather than seconds-short hard-sells, Christmas ads are minutes-worth of fantastical storytelling. In a world that’s increasingly becoming savvier at skipping ads (thanks, Netflix), we’re still drawn in. Even if that does mean watching them on YouTube on a Sunday evening in your pyjamas…
As much as we’re fully aware that the ad is there to serve a sales-purpose, I like to believe that they’re there mean more than that, too. Sometimes, an hour of indulging in some festive storytelling is all you need, especially if you can cast it off for ‘research purposes’. If you were waiting for the sign that it’s time to embrace the most wonderful time of the year, this is it. And this year, it will truly be wonderful.