The John Lewis effect: The secret behind their winning Christmas ad formula
The triumphant rise of the John Lewis Christmas ad over the past decade has been truly remarkable to witness.
JL’s major competitors have clearly struggled to keep pace, with brands such as Debenhams and Tesco investing millions of pounds into ads that were subsequently judged to of ‘completely missed the mark. It’s certainly not for lack of trying then that none have generated the unprecedented levels of anticipation and affection inspired by John Lewis ad. Each year John Lewis’ creative agency Adam&EveDDB are under huge and ever-increasing pressure to produce another legendary showstopper. But they just keep delivering.
Even last year’s Buster the Boxer ad, which saw a significant slash in budget (from £7m for Man On The Moon to a mere £1 million) was an undisputed success. But how did they do it? How did one chain of high-end department stores become the undisputed anchor of the festive ad season, unbelievably pushing longstanding cornerstone Coca-Cola off their red pedestal?
Here’s their secret.
Industry experts generally agree that it was John Lewis’ 2011 ‘The Long Wait’ ad that changed the festive ad game forever.
The ad featured an impatient young boy counting down the days until Christmas so he could give his parents their present. Just like all John Lewis ad’s since – it was charming, poignant and – amazingly for what is essentially an advert for a department store – heartwarming. The ad amassed over a million views on YouTube within days of release, with John Lewis’ takings up 9.3% on same period the year previous! An unbelievable result and clear proof that this type of marketing was working, even if it was costing a small fortune to create.
The reign of the traditional ‘get as many products on screen within 1 minute’ ad was officially over (thank goodness!) and John Lewis had given birth to a totally innovative approach to the Christmas advert – a storytelling approach. It was a stroke of genius. The bar was set and a new era of festive ads had begun.
Recent research by the Advertising Association showed that nearly half of Brits admit to having been moved to tears by Christmas adverts they’ve either seen or heard. But aside from the emotional content of the ads, what really sets the John Lewis festive adverts apart from all others is this one secret: Campaign Integration.
Releasing a superlative Christmas TV ad simply isn’t enough in 2017. With the ability to record our favourite programmes and fast forward through ad breaks, as well as mobile devices to switch our attention to during ad slots, mobile is now the most valuable option for brands with which to catch viewers attention.
Marketers can no longer view multi-channel campaigns as a luxury – they are now a necessity. The 2017 Christmas ad season comes as mobile and social increasingly power display. Not withstanding an exceptional TV ad, Brand Managers MUST turn to digital to reach their consumers. With mobiles as a personal device, a small screen is where are brands are most likely to catch viewers at their most vulnerable.
Now, back to John Lewis – the J L Marketing Team don’t just release their TV ad in a blaze of glory then sit back and pat themselves on the back over a job well done – in fact their TV ad is just the beginning! John Lewis deploy a swiss-army knife of tactics, methods, channels, media and activities to communicate their campaign. But vitally, they ensure all are playing to their strengths and that all communications are consistent and centred on the customer’s experience. This is why they are unsurpassed year on year in the Christmas ad off.
Don’t remember seeing their ad anywhere but on TV? Listen up.
Firstly, the music used in the campaigns always scores high positions in the fiercely competitive December UK Singles Chart, receiving mass distribution at a time when people are consuming the most radio all year and are family-orientated, relaxed, and above all, receptive to emotive messages. This year John Lewis released teasers (GIF shown below) of their ‘Moz the Monster’ Christmas campaign across their social media channels several days before the main ad was released to build anticipation amongst their 1.2 Million Facebook Followers. John Lewis are experts at employing social media to engage it’s audience. Last year saw a partnership with Snapchat, and the release of a limited edition Buster the Boxer Snapchat filter to promote social sharing.
Did you know that back in 2014, Monty The Penguin had his own Twitter account? The account added yet another layer to the characters personality… and to the campaign as a whole, enabling the characters to interact on a personal 1-1 level with their fans, and create a powerful connection between the audience and the advert. This year, Moz the Monster even has his own hashtag and accompanying emoji on Twitter.
Then there’s the merchandise. Demand for the range of the Monty The Penguin toys John Lewis released went through the roof, giving them yet another angle for a tie-in and further profits – another addition to ride the popularity wave of festive goodwill. This year, John Lewis has already launched an ad-themed toy, mug, book, pyjamas and slippers to cash in on the Christmas hype. The toy comes in at an eye-watering £20 apiece. As in previous years, most notably with the ‘Man On The Moon’ Age UK partnership, some of the proceeds of these sales will be given to charity – this year Barnardo’s children’s charity.
Many marketers believe that Sainsbury’s have been the only brand consistently competing with John Lewis’ Christmas effort. Their 2014 World War I epic (in association with the British Legion) was a viral success that showed Allied and German troops come together over the trenches at Christmas. It had all the makings of the magic formula outlined here: a strong, emotive storyline, and a charity tie in. Sainsbury’s festive ad this year though… that’s another story.
What’s fascinating is how John Lewis almost exclusively owns this type of advert. If anyone else tries something similar, they’re accused of copying them, putting all other companies at an instant disadvantage ever year. As Adam&EveDDB continue to deliver for John Lewis year on year, there’s an ever-more talented group of creators employed to work on the ad, who devise these short stories that we so easily fall in love with. Clearly investing in an advertising agency is an investment.
The John Lewis Christmas ad formula works because of it’s mix of 50% creative genius 50% strategic marketing talent. It now benefits from the snowball effect (if you’ll pardon the pun) and is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon!
Look out for the new Moz the Monster advert across TV, radio, billboards, websites/blogs, PR, social media and more! As now you have read this, you will certainly notice their adverts a lot more! Let us know your thoughts below.
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