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customer experience
Tim Wade
  • By Tim Wade
  • Nov 16 2015

Is the John Lewis Ad the new Queen’s Speech?

Reflections on brand meaning at Christmas

Ah yet another Christmas approaches delivering yet another crop of Christmas ads to stoke up pointless marketing debate that creeps ever closer to main stream media discussion each year. Let me say what many of us are thinking, who cares whether the John Lewis advert is better or worse than last year. Are we really going to discuss at length whether or not anyone can match their ability to bring tears to the eyes of TV viewers and internet users?

And let’s not forget the imitators; that raft of brands that set off with meaningful intentions but end up with shoddy replicas, less emotional and memorable as John Lewis. Why do they even bother?

The truth is it all comes down to brand purpose.

Most other brands are keen to focus on the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ whilst others just try too hard to force themselves onto an audience. Argos is all about how fast you get your presents, M&S displays the great range of clothing, Aldi and Lidl show that it doesn’t need to cost a lot to put on a nice spread… and I am not really sure what Jeff Goldblum is doing with Currys PC World. However, we’d probably all agree that it’s only really John Lewis that sticks effortlessly to focusing on a higher sense of ‘purpose’.

Craig Inglis, John Lewis Customer Director, summed it up as he set out his purpose for this year’s campaign. He said: “We hope it inspires people to find really special gifts for their loved ones and through our partnership with Age UK, raises awareness of the issue of loneliness amongst older people and encourages others to support in any way they can.”

So, whether your reaction is to grab for the tissues or for the sick-bag in response to this piece of overly gushing PR, I suppose we have to say that John Lewis sums up what we think purposeful brands do brilliantly; their commercial purpose, their customer purpose and their social purpose intersect to benefit the brand, consumers and society. Even if the advert is fraught with scientific holes that will have Brian Cox choking on his turkey.

But is the retailer flogging this particular horse to death? Some commentators are suggesting that the public is starting to feel manipulated by beautifully crafted ads with a social message designed with a commercial outcome in mind. Well I’ve got news for them, Disney movies have been getting away with essentially the same story for well over 70 years and we still can’t get enough of them.

If we have learnt anything from storytelling over the last century it is that we love the reassuring familiarity of a classic story arc. I imagine that John Lewis is not going to change anything anytime soon. And for those, so called, ‘commercially focused’ people ‘Monty the penguin’, the 2014 ad, gave the brand a reported 13% uplift in sales taking them through the £100m week barrier. Not a bad return on investment.

(You can see the John Lewis ad along with some competitors offerings here).