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John Lewis: Emotional Advertising Sells

John Lewis: Emotional Advertising Sells

Christmas Eve musings on how season TV ads have become a sub-genre in their own right in recent years. For much of the past decade people used to start their personal festive countdown by the appearance of the Coca Cola train adverts.

Harry Wallop posed the idea in the Daily Telegraph back in November when he remarked that ‘Christmas adverts have become so celebrated that they are now being previewed by ‘teaser’ commercials. And he was right.

John Lewis Leads the Field

Channel 4 grabbed the exclusive of showing this year’s much anticipated John Lewis ad first.  It was ‘premiered’ with the ad introduced ‘as if it were a mini feature film’. And that is what it was. Ofcom are not happy about this development, arguing that an ‘advertising premiere’ is still an advert.

Last year’s John Lewis ad was viewed over 4 million times on YouTube. That’s a lot of free ad time for the store, who cleverly don’t push the company name during it, don’t quite cross the schmaltz line. They themselves style it ‘intriguing and surprising’.

Last year in The Guardian, Stuart Jeffries said the ad has had the nation ‘in tears’. However, they made a comment about where we are as a people: ‘Christmas ads are the great lie at the heart of British culture, heralding the annual ritual of expensive titillation, futile fix, followed by months of debt and regret’.

The current offering features sentimental snow man and woman with the bustle of romantically snow-bound shopping (not the grim paralysing reality stuff) set to a version of the Frankie Goes to Hollywood 1984 hit, The Power of  Love performed by 20 year old Gabrielle Aplin. It’s a pilgrimage through impossible odds from fields and mountain to a city in search of what? Redemption? No, a scarf and hat for the snowman’s woman.

Other stores can only follow. M&S, Matalan and Debenhams have all put out their own versions of the epic, emotional journey advertising stories. Waitrose on the other hand, has given us what Wallop slams as ‘a rather pious offering’ in a bleak warehouse featuring Delia Smith and Heston Blumenthal (who took no fees) showing off how they donated Christmas ad money to charity.

Sounds and looks moving and inspiring. Until you remember that John Lewis (£6 million ad this year) and Waitrose are sister companies in the same organisation!

The Ad Business

In the business this kind of massive promotion on promotion is known as ‘event advertising’. Critics label it as industry self-regard, an illustration of ‘hubris’. Of course, others take the view that British adverts ‘remain the cream of the crop, worthy of special celebration’.

Wallop pointed out that press releases are sent out, private screenings are organised and millions are spent to make us ‘whop with joy, or, better, blub big wet tears’.

Marks and Spencer’s head of marketing, Steve Sharp, told Wallop that ‘this is the golden quarter’ and advert spend is in proportion to ‘the commercial importance of the season’. He claimed that the ‘trick’ is to make enough fuss about your ad that people will log on to YouTube or Facebook ‘and actively seek it out’.

Critics abound. To ship actors to New Zealand in high summer in search of snow for filming is much mocked by opponents. India Knight, writing in The Sunday Times (11 November 2012)  described it as a ‘heart-tugger’ and a piece of ‘genius’.

It appears to ‘be advertising nothing other than love and selflessness’, It’s a clever ad implying that people who shop at John Lewis are good, unselfish and better than other shoppers. She herself said it made her feel ‘ambushed in the Old Sentimentality Shop’.

What do you think? When you get back from Christmas shopping at John Lewis, drop us a comment.

Don’t miss:

John Lewis 2012 Christmas ad

John Lewis 2011 Christmas ad

The Daily Telegraph, Harry Wallop, Forget the Christmas TV shows, what are the ads like? 8 November 2012

The Guardian, Stuart Jeffries, What John Lewis and other TV ads tell us about Christmas, 15 November 2011

Shock and Sell, Cry and Buy: the Slogans of Advertising, 13 December 2011

Advertising Gets Really Personal, 5 September 2011

Image: Yuichi