Why is the John Lewis Christmas advert so popular?

The festive season is upon us and, although it seems to start earlier and earlier every year, I can’t say I haven’t been waiting for it. We can finally stop feeling guilty about listening to All I Want For Christmas Is You and dispense with the clandestine mince pies under the cover of darkness. Christmas is here!

And with the arrival of Christmas comes the new John Lewis advert. Each year, the retailer treats us to a spectacular, thoughtful, and emotional advert that, more often than not, becomes an instant classic.

But what is it about the John Lewis Christmas advert that captures the imagination of kids and adults alike across the country every year? Let’s look a little deeper!

John Lewis doesn’t rely on traditional advertising

Traditional advertising has been in decline for a while. With the rise of social media, content marketing, and other forms of digital content, the way that brands interact with their customers has changed significantly. With the ability to talk to customers directly, create relatable and humanizing content, and do it all for far cheaper, it may be tempting to think that the days of traditional advertising are coming to an end.

However, given that a 30-second ad spot during the latest Superbowl cost an average of $7 million, it is clear that legacy advertising still has legs and delivers a positive ROI for brands looking to get their message out there.

Instead, advertising faces a more fundamental problem.

Money, money, money

The main problem with advertising as I see it is that, at its core, it is attempting to convince the audience to take an action that they would not take of their own volition—namely to part with their hard-earned cash in exchange for your product or service.

In short, when we are talking about a television ad for a retailer like John Lewis, the primary purpose at play is convincing the audience to spend their money at John Lewis this Christmas, not with a competitor.

The issue advertisers then run into is that they can’t just outright ask for your money. Imagine how unappealing it would be if this year’s John Lewis ad was just a 30-second spot of the CEO asking you to patronize their stores this Christmas. No. Advertisers have to be far more creative than that and instead, attempt to give you a reason why you should spend your money with them

Or, failing that, create something so memorable or different that when you think about Christmas shopping, the first thing you think of is John Lewis. This is the crux of traditional advertising — convincing consumers that it was their idea to buy your products, not yours.

Sex sells

Over the years, advertisers have tried many different tactics—with varying levels of success—to appeal to consumers without simply asking them straight up for their money.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the old adage “Sex Sells.” Well, that’s because it’s true. You don’t see it as often anymore but back when traditional advertising was still finding its feet, brands realized that selling a lifestyle was more important than selling a product.

You can look at ads from pretty much any type of brand under the sun, from fast food to bodyspray, and see beautiful people doing cool things, all while engaging with the brand’s products or services. The implication here is that if you buy our product, you too can be cool and beautiful, and attract the attention of a cool and beautiful partner.

This isn’t true of course but it taps into the aspirational desires we all harbor. It’s the same concept as dieting books and fitness DVDs — if you purchase this product, you can become the person you’ve always wanted to be.

A shift to the absurd 

Thankfully, we’ve seen a shift away from some of the more provocative advertising strategies in recent times and had our screens graced with a new type of ad — the absurd. The most recognizable, and arguably the first, ad to do this successfully was Cabury’s famous gorilla advert.

This advert wasn’t just a slam dunk for Cadbury’s, propelling them into the public conversation in a spectacular way, but it also opened the door to a whole new form of advertising. Nowadays, every other ad you see is off the wall and bizarre, ranging from talking meerkats to opera singers selling car insurance.

This type of advertising is not selling a lifestyle but instead attempting to create the unforgettable. The plan is, when you’re thinking about buying a chocolate bar, that ridiculous Cadbury’s ad pops into your brain and you pick up a bar of Dairy Milk. In this way, buying that chocolate was your idea, not Cadbury’s.

Now, you might be saying to yourself “I thought this article was about the John Lewis Christmas advert, why are you talking about Cadbury’s?” Well, I think that the reason that the John Lewis Christmas ad is so effective is in the way that it differs from the kinds of advertising we’re used to seeing, be they absurd or sexual. Let me explain what I mean.

Instead, John Lewis uses the art of storytelling

Think back on the John Lewis ads of recent years. You’ve got Monty the Penguin, The Man on the Moon, The Bear and the Hare, The Long Wait… the list goes on! You’ve probably guessed by the heading of this section where I’m going with this but this is what sets John Lewis apart—storytelling.

The power of a good story

When you sit down to watch a John Lewis advert, you’re not sitting down for a showcase of their products, to be sold a lifestyle, or even to have a quick laugh. You’re sitting down to see what story they are going to tell you this year. When you’re watching the mini-movie, it’s easy to forget it’s an advertisement for a gigantic retail chain and you’re instead swept up in the story.

This is why the John Lewis adverts are so enduring and so looked forward to each Christmas. They tap into our innate human fascination with stories and speak directly to our emotions. In this way, they not only advertise to us but also provide value. Plus, it is clear how much time, thoughtfulness, and effort has gone into each new advert.

Playing on our emotions

Hands up, who has cried at a John Lewis Christmas ad? I know I certainly have! And that’s where the key to this all lies — the John Lewis Christmas adverts have heart. They don’t feel like a cynical attempt to part you with your cash, they don’t feel lazy, and they don’t talk down to you.

The John Lewis Christmas adverts speak to our emotions, give us characters to root for, and take us on a journey with a compelling narrative.

No, the John Lewis Christmas adverts speak to our emotions, give us characters to root for, and take us on a journey with a compelling narrative. These are the tenets of good storytelling and these adverts have them in spades. When viewed in this way, it’s easy to see why people connect with them so deeply and why we’re all eagerly awaiting the next iteration.

So, let’s watch their latest release:

Learn to use storytelling in your marketing too

Hopefully, this has given you some food for thought on why the John Lewis Christmas advert is so popular. If you’d like to learn more about how to use storytelling in your content marketing, check out our recent blog on the topic. Or, get in touch with the Scribly team today to find out how we can help take your content marketing to the next level!

Merry Christmas!