Why this year’s John Lewis Xmas ad fails to deliver

Oh dear. Watching the eagerly awaiting John Lewis Xmas ad online today was like unwrapping a present on Xmas day and being disappointed to find an ugly scarf instead of a shiny new iPhone.

The new ad features a dad building a trampoline for his daughter on Xmas eve which is then used by a couple of creepy foxes and a badger. On Xmas morning, before the girl can get on the trampoline, she is beaten to it by Boxer the pet dog who has, we assume, been shown how to trampoline by the nocturnal animals.

You can watch it below on the blog, or here.  

Below I explain why I think the brand has lost the magic of its previous Xmas ads.

[For non UK readers, John Lewis is a UK retailer whose Xmas advert has become something of an event, with a build up of anticipation before it is premiered].

1. Losing the plot story

The clever thing about John Lewis Xmas ads up to 2015 has been that even though they look fresh, there has been complete consistency in terms of the story. The end lines varied slightly from year to year (see below), but the story was always "Give a little more love this Christmas, by shopping at John Lewis for your gifts". The focus on the joy of giving makes the brand distinctive versus other Xmas communication that tends to focus on the receiver of the gift.

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 19.03.38

But what the hell happened this year? The effort put into choosing and preparing the gift is much less involving : the dad struggling with the nightmare of building a trampoline. And the pleasure of receiving the gift is also much less, as the dog beats the little girl to the bloody trampoline!

Compare this with last year's ad where a little girl gives the man on the moon a telescope. Or 2014 when the little boy gets his imaginary penguin friend a playmate – see below.

2. Consistent execution

In terms of execution the ads look different. But look closer and there's was a lot of consistency from 2010 to 2015. The commercials have a similar narrative structure, with a focus on the gift giver, building up to a climatic and tear-jerking "reveal" at the end. Importantly, the focus is on the product/gift and the giver as joint heros. So we have emotional "sizzle" but also some product "sausage": Second, the music is different, but the style of music is similar. All three songs use slowed down, accoustic cover versions. Third, the ads all have an emotional pull on the heartstings, with an "Ah" factor.

Again, this year's ad falls down, with the execution much weaker in my view.

  • Focus on the gift giver: much less emotion in the chosing, wrapping, preparing 
  • Build up to a climatic and tear-jerking "reveal" at the end: no tears in the Taylor household, not even from Mrs Taylor who even cried when a pair of random Russian divers missed out on an Olympic medal
  • "Ah" factor: again, none of this from the Taylor girls
  • Acoustic song: the orchestral version of "One day I'll fly away" aint a classic in my book

To make things worse, we have a couple of creepy foxes that if our garden is anything to go buy, would leave a rather nasty and smelly present on the trampoline.

3. Adding freshness 

There has been plenty of freshness to keep viewers anticipating what this year's ad will be like, and rewarding them when they discover it.  From 2010 to 2015 we had a different leading character, a new song and sometimes a change in execution style. Last year it was the imaginary man on the moon, the year before was a make-believe penguin and the year before that we had an animated bear.

And this is perhaps where John Lewis has lost the plot. They have tried to inject more freshness than normal, with the real-life dad hurting his thumb putting up the trampoline and the slapstick humour of a trampolining dog. But in doing so, they've screwed up the magic recipe in my book.

In conclusion, after being a beacon of fresh consistency, John Lewis has over-done the freshness and in doing so produced a weaker commercial.

To have fun watching all their previous Xmas ads, click here

And the spoof version of this year's ad below.