John Lewis's Christmas ads: Have you worked out the obvious formula yet?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

In the last 13 days, John Lewis's #ManOnTheMoon advert has been viewed over 13 MILLION times. Why have Christmas adverts become such huge media events? And what's the key to John Lewis's success year on year?  

There's no denying that John Lewis have cornered the market in feelgood Christmas advertising. But what exactly is it about these ads that makes grown adults weep like children?

1) Minimal dialogue

This is the advert that laid down the groundwork for all John Lewis's future successes. 

They ditched the standard shouty, product-centric marketing in favour of simple, cinematic storytelling. And boy did it pay off.

Within days of its launch it had over a million hits online, and led to a 9.3% increase in sales leading up to Christmas. Today it has been viewed nearly 7.5 million times. 

2) Retro song

Step 1 – take a classic song. Step 2 – slow it right down. Maybe get an orchestra in there somewhere. Step 3 – find an up-and-coming pop starlet to sing it.

Ta-da! Instant Christmas hit. The genius behind this is that they can play on the nostalgia of the parents and grandparents, while presenting something that feels new for the younger generation. 

3) Twist ending 

On the face of it, this extraordinarily popular Christmas ad is a whole bunch of cheesiness. But even the hardest cynic can't help wonder – why is the hare so sad? Why is the bear leaving? Why am I getting traumatic flashbacks to Watership Down?   

Each of these ads is actually a two minute mystery film. We know there's a surprise coming but we don't know what it is yet – just like opening a real present. 

4) Cute factor

Some people like children, but everyone loves penguins. And each year, John Lewis exploits our weakness for small fluffy things and turns the cuteness dial up to 11. 

Kids are a perfect prop for Christmas ads – they remind us of the excitement and joy we felt when we were little, whilst making relatable characters for children. All the better for hawking a whole load of branded merchandise.

Monty the Penguin cufflinks anyone? 

5) About giving

John Lewis are the pros when it comes to making shopping not about shopping. 

These ads are a break from the norm in as much as they're not about products, prices and promos. They're about the reason we go through this hellish endurance test every year – the happiness on a loved one's face when they open their gift.

They're all stories of people who bring a little joy into another's life through the act of giving.


There's nothing inherently revolutionary about these ads – the formula is actually pretty schmaltzy. It just goes to show that consistency, a weepy ballad and strong core values will take your brand a long way. 

And when it comes to emotional engagement, storytelling is king. We love stories about love so much that we'll line up year on year to get another hit.

And John Lewis knows it. 

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