Blog | 8 December 2016

How to make the next John Lewis Christmas ad

It’s become as much a part of the festive season as mulled wine, turkey sandwiches and Christmas gift disappointment. We are of course talking about the latest advertising offering from everyone’s favourite store of dreams, John Lewis.

Never has the launch of a humble advertisement generated such excitement and countless memes. Coca-Cola almost managed it in years gone by, before people rumbled their coloured water and sugar in a metal can ruse.

This year John Lewis’s audience were urged to ‘Continue the story’ with #BusterTheBoxer, a curious tale of how a dog discovers his passion for trampolining whilst being gently mocked by the local wildlife.

Over the last decade, John Lewis’s Christmas ads have given us tears, laughter and even no.1’s. They struck gold with a cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘The Power of Love’ in 2012 and Keane’s ‘Somewhere Only We know’ in 2013.

This month they are again top of the Campaign Viral Chart, boasting more than 21 million views on YouTube and even their own page on Wikipedia!

So why is John Lewis so successful with their Christmas ads?

Here are five things you need to consider if you want your Christmas content (or any other content for that matter) to go stellar.

Reasons to be cheerful

1. Content for a reason

So often brands create content because they feel they should or because their competitors do it. John Lewis’s content works because you genuinely feel that they want to share something with their customers. That it was created with them in mind and its purpose is not to inform or help or provoke but simply to bring them joy.

Joy is massively underrated.

2. Engage your audience

John Lewis really knows its audience. Not just their demography and lifestyles but what really makes them tick. In today’s same old, same old world, emotional connection is a top priority.

Two comments from fellow luminaries summed up its appeal:

“I loved it as it is a great mix of emotion and humour… You want brands to deliver the expected and a bit of the unexpected. It keeps them fresh.” – Kristof Fahy, chief customer officer, Ladbrokes

“These ads are close to self-parody now – cute animals in wintry scene, small wide-eyed child, gorgeous cover version – all present and correct. That said, it made me laugh out loud and that will make me share.” – Richard Blake, international marketing director, Yahoo

3. Tease and amplify

If you have content worth sharing, then remember that you don’t have to give it away all at once. Cut it up and think about how its individual components might be best used.

John Lewis teased and promoted their new ad through a series of clips that they pushed through social channels with the hashtag #bouncebounce.

4. Content as an experience

Content needn’t exist in a box. Create it once. Publish it everywhere. Value it always.

John Lewis used a wide variety of channels to distribute their ad-related content but simple distribution was not the only objective. They wanted customers to have fun with the content and align it with the retail experience.

So, in addition to the usual channels, Snapchat users were given a filter so they could become Buster the Dog when visiting stores and Twitter users got stickers to customise their photos. In an important piece of content innovation, an in-store Virtual Reality experience was created for their flagship store.

5. ROI Rules

So, nice piece of content, did it work?

Perhaps the most important factor in understanding the business impact of content is knowing what action people take because of consuming it. However, that can lead to short-term thinking as we regard ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ as more indicative of purchase behaviour than longer-term brand response.

Ultimately it is about striking a balance between consumers’ short-term actions and their longer-term investment in a brand.

It is perhaps too early to say what the impact of John Lewis’s campaign will be on sales but this quote highlights the importance of creativity and engagement in driving longer-term gains.

“Our TV campaigns at Christmas are our most profitable ROI, which demonstrates that when you invest in creativity and in creating memorable brand building campaigns, you not only create short-term commercial success, you build the brand over the long term. Marketing should be about entertaining the nation, changing people’s behaviour and challenging their perceptions. It’s not all about click-through rates, likes and shares, it’s about all those really powerful things advertising and communications can do” – Rachel Swift, Head of Marketing, John Lewis

Stats

  1. Never Knowingly Undersold,’ has been John Lewis’s slogan for over 75 years.
  2. My John Lewis’ card members increased by 32% in 2015/16 to 1.8m.
  3. John Lewis was founded in 1864.
  4. During 2015/16, John Lewis made £249m in operating profit.
  5. The John Lewis Partnership will be 100 years old in 2028.
  6. Their online sales grew by 17%.
  7. John Lewis had 11% increase in click and collect orders in 2015/16.
  8. All 88,900-permanent staff are Partners.
  9. The first store was opened on Oxford Street.
  10. The partnership was created wholly and solely to make the world a bit happier,” John Spedan Lewis.
Alex Marks
Alex Marks
Strategy Consultant

Alex supports the strategic development of River's business and acts as an experienced marketing partner for our client teams. He is a regular commentator, writer and conference speaker on a wide variety of digital,  marketing,  and content strategy issues.