John Lewis’ biggest achievement is creating marketing valid as artistic content

Have you seen the John Lewis Christmas ad? If not, you must be living in a cave, not unlike the ad’s main character, a sweet-natured cartoon bear.


For the uninitiated, the content of the ad is an illustrated tale of the friendship between the bear who always misses Christmas by hibernating and his friend, a plucky hare (and you can watch it here). But that’s pretty much all you need to know about the content, because it’s the strategy around the ad itself that is more interesting.

The John Lewis spot was launched with a premiere event, a little like the latest Hollywood film. It was heralded with teasers on Twitter and then projected onto the South Bank in London. The ad itself took over the whole ad break of the popular Saturday night show The X Factor, requiring the broadcaster to reschedule its whole evening.

Why does this matter? For me, it’s important because often ads are seen as an interruption of the content that people choose to watch. This advert is being treated as desirable content in its own right. National newspapers have run articles about how the ad is made and offering the chance to watch it. It’s become a viewing event.

The retailer has also created a shopping experience out of the ad. You can watch its cartoon tale of a hare and a bear on TV or online, but you can also buy products based on the ad. This ranges from cute toys to onesies, books to chocolate and alarm clocks to slippers.

Merchandising your marketing is not an entirely original idea but few have managed to do it well. The meerkats of the Comparethemarket ads spring to mind as one good example. And of course, the ITV Digital monkey character was so popular that it went on to front ads for PG Tips. Ironically, the brand merchandise outlived the brand itself.

And of course, there’s the John Lewis music. You can download the soundtrack, a cover of a Keane track provided by Lily Allen (a potential Christmas number one). Lily Allen actually retired from music some time ago – and although she is planning a comeback – this track is one of the rare times she has recorded anything high profile in the past few years. And it’s all in honour of an ad.

For me, the story within the John Lewis ad is not the most interesting one for marketers to absorb. It’s the story that the brand has woven around the tale of the bear and the hare. The store has created marketing that people consider to be as valid as artistic content. Now that is a truly rare achievement. And it’s one that Sainsbury’s may be hoping to emulate with a new 50-minute film that goes well beyond the usual 30 second ad spots.….where will the story of marketing content go next?


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