As John Lewis celebrates 150 years it should focus on what it does best, not worry about being ‘fun’

John Lewis has made a name for itself in recent years as one of the most effective advertisers, with its campaigns eliciting an emotional response and sending shoppers to its stores in droves. Yet it still seems worried about being seen as boring. 

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This is a brand whose Christmas ads have become an event in their own right, with the great British public crowding around their TV screens to catch the first glimpse of a spot that, like the Coca-Cola advert, signals the start of the festive season. Last year it had a full on premiere, with a 2-minute version taking over the entire ad break during the X Factor and millions tuning in to watch, despite having already seen it online!

It was a relative newcomer to the Christmas ad game, launchings its first big festive brand campaign in 2007, but it has usurped all those that have gone before it. Its ability to emotionally connect with consumers, quite often by literally making them cry, is unrivalled, yet it seems manages to manage to do so without being nauseating.

There are some that lambast it for being shamelessly sentimental, but the ads are almost always a hit with the public and in particular the people who shop at John Lewis, sending them to its stores in droves. Last year, in a bid to make the most of the popularity of its campaigns it also created a huge range of merchandise.

Rather than being criticised for becoming too commercial, the alarm clocks and cuddly toy versions of the characters from the ads actually sold out.

Yet it was only three years ago that marketing director Craig Inglis was bemoaning its “fuddy duddy” status. Even now, brand marketing head Rachel Swift says customers see John Lewis as rational rather than fun.

Now it is launching a brand campaign to celebrate its 150th anniversary and excitement has reached fever pitch. Thousands of column inches have been given over to its plans, while still more have detailed the history of the brand and what makes it so successful.

This time it is playing on its heritage, chronicling its role in British life over the past century and a half. It sounds like a typical John Lewis ad and one that will have the public playing out of the palm of its hands yet again.

In many ways this is a safe strategy for John Lewis to play, but it is also the best one. This is not a brand that needs to rock the boat or cause controversy to gain some column inches and publicity.

Maybe we wouldn’t hang out with it at a party, according to its own research, but that doesn’t matter when what would we do is trust it to provide great products and great service. John Lewis has a brand reputation anyone else would kill for, best to play it safe in the message and watch on as the nation falls in love with it all over again.

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