John Lewis ditches traditional Christmas ad for Elton John biopic

The 140-second ad, which tells the story of Elton John’s life after he received a piano for Christmas, marks a change in creative direction for the retailer although keeps its festive positioning focused on thoughtful giving.

John Lewis’s highly-anticipated 2018 Christmas advertising campaign, ‘The Boy & The Piano’, launches today (15 November) and is the story of how one particular gift inspired and influenced the course of a little boy’s life.

That little boy is Elton John, finally ending months of speculation that the musician is, indeed, the star of John Lewis’s latest festive blockbuster.

Set to John’s hit Your Song, the ad begins in the present day and works backwards chronologically through Elton’s life until the moment he receives the “piano that changed his life forever”.

Scenes have been recreated to show some of Elton’s “most pivotal” moments over the past 70 years, including performing at his school recital in the 1950s and his West Coast stadium tour in the 1970s, as well as backstage moments and song recordings. In the present day, Elton reflects on his life while sat at his first piano.

“Think back to all of the Christmases that you have enjoyed over the years – I’m sure there is one very special gift that stands out above all others. That’s the magical feeling we wanted to bring to life this year,” explains Craig Inglis, customer director at John Lewis.

“The ad tells the story of why Elton’s piano was more than just a gift and we hope to remind customers of that special moment when they’ve given a gift at Christmas time that they know will be treasured forever.”

A shift in media strategy to put staff first

In a shift in media strategy, John Lewis employees will begin sharing the 140-second ad, created by adam&eveDDB in collaboration with Rocket Entertainment, at 6am before it goes live on John Lewis’s own digital channels and in shops at 8am.

The ad will first air on TV this evening at 9.15pm on ITV during Dark Heart.

Speaking to Marketing Week, Inglis explains: “What we’ve found over the past 10 years is that this kind of advertising, which connects with people on an emotional level, is what really is most powerful at Christmas.

“In our view, the way that TV works most powerfully is by telling a story. This will probably be classified as a very John Lewis ad but actually it’s a very understated story which is fundamentally about a little boy who gets a piano and how it changes the course of his life. It could almost be anyone.”

Beyond the media, John Lewis says this will be its “most ambitious” experiential Christmas campaign to-date, with customers able to experience the ad themselves in its Oxford Street store. The space includes dressing room, recording studio and living room sets from the ad, as well as props, recordings from Elton John’s 17-11-70 album and the opportunity to have photos taken at the piano.

The shop, along with 14 further shops across the UK, will also have a Yamaha piano for customers to play.

Earlier this year, reports speculated that John Lewis had paid Elton John £5m to feature in the Christmas ad. However, the retailer says that figure is “wildly inaccurate” and that spend on the ad is broadly similar to previous years. John Lewis is understood to usually spend around £7m on its Christmas campaign, including creative and media. A portion of Elton John’s undisclosed fee has been donated to the Elton John Charitable Trust.

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