It follows one woman through childhood and into old age via birthdays, marriage and babies, surrounded by friends, family and loved ones and of course, the entire contents of the John Lewis home department.
The evocative journey plays out to the soundtrack of Billy Joel’s “She’s always a woman to me” sung by the beguiling voice of Fyfe Dangerfield from the indie folk band Guillemots.
The ad has provoked quite a response in the media and by the public. It’s been both hailed as genius and lambasted as shamelessly sentimental, but either way it’s been watched more than 200,000 times on YouTube and has entered our collective consciousness as one of those ads we’ll remember this year.
While I was re-watching the ad at my desk before writing this column, Marketing Week editor Mark Choueke was reluctant to interrupt as I was clearly “having a moment”.
And he was right, I was. But the moment I was having was an internal debate as to whether I agreed that the ad is genius for positioning its affordable yet aspirational homewares at the heart of an idealistic, happy and traditional family or whether I resent the simplistic, sexist and twee ideal that John Lewis is pedalling, that shows no progression of women’s lives since the days of the 1950s home-baking housewife.
The concept isn’t exactly unique. Unilever used a male version of it in its first campaign to support the US launch of its Dove Men+Care range. Dove aimed to challenge the male stereotypes that usually appear in ads for male grooming products by focussing on milestones such as getting married or having children.
Claims have also been made that the ad is more than a little similar to an ad made by Italian lingerie brand Calzedonia, which two years ago used the same concept following a woman into adulthood with the subtle difference that its ad put stockings and tights at the centre of her life.
John Lewis is taking the common sense stance that the concept isn’t unique in advertising and is vehemently denying any ideas were “copied”.
So the concept isn’t mind-blowingly original, and while the John Lewis ad has considerably less flesh on show than Calzedonia and is does the opposite of challenge gender stereotypes, the execution by advertising agency Adam & Eve is nauseatingly effective.
Everyone is talking about it, and everyone wants it to be their life. No doubt even the most staunchly ad-manipulation-aware consumers will feel the urge to pop in to John Lewis within days of seeing the tear-jerking ad.