‘Fresh and modern’: Marketers react to the John Lewis and Waitrose Christmas ad

Has John Lewis and Waitrose’s “very different” approach to the Christmas ad this year paid off? Marketers certainly seem to think so.

The John Lewis (and now Waitrose) Christmas ad is one of the most anticipated campaigns of the year. However, this year the retailers have shaken up their tried and tested formula, in part because of the coronavirus pandemic, to instead focus on acts of kindness and a platform ‘Give a little love’.

But has this switch-up worked? Here, four marketers offer their views.

Jerry Daykin, senior media director, EMEA, GSK Consumer Healthcare Marketing

John Lewis and Waitrose have been wise to side step a single grand emotional gesture and instead to highlight the power of small moments of kindness and generosity, which are one of the good things to have come out of this tricky year.

The mixed animation approach looks fresh and modern, and of course side steps some production challenges. They are far from alone in adopting animation this year though, so actually having their bag/boxes in the ad will end up being a good decision to help with the distinctiveness.

I enjoyed the positive and casual representation so that it isn’t just a ‘white Christmas’ too, and it will be interesting to see how the wider charitable donation part of the campaign unfolds. Overall it’s a lovely delivery which should again work for them, but personally I get more energy from Lego’s escapist effort and more emotion from SuperValu’s over in Ireland.

Tanya Joseph, managing director, Hill & Knowlton

I love it. I have very high expectations of the John Lewis Christmas ad and most years I am disappointed. Not this year. They have absolutely captured the spirit of Christmas 2020.

It has been such a tough year and so the theme ‘Give a little love’, reminding us that kindness matters, is on point. It is not promoting excess: Waitrose shopping bags feature, but there is no cynical attempt to flog toys.

‘Not just for Christmas’: The bigger idea behind the John Lewis and Waitrose festive ad

With social distancing restrictions the use of actors was always going to be tricky, but the use of multiple production teams to create the nine vignettes with a mix of real action (kudos for featuring an Asian little boy) and a variety of animation, also allowed the retailer to show a little kindness to a large number of creatives who have been hit so hard by the pandemic.

I also love the fact that the theme of the campaign is reflected in the two charity partners: FareShare, which helps those facing food poverty and has England footballer Marcus Rashford as its ambassador, and Home-Start, which supports parents in need. Bravo.

Ben Rhodes, former group marketing director, Royal Mail

There is real warmth and spirit in the new John Lewis and Waitrose ad this year. Giving a little love is a big idea and a great theme for the retail group during a year where we have seen extraordinary acts of kindness, selflessness and community spirit. It is also a shoe-in for gifting too. But I do think the marketing team are being asked to do an awful lot with what will be a fleeting appearance for most consumers this year on their TV screens.

There is always a choice in execution around focusing on one moment, or many vignettes to dramatise one’s point. Add to that two brands, products, what must have been significant issues over social distancing in production, and a charity partnership, and we get quite a complicated communication.

I have very high expectations of the John Lewis Christmas ad and most years I am disappointed. Not this year. They have absolutely captured the spirit of Christmas 2020.

Tanya Joseph, Hill & Knowlton

That is not to say it isn’t engaging and won’t have an impact. In fact, on social where people will see it many many times, they will enjoy the craft and have the time to discover the detail in the story. But as a high impact TV spot, for disinterested consumers, my worry is that some of the storytelling and narrative may get lost.

Still, there are no foot faults with the idea and, assuming they have invested sufficient media weight and edited some very sharp cut downs to increase frequency, I suspect people will recall it and like it.

Peter Markey, CMO, TSB

They’ve answered a tricky brief brilliantly and captured the sentiment of both the festive season and the unprecedented environment of 2020 well. The different connecting creative styles are also really smart and make the work richer and more immersive.

Overall, great job and just what we need for Christmas 2020.

Abba Newbery, CMO, Habito

I think the core message is spot on given the year we’re having. It’s about small gestures, kindness and their ability to make a difference. It doesn’t scream ‘buy buy buy’ and doesn’t have an obvious commercial agenda (unlike the stuffed toys of characters from previous ads). The accompanying site reinforces that the charity tie in is what they’re going for this year.

The craft of the ad itself is high. We use animation ourselves, so this is awe-inspiring in its quality and variety. The mixed media approach is refreshing, but it perhaps has one or two too many styles to keep up with. Composing an original song is great and it matches the mood of the film well, but sometimes a nostalgia trip can be more effective/joyful as we saw with Argos last year.

All in all it feels like it is a little forgettable, as we are seeing so much focus on kindness and goodwill across all advertising at the moment, not just the Christmas versions. I personally am enjoying the ads that make me smile, and give me a reason to feel happy. This year my hands down winner is the TK Maxx Lil Goat.