My first run in with the phenomenon that is the John Lewis Christmas advert was when I was in college, and quite before it came a phenomenon. When our tutor asked back then had we seen any, or could we recognise any, only a few in the class knew them by name; now, you’d be hard pressed to find a class where a strong majority could not recite their stories in great deal. At college, we studied all of them in depth, since they exemplified a certain visual flair and cinematic approach that was, at the time, not often utilised in adverts, and so I nurtured a fondness and a love of them that has kept me following them eagerly in the years since. I am not at all ashamed to say that I have yearly rewatching sprees, so have watched them more than most, and as a result of that, compiled a list of my favourites;
6th – The 2010 John Lewis Christmas Advert, ft Ellie Gouldings “Your Song”
Ah, yes, the one that started it all. It was hard to define where exactly the trend of John Lewis’s cinematic and narrative based Christmas Adverts started, but I’d say it was with this one, which isn’t so narrative based in itself, but paved the way for the others. Ellie Goulding’s Your Song, arguably the best song of her career, is the highlight, and was certainly the one that got us excited about the John Lewis Christmas Advert soundtrack. The song became a big hit, so much so that people probably forget it’s humble origins as a cover version for an advert, but the rest of the advert, though nice, and charming, was all just a bit meh, compared to everything that followed.
If 2010 was where it started, 2011 is where it kicked up a notch, and this advert set the high standard we’ve come to expect. It is a charming Christmas countdown with a twist, a young boy patiently (and then a bit more impatiently as the day draws near) opens a different door on his advent calendar in the build up to the big day, a sight we’re all familiar with, and we’ve all experienced…but in the end, it turns out that this boy is simply excited to share with his parents the gift he’s bought her, because Christmas is all about showing people you care, remember, and a child saving up to buy his mother a present shows that in a way much warmer than a mother maxing her credit card(s) to afford for her child the best present. It was the first time I ever “n’awwwed” at a John Lewis advert (in fact, I almost cried at this one. Almost, but not quite), and the Slow Moving Millie cover of The Smith’s song that the advert overlays only heightens the feels that come with this attempt.
4th – The Man On the Moon, 2015
Even I welled up when I first saw it, and I’ve managed to keep stone-faced and steely eyed at funerals. For this one, John Lewis teamed up with the charity Age UK to create an adverts that shows the beauty and importance to reaching out to people over christmas; what brings the Man on the moon happiness in this advert is not the gift given to him by a little girl, but the connection it allows him to have with other people. It’s an important issue, and I imagine this advert will be very effective in highlighting it and hopefully combatting it to some degree over the Christmas period. Of the parody’s that now often follow the John Lewis Christmas advert, this one will produce the most and the best, but it was a slight dip in quality from previous years. Half The World away is a good soundtrack, and it’s a great cover, but we’ve come to expect this kind of thing now, and though it’s a big key feature for the adverts, maybe they should have done something a bit different, this time, or at least a little more exciting. This cover makes the smallest departure of the original. Still, like the others, it’s full of heart, sentiment and warmth that is much welcome at Christmas time.
3rd – Monty The Penguin, 2014
I dithered long and hard about this one, whether it should be here or a place higher, but in the end I settled with third. Tom Odell continued on with the trend of turning the backing track to these adverts in to successful singles, with his cover of John Lennon’s Real Love. The 2014 advert follows the story of a boy and his penguin, and his penguins growing longing for a love, and a lady-penguin. It was the cinematic beauty and visual flare we’ve come to expect from these adverts, and maintains the high quality of the adverts that came before. The ending is particularly poignant, when Monty the Penguin awakes to find, on Christmas morning, his wishes came true, and there is a lady penguin waiting for him. In another last minute twist, the two penguins are teddies whose existence is attributed to the boys imagination, which pushed me over the edge from “Oh no, I might cry” to “Dear god, I am bawling”. Now, I’m a bit of a sucker for Children’s imagination stories, but I know I wasn’t the only one who shed a tear when Monty’s eyes lit up on Christmas morning. A bit of a lull from the previous years attempt, but doesn’t quite pale in comparison, and was a worthy follow up.
*Also, as a side note, this is the year that it became a bit of a trend to parody this kind of thing. My personal favourite is Made in Chelsea’s Stevie and Andy (#Standy) recreating this frame for frame.
2nd – The Snow Mans Journey, 2012
It was here that greatness truly started, and the importance of narratives truly kicked up, (and thus better marketing/product opportunities, too). I cried at this one, too. It’s a love story, about a snowman with a scarf, and a snow-woman without one. We follow the snowman on his journey over mountains and across rivers to give her the gift of warmth this christmas, with a hat, scarf and a pair of gloves…and then we start crying by the end of it. There’s so much tears that we don’t even think of the scientific inaccuracies, like a snow person being able to feel the cold when it starts snowing, or the fact that if snow people found snow to be cold, then a hat, gloves and scarf would make little difference since they are, in fact, made of the bloody thing. This song choice was one of the more interesting and unpredictable twists on an original, and though not as commercially successful as some of the others, it’s equally as good, and equally as catchy. He is a typical Hollywood hero…made of snow…on a big scale adventure, and she his damsel in distress (who, in a sequel, i’m sure would prove herself to be a strong independent snow-woman who don’t need no man!). This is where John Lewis find their footing with visual flare and cinematic style, and they hit the ground running, leaving them with the second best christmas advert they’ve ever done.
1st – Bear and The Hare
It’s hard to argue that this deserves anything other than the top spot. It achieves in 2 minutes what takes most films 2 hours to do; it is full of heart and sentiment, throws together an unlikely pairing and, by the end of it, is likely to have you bawling (though I think, at this point, we’ve established that I get far too emotional over these adverts). It’s charming and beautiful, and that moment at the end, when the bear steps over the horizon…and then it cuts…and the hare bought him an alarm clock? Oh my god. Brb, I’m going to watch it again. Then probably cry some more.
The animation is impeccable, a nice throwback to the traditional but still of a high quality, It’s like one of those Oscar Winning Disney Shorts that precede a Disney Film, like The Paperman, or the first 2 minutes of Up. When a story can be told so beautiful by visuals alone, there’s no need for words; a whole history of Silent Films proved that, and the Bear and the Hare proves it further. In the year this kind of cinematic advert aiming for Brand promotion rather than product promotion could have become predictable and formulaic, the animation gave it a new lease of life, and made the John Lewis Christmas Advert unveiling an event of popular interest and significance and took them to a new height of viral popularity. The song of choice this time round, a rendition of Somewhere only we know delivered by Lily Allen, was the most commercially popular of all, and similar to the way adding the twist of animation to the advert gave it a bit more of a buzz, the quality and catchiness of this particular cover meant that even though we’d come to expect this kind of thing, we didn’t come to bore of it. This advert was a dream to watch, must have been a dream for the marketing team as they where counting out their money, and has become as much of a Christmas rewatching staple as the Grinch, Elf and Die Hard, in my eyes. Here it is, in all it’s festive glory;
Honourable mentions should be given to the Sainsburies 2014 Christmas Advert and the Duracell 2015 Christmas advert, who both followed the trend John Lewis set in Brand Advertising over Christmas through cinematic, narrative based shorts rather than traditional, product orientated advert. These are two of many that tried to do what John Lewis did, but the only two that have done it as well.
The thing all these adverts have in common is a focus on the side of Christmas and the festive season that isn’t about commodities or commercial value (even if they do come from commercial companies selling commodities). The true heart and soul of the adverts is in their promotion of selfless deeds, gift giving with sentiment and without expectation, and reaching out to others in a time we take for ourselves. People are pessimists and will instantly dismiss these adverts as manipulative attempts to make money, and maybe they are, but that does not invalidate their meaning; Christmas isn’t only about gifts, it’s about people, and showing you care. It’s about gifts of small-price but high-sentimentality that show someone you care and want to make them happy, not show them that you can afford. It’s about reaching out, sharing with people, creating memories from the smallest and most significant things thing, the smile on your face when they see how much thought or effort you put in to making them smile that is, in no small part, why Christmas can still be so enjoyable as an adult, no matter whether that someone is your mother, your father, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your husband, your wife, your new friend, your best friend or the bear that you hang out with through the summer and for some reason hasn’t eaten you yet. To quote my personal favourite Christmas Movie, with a quote that we should endeavour to make true every day, but especially bare in mind around Christmas; Love Actually is all around.
Whats your favourite Christmas advert? Let us know in the comments, or on Twitter @CelebMix