Commentary

John Lewis Unleashes Another Monster Hit

it doesn't matter what's going on in the rest of the world -- it could be Brexit negotiations hitting a peak or another minister fighting for their political lives or even another film star needing to be taken off our fan list. On the morning that John Lewis drops its Christmas ad, there simply is no other story in adland worth even glancing at.

It's quite remarkable how the favourite department store of middle-class professionals the length and breadth of the country has come to be the one ad we all look out for and grow to love. The director of this year's Moz the Monster even quips in The Drum that his partner warned him he had to make the country cry. Fortunately, he claims, when she saw the ad, she did. 

We've had my firm favourite MontyThePenguin and last year's "grower" The Man in the Moon recently in a decade where John Lewis proved early on that it gets modern television advertising. Each two-minute ad, usually cut down to a 30-second slot, is a master class in storytelling. Whether it's a hare missing their favourite bear friend or a young kid getting excited for Christmas so they can give their parents a present rather than unwrap their own, each installment is a mini story. There's even BusterTheBox watching the local wildlife jumping around on the family trampoline before he decides to get in on the act.

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A lot of brands go off exploring is retelling the tale of Christmas. M&S and Debenhams, for example, have already retold a Scrooge-like tale about a burglar being corrected by Paddington Bear and a modern romance in the making mimicking Cinderella. The truth is, however, that these ads are great -- but they don't tap into our minds like John Lewis ads do. Their Christmas ads always rely on reminding us about something within ourselves -- usually about how we used to feel as children and how that relates to what Christmas is all about.

I met Steve Jobs back in the '90s (please excuse the huge name drop) and we got on to chatting about how leaving Apple had prompted him to form a new company called Pixar. The first film, he told me as he slipped a VHS into my hand, was all about that time when you were convinced that your toys come alive when you leave the room. The film was, of course, "Toy Story." A few years later, one of the filmmakers was walking through a park and got sick of hearing himself telling his child to stop doing things because he might end up getting hurt. The inspiration for "Finding Nemo" was there.

So with this year's master class in John Lewis storytelling we have a young child who is scared of a monster under the bed that he eventually comes to love and has fun with. But those nighttime antics make him too sleepy to go in goal or stay awake in the hairdresser's chair. When the monster see this, he sends a badly wrapped Christmas gift (it must be from Moz the monster because mum shrugs her shoulders!) which lights up his room with the night sky. The monster is gone and he can sleep well again. The genius part? The final second closes on him turning off the light and the monster letting the lad know he's still always there to have more fun, if needed.

Social today will be full of lovers and haters. Many will bemoan Elbow being used to re-record the classic Beatles track "Golden Slumbers." Many will say it's just John Lewis pulling at the heartstrings. Far more will love it as they wipe a little tear in the corner of their eye. For me, Monty the Penguin is still the best, but this is a return to form after the Man on the Moon, which was, quite literally, a bit way out there.

If you're wondering whether this is all just academic and just about tear-jerking, sentimental ads, just take a look at YouTube. MontyThePenguin and BuxterTheBoxer each has way over 20m views. These are people who have actually gone to the site to watch and share an ad. If nothing else, these figures are the antidote to the moaners who will be popping up in our social feeds today. They are testament to John Lewis' storytelling power that shows no sign of abating. 

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