The advert that ate itself

John Lewis, we have a problem. The annual Christmas ad is starting to show its age. This isn’t a blow-by-blow post-mortem of #ManOnTheMoon, though.

John Lewis has (rightly) received praise for addressing the issue of elderly lonliness at Christmas. Working with Age UK is an admirable way to go, too. But for some people, this year’s ad didn’t do it for them. There was plenty of mixed reaction on Twitter.

Stuart Heritage’s hilarious take presents a (possibly not serious) reason why this ad didn’t strike up the same response that Monty did. Namely, the ad has strayed too far away from the products that John Lewis sells. But I reckon there’s a bigger problem…

The John Lewis Christmas Ad has become its own genre

Five years in and we’ve got a formula. High sentimental value, a couple of key characters, a twinkly soundtrack, the spirit of giving, a heartwarming ending. The names and faces change, but the moral remains the same; buy something special for someone special this Christmas.

There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s an advert, after all. Selling stuff is what they should do. But formulas and genres back creativity into a corner.

At the end of Stuart Heritage’s Guardian piece (which asks the question ‘Who is Moon Hitler’ in case you were still holding off reading it), he predicts the future of the John Lewis Christmas ad:

“At this rate, next year’s advert will be the story of an alcoholic carrot or a plasticine spaniel with abandonment issues or just a damp napkin with a frowny emoji drawn on it, and it’ll be three times longer than it needs to be, and it’ll cost the equivalent of Portugal’s GDP to make, and it’ll be soundtracked by a melancholy plinky-plonk cover of the Big Break theme tune.”

That’s taking things too far, perhaps, but it proves that there’s certainly now an expectation for what a John Lewis Christ ad should be, whether you’re a cynic or a true believer. The problem with expectations is that it’s as easy to fall short of them as it is to surpass them.

In year six John Lewis have their work cut out for them. Like being Madonna, Tarantino or Taylor Swift, there’s a pressure to reinvent or lose relevance. How do you go about delivering something spectacular every year without doing a Coca-Cola? I suppose that’s why you have Ad Age’s International Agency Of The Year on board, isn’t it?

This post was originally published on Medium.