Unwrapped: John Lewis Christmas Ad 2014 – 6 November 2014
A common Christmas crisis: finding something suitably special for one’s nearest and dearest, when twelve months earlier it seemed unlikely you’d ever better that ‘one-off’ gift.
Imagine, then, the struggle for the ad team at John Lewis. Year after year, they’ve made the nation teary-eyed and nostalgic; often successfully evoking the warm feeling of childhood Christmases. It would be unreasonable to expect any agency to produce more than three high-rating, award-winning campaigns for the same client. Yet, somehow, Adam+Eve have been at the top of this game since 2009.
So high have our expectations become, though, that this year the department store was forced to play things down a little. Laughing off the hype surrounding 2013’s Bear and Hare advert, Managing Director Andy Street said modestly: “We had a West End London cinema to launch [it] and people said: ‘I’m not quite sure about this — after all, you are just a shop. Please don’t get above your station.'”.
One might, therefore, have been expecting a rather low-key campaign from the chain this year: a kind of stopgap, resetting the ever-rising bar to a lower, more tenable level.
Not so. Like the miracle that is Christmas, they’ve done it again — and with (what I think is) their best campaign yet.
In a welcome return to live-action footage, this year’s film follows Monty The Penguin – the plaything of a stereotypically young, white, middle-class boy – through the changing seasons. It is unusual for a British Christmas advert to be (albeit only partially) set outside the cold confines of winter, and I envisage that in shorter edits only the snowy scenes will remain. Predictably, the penguin is seen pining for a seabird mate – something he eventually receives on Christmas Day. The wonderful twist to the tale is only revealed in the final shot, which perfectly lifts the ambiguity cast by the anthropomorphised penguin.
It’s truly beautiful. Music duties are fulfilled by Tom Odell with a specially-recorded cover of John Lennon’s Real Love, which feels somewhat incongruous with the early part of the video but, of course, underlines the big reveal at the end.
Just as the very best Christmas presents surprise and delight in equal measure, so too does John Lewis’s latest offering. Yet it seems they haven’t learnt their lesson: the bar has now been set even higher for next year.