Time is flying by

So it is here! The long-awaited John Lewis Christmas advert – sequel to last year’s much-feted The Bear and The Hare – has hit the media. Now in its 8th year, the John Lewis advert has become a Christmas institution, a signal that Christmas is on the horizon. The John Lewis advert has essentially become a Christmas event in its own right.

According to Tom Heyden, of BBC blogs, there are a few things you can expect from any John Lewis Christmas advert. These include emotive narrative, a saccharine-rich cover of an old song, a vague moral to the story and animals or kids as the main characters. Most of all, no overt references to John Lewis or its products. “John Lewis has hit on this very seductive formula,” says Patrick Burgoyne, editor of Creative Review, an advertising and visual culture magazine.

This year John Lewis has picked a CGI-animated penguin called Monty to lead its Christmas marketing campaign. The advert – which cost about £1m to make, features a young boy and what appears to be a real penguin playing together, going sledging, visiting the park and bouncing on the trampoline.

The music chosen for the advert is the John Lennon song Real Love, performed by young British singer-songwriter Tom Odell. The lyrics of the song include the lines “don’t need to be alone – no need to be alone” which perfectly encapsulates the warm fuzzy feeling of the advert. Throughout most of the advert the penguin does appear to be real and it is only at the end – interestingly when the boy presents another penguin to Monty as a Christmas gift – that it is revealed as a toy.

This year the overall John Lewis Christmas campaign is costing around £7m. As well as the television advert, the campaign includes a specially created smartphone app, and a story book and soft toys which will be available to purchase from John Lewis stores. This year there will also be in-store events including a chance for kids to see their toys brought to life with the aid of experimental gadgetry.

Another significant development in this year’s John Lewis campaign has been increased use of social media marketing. The first television showing – on Channel 4 – was preceded by a week of teasers featuring Monty and the hashtag #MontyThePenguin

#MontyThePenguin also ties into a Twitter campaign which promises to light up followers’ home pages and send a tweet to all their friends as the John Lewis-sponsored Oxford Street Christmas lights are turned on in London. This use of social media marketing is a significant development and a clever and exciting twist in the traditional John Lewis repertoire. It echoes our recent blogs about pro-active use of social media and how businesses ignore it at their peril as part of any effective digital marketing strategy.

Perhaps the reason why the advert has – yet again – melted hearts is that it presents the illusion of a perfect Christmas. In the words of Dr Sheila Keegan, a chartered psychologist: “There are no rows, no unhappy people, no mess and no overindulgence”. Instead there are “all the elements brought together by John Lewis to give that perfect experience. This is a very nostalgic ad but still very contemporary and a recreation of the bygone themes of family and love but brought up to date.”

It remains to be seen whether #Monty the Penguin will open wallets as well as melt hearts. But one thing is for sure: the John Lewis advert leaves you longing for this perfect Christmas, a John Lewis Christmas.