John ‘lonely’ Lewis


In recent years, the start of Christmas has been marked by a fleet of lorries cruising across our TV screens with a vibrant red glow that would put the back streets of Amsterdam to shame. But lately, John Lewis have been giving their delivery drivers a sneak preview of the heart-wrenching advert a few days earlier than public release, ensuring they are all emotional wrecks flooding with tears, blindly driving Santa and his Coca Cola laden trucks off the hard shoulder of the M1. All to claim first dibs as ‘the Christmas is here and it's only bloody November’ marker on our screens.

Becoming a game of one-upmanship

The John Lewis Christmas adverts have become a game of teary-eyed one-upmanship each year, and this year's was no exception. The vast majority of us have already seen this year's tear jerker, unless you have inconveniently been stuck on the moon wishing that you had been sent a hover board rather than a seemingly small, yet questionably powerful, telescope that probably came from the shit gifts box your mum keeps in the loft for emergency last minute gift palavers, not the glossy paged John Lewis catalogue that we have all been using to mop our tear-soaked keyboards with.

If you haven’t seen the ad, have a quick gander at the video here before continuing… 

Firstly, well done to the agency who created the advert. You delivered and fully met the brief. It’s Mr.Lewis who shall bear the brunt of my grumblings.                 

Consumerist Christmas

After viewing the ad I was left feeling a little hacked off and down. The advert evoked certain feelings that left me wondering ‘do I do enough to help the elderly or people of need out, should I be doing more?’ Also, quite ashamedly a selfish reaction of ‘I hope I don’t end up old and lonely’. All in all the exact opposite of what Christmas is about, much more in line with premises of consumerism. Funny that...

This year, John Lewis have partnered with Age UK for their Christmas ad. They aim to raise money for the charity via the profits of three gifts – a mug, gift tag and card. The purpose of the ad is said to revolve around raising awareness of the elderly being alone and the importance of being together at Christmas “through thoughtful gift giving”.                 

The best act of giving?

But what are we really seeing here? Is its heart really in the right place? Or are we being fed materialistic values of self-interest disguised as acts of charity? With the advert said to have cost in the region of around £7m and only “hundreds of thousands” estimated to go to the charity, is this really the best act of giving? Are we simply having some of our fears and worries of later life presented to us in the form of a shiny gift-wrapped emotive advert with a little red ribbon tied round it?

When you strip it all back and put it simply, are we in fact being led down an emotional blind alley where we are lead to believe the only escape is down the dirty back street of consumerism trickery? Why do I need to buy an overpriced mug to give to Age UK? We surely aren’t that grave as a society that we can’t give to charity off our own backs.    

Brand awareness or self awareness?

The advert if anything strikes me as commodifying loneliness. As a society we fear and dread loneliness. The thought of being alone in this day and age when we are all so connected is mortifying. Especially if you are actually to be alone at Christmas! The advert increases brand awareness through the universal fear that we all share of being alone. We discuss and share the advert with each other, increasing their brand awareness, but subconsciously discussing and sharing our fear of being alone in the process. The solution we are presented with is to overcome these fears through the materialistic consumption of brands. This surely isn’t the answer.

Looking through the wrong end of a telescope

The advert is a prime example of how we act as consumers. To sooth our sense of longing and feelings of imperfection when presented with daily images of perfected and polished beauty. We escape into a consumer paradox where we briefly picture our insecurities being solved by the consumption of materialistic goods. Then awake from this vision to boldly stride forward credit card in hand to bring this epiphany to life. But yet so often is the case that we are then followed by the dark shadow of dissatisfaction, as we realize it isn’t the answer to our troubles after all. Such is the same with the advert in question. The consumer gift may have given the old man a few seconds of escaping reality, but when he puts the telescope down he is still very alone, and very stuck on the moon. Oh well, he thinks, back to the moon shed to catch the last half of countdown.                    

If John Lewis truly believes that the answer to combatting loneliness for those in need is through the consumption of consumer brands, then for £7m you could send Branson up there in his spaceshit 2000 to pick the poor sod up, whilst streaming it back via Virgin fibre optic for all our viewing pleasures. That’s if the Virgin broadband engineer ever does bloody turn up to our studio!               

A good hearted retailer

Bringing it back down to earth, on a more serious note… if the ad did cost £7m to make, with only a couple hundred thousand going to Age UK, then surely there is a better way for both a charity/charities and John Lewis to come of best. For example why don’t John Lewis spend £1m on marketing and ad creation to make an advert that consists of a message on screen saying ‘This year we decided to not make a large budget advert but instead give our budget out to charity’? The charity or charities of choice take a greater amount to help their cause and John Lewis still attracting a huge amount of brand awareness and potential brand loyalty by coming off as the giving, good hearted retailer. And all this is achieved with minimal consumerism.

Mancunian on the moon

Just to throw one last spanner in the works, here is a little conspiracy theory… could this have been one cleverly conceived plan all along? As let’s face it, the amount of money Noel is going to rake in for the royalties on that song are surely enough to tip Liam over the edge. Think how much John Lewis stand to make on the amount he is going to have to spend on new household goods, let alone Hoovers to sort out the mess he is bound to create.

Human values: Sale now on

So to summarize these ramblings, I’m sorry John Lewis, but you are down as a definite maybe on Santa’s naughty list this year. A piece of coal for you this Christmas. The manipulation of the public's empathy, selling products to raise a minimal amount for charity compared to the budget of the ad, in my view is the height of commercial cynicism. We don’t need a retailer of mass consumer products to educate us on the importance of human values.

Tom WardComment