Why the John Lewis Christmas ads might just need to dry their eyes.
The new John Lewis advert has had over 10million views in little over four days. You will have seen it. So will everyone else that you know. So will have every other high street retailer. For a mixture of reasons, you’ll probably all be weeping.
Needless to say, John Lewis gets Christmas ads right. In fact, John Lewis get Christmas ads so right that, even though it will be slotted in to virtually every primetime ad break from now until the big day, most people can’t even wait that long to see it. They’ll seek it out on YouTube. The news will report it. People will talk loudly about it on public transport. It will trigger an epidemic of teary emojis on social media. And, like Terminator’s hidden hand in a fluffy glove, it will once again reinforce John Lewis’ vice-like grip on middle class hearts (and wallets).
But here’s the thing. Even though the latest ad has been the most successful yet, and John Lewis has undoubtedly achieved the advertising holy grail of actually making people actively want to watch their advert (to collectively look forward to it like some sort of fond cultural tradition), there’s just the faintest whiff that it might not be forever. After all, like a climber with a camera at the summit of Ben Nevis, there’s only so many pictures you can take before it starts to get a little boring – and you have to think about trudging back down again.
I say that not because there’s any noticeable drop in public anticipation or appetite for the ad (exactly the opposite), but simply because that John Lewis narrative formula is just beginning to creak under the weight of expectation. There’s a relentless, building pressure that each year’s ad needs to be somehow more weepy; more heartwarming; more profound. On the current emotional trajectory, if the 2018 John Lewis ad doesn’t reduce viewers to a quivering, salty puddle of raw humanity, then we’re all going to want our money back. In fact, if you compare with the Mattel Barbie ad released a few weeks ago (http://www.catchnews.com/culture-news/after-59-years-mattel-gets-it-right-the-new-barbie-ad-is-awesome-1445076134.html) – a bonified masterpiece of the genre – Man on the Moon doesn’t even really compete. For my money, it’s not even as good as John Lewis 2014 penguin Christmas ad.
My point, festivity puncturing though it might be, is that the current formula will not last forever. Public mood changes and advertising adapts. The wave of disarming, open-heart, nostalgia that John Lewis have surfed so skilfully over the last five years, will break. And when it does, they might just end up flapping around on the beach like a cute but lonely little toy sea bird.
Or not. Maybe they’ll judge that transition as perfectly as they have the last half-decade, and the genetically modified super-marketers that come up with the ideas (which I’m reliably informed are stored in a large tupperware container at head office and fed oily fish twice a day) are working as we speak on some new way to make us love John Lewis, Christmas, and humanitarian values EVEN MORE.
I hope so, because I doubt I’ll be alone in wanting something new next year.