Did Elton John steal John Lewis’s attention?

by Nigel Hollis | December 12, 2018

It is that time of year again, and in the UK retailers have entered into the spirit of the season with a barrage of holiday ads. And once again Kantar Millward Brown has used AdExpress to check out the public’s reaction. The results offer some insights into what works and what does not when it comes to holding people’s attention and moving them to purchase.

For several years now John Lewis, the high-end department store, has created an annual tradition with its holiday ads. After several compelling and engaging ads people eagerly await the next season’s offering. 2016’s crowd-pleaser 'Buster the Boxer'  does not just appeal to the Brits. Last week I was in India and noted that the audiences in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai also responded to the ad with smiles and laughter.


This year, the John Lewis video features Elton John. The ad traces Elton John’s success back to the gift of a piano when he was a young lad, but while the idea that a “Some gifts are more than just a gift” is consistent with previous campaigns the audience response is somewhat more muted than in the past. Not only does the ad fall short of Buster the Boxer on enjoyment and involvement people seem less likely to associate it with John Lewis. As a result, according to Google Trends, the number of searches for “John Lewis Christmas ad” or similar is two thirds of what they were in 2016.

Unfortunately, when trying to enlist a celebrity to promote a brand, all too often the ad focuses attention on the star to the exception of that brand. My suspicion is that memories from the ad will be linked far more strongly in people’s minds to Elton John than John Lewis. That might boost sales of Elton’s songs (searches for his name hit a two year high when the video came out) but I worry that the video will not be as effective as previous ones in driving people to the store. It is of note that John Lewis is perhaps trying to redress this balance with a series of product focused ads (each accompanied by a different Elton John song

The best all-round performer of the 22 retailer and brand ads examined this year was Iceland’s 'Rang-Tan'. The repurposed Greenpeace video has garnered even more attention since I first posted about it and the AdExpress results explain why. Compared to our norms the ad is very engaging with high enjoyment and involvement, proving that the online video performs can perform just as well as TV when it comes to striking an emotional chord.

My overall conclusions from the Christmas ad research is that whatever the time of year a video that creates a positive emotional response is likely to be remembered but the real trick is to ensure that those feelings stick with the brand in people’s minds. But what do you think? Please share your thoughts.


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  1. Michael, December 13, 2018
    Striking a balance between touching the emotional chord, creativity and sticking to the brand is a titanic effort. Nonetheless brands have proven that they can do it. I would agree with you on the facts shown above regarding the John Lewis/Elton ad.
  2. Ed C, December 12, 2018

    Agree! While this year's ad was enjoyable, it wasn't as much as year's past, and I agree the brand was not as much the hero as previous years.

    ps - my two boys agree.

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