John Lewis has done it again. Eighteen months after bringing us the emotional "always a woman" spot – an ad that helped the brand capture Advertiser of the Year in last year’s Annual – the retailer returned to our TV screens this Christmas with a charming, heartfelt and downright beautiful ad.
An ad that has managed to reduce a nation to tears. An ad that was trending on Twitter the day before it had even made it on to TV. An ad that, just 24 hours after airing for the first time during The X Factor, had received more than half-a-million views on YouTube (and, at the time of writing, is close to the three-and-a-half-million mark).
It’s also an ad that has spawned countless parodies, including one from the chef Gordon Ramsay to promote his Christmas Cookalong show. Furthermore, the ad has helped Slow Moving Millie, the artist behind the song used in the spot, make it into the Official UK Top 40 Singles Chart. In fact, it’s an ad that’s not only one of the best Christmas campaigns in years, but quite simply one of the best ads in years.
You’d probably have to go back to the introduction of Aleksandr the meerkat to find a campaign that has put advertising and the advertising industry into the spotlight in the same manner that John Lewis has done.
The ad burst on to the scene in early November, initially being released on the retailer’s official YouTube and Facebook pages, before launching on TV during the next day’s episode of The X Factor.
By the time of the TV launch, the ad, which shows a boy impatiently waiting for Christmas Day so that he could give his parents a present, had already become an online sensation, with celebrities such as Phillip Schofield (number of Twitter followers: 1.1 million) declaring their love for the spot.
Created by Adam & Eve’s Ben Tollett, Emer Stamp, Matt Gay and John Long, and directed by Dougal Wilson through Blink Productions, the spot combined a simple, wonderful thought with incredible attention to detail, all supported by a beautiful soundtrack.
Like Ellie Goulding before her, Slow Moving Millie was by no means a household name when she was recruited to provide the vocals for the ad’s song, a cover of The Smiths’ Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want. But her hypnotic voice sets the tone perfectly and provides the basis for a spine-tingling 90 seconds.
Securing a song by The Smiths is, in itself, no mean feat. The band’s frontman, Morrissey, has long been known for his aversion to advertising and has made a point of not normally allowing his work to be used in ads. But while this has meant that John Lewis has come under fire from some Smiths fans, it has got the seal of approval from Morrissey himself – who declared it "delightful" – while the band’s guitarist, Johnny Marr, revealed that he "thinks it’s great".
Of course, the other criticism that the ad has faced since its launch is that the premise is a touch far-fetched: no child would really eschew his pile of presents in order to give one of his own. But those who do think that way are perhaps missing the point. That theory could be construed as people over-thinking things, being too cynical or – dare we say it – not being very Christmassy.
Because Christmas is about warmth, about emotion and about togetherness. And if you’re a retailer that positions itself as being at the heart of Middle England, an ad that expertly conveys all of those emotions and more is exactly what you want.
This article first appeared on Campaign UK