Tomorrow evening, during a break in ITV's "The X Factor", viewers will witness what Marketing magazine describes as "the biggest advertising event of the year": the John Lewis Christmas commercial.
For the past five years, the department store's heart-tugging adverts have been acknowledged as a highlight of seasonal viewing. I'm one of the privileged few to have had sight of this year's production.
The 120-second animation epic opens to the strains of Lily Allen's cover of Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know", and the sight of a hare being carried through the forest on the back of a bear.
"I walked across an empty land," sings Lily.
Suddenly the arrival of a snowflake brings an end to their mutual pleasures. At this symbol of winter, the bear - introduced at the top of the ad as "an animal who had never seen Christmas" - is beset by narcolepsy. While the hare looks longingly at other woodland creatures decorating a tree in falling snow, its furry friend breaks into a yawn and heads to its cave. Cue sad face from the hare.
"Oh simple thing, where have you gone?" wails Ms Allen.
As the bear settles down for several months' shut-eye, its floppy-eared chum has an idea and hops to the cave with a neatly-wrapped gift.
Then, as the woodland animals are opening presents of fruit and acorns, the lonely hare is delighted by the appearance of the bear, its eyes filled with wonder at the scene beneath the conifer. Cut to the cave: a newly unwrapped alarm clock shows 7.47am. The end line comes up: "Give someone a Christmas they'll never forget."
The image of the creature's peace being shattered by noisy technology has a modern resonance (especially considering the gifts likely to be under British trees this year), although one imagines ad agency Adam&Eve/DDB will be hoping for a warmer audience response.
The ad has much to live up to. "All Guns Blazing", the store's 2009 production, delivered a 12.7 per cent sales rise. 2011's "The Long Wait" - with a cover of The Smiths's "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" triggered a 9.3 per cent annual sales lift. Last year's ad, featuring a snowman going to John Lewis to buy winter woollies for his snowwoman, was another hit.
Animation is a new direction - but "The Bear and the Hare" is not "The Snowman". Christmas advertising has become an annual beauty contest for retailers - and there's room for rivals to knock John Lewis from the top of the tree.Reuse content