John Lewis have stuck to a carefully constructed formula for their Christmas advert in 2015, the Man on the Moon.
Preparation for the advert may have started as early as February, with record companies brought in to find a suitable artist and John Lewis’s favoured advertising agency Adam&Eve/DDB, commissioned to come up with a new concept.
They are said to bring psychologists into the process to help them emotionally engage with viewers.
But every year, that job gets harder. Viewers expect an advert that will tug on their heartstrings, but are more aware than ever of the tricks that marketing experts use to make them buy products. So John Lewis has to be increasingly subtle about how it markets its campaign.
1. A song everyone knows
Ellie Goulding singing Elton John’s ‘Your Song’, Lily Allen singing Keane’s ‘Somewhere Only We Know’, Slow Moving Millie’s cover of the Smith’s ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’: there’s a pattern to the soundtrack used for a John Lewis ad.
“John Lewis selects tracks that are familiar and loved, with strong top lines that tell a story of love, relationships and reconnecting,” says Ruth Simmons, CEO of music agency Soundlounge.
The use of a piano is intentional too. "It is the instrument of our childhood, it is how many songs begin, and it offers a childlike purity to the experience and perhaps subconsciously reminds us of singing around the piano as a family," Simmons said.
Oasis’s ‘Half the World Away’ has already appeared on TV plenty of times before it was picked up by John Lewis – it used to be the theme tune to the BBC sitcom, ‘The Royle Family’. For some, it will conjure up memories of going to see Oasis as a teenager in Britpop’s heyday. For others, it will be about family nights in watching sitcoms around the TV.
2. …and is intentionally a bit boring
This year’s cover of Oasis manages to be even gentler than Noel Gallagher’s version – so while you’re thinking about other happy times, you’re also reminded that Christmas is about simple things like family and relationships.
‘Half the World Away’ tells the same story as the advert does. “So when I leave this planet, you know I’d stay but I just can’t stand it,” Gallagher sings, mirroring ideas about space and the moon used in the campaign.
3. Not all about the sell
Unlike most advertising, the John Lewis adverts aren’t used to directly sell products to the viewer. “They’re not looking for someone to come into the store the following day,” says Thomas Brown, director of strategy and marketing at the Chartered Institute of Marketing. “It’s about having an emotional connection with the shopper to reinforce the brand, which can have a halo effect into the following year.”
This year, John Lewis is not pushing a product the same way that it did with the stuffed Monty the Penguin that it sold in stores. Instead it’s selling a few associated products, like glow in the dark pyjamas, but encouraging shoppers to donate their money to Age UK.
4. Using loneliness to stoke your emotions
Like the special friendship the little boy had with Monty the Penguin in last year’s advert, this year’s advert features an unlikely relationship between a little girl and a very old man who lives in the moon. The message is that John Lewis embodies the spirit of Christmas across all ages – and that gift giving can forge that connection for the loneliest people, who need Christmas love the most.
Brown said the use of a bench is intentional as "a recognised scene from any park or roadside bench around the UK, but put cleverly on the moon – so in keeping with creative approach of the ad but something which can be familiar to all of us."
5. Triggering your memory
Instead of pushing products, John Lewis is using images and music to trigger an emotional response in the viewer. “Think about the Long Wait advert, the little kid counting down the days until Christmas, the kid was waiting to give something. That sparks memories which creates a connection,” Brown said. He said that last year’s Sainsbury’s advert, which depicted a Christmas truce on the battlefields of World War One, pulled the same trick of harking back to history to connect with the viewer.
This year, John Lewis balances depressing scenes with familiar, festival scenes, being careful not to depress the audeince too much. And we get a happy ending - with the balloons bringing colour to the otherwise grey landcape of the moon - to show what thoughfulness can achieve this Christmas.
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