The History of the John Lewis Xmas Advert

In case you haven’t noticed, Xmas is just around the corner. For many people, the festive season is heralded by the beginning of Xmas advertising on the television, and for many that means the John Lewis Xmas advert.

For decades, advertisers have been trying to outdo each other and themselves in terms of spectacle and sentiment to become the most talked-about brand of the Xmas season, with the release of season-appropriate adverts seen as a cultural event in the UK especially.

One of the most successful brands in this regard is John Lewis, who started their Xmas campaigns in 2007. They have dominated the Xmas marketing scene to such success that the debut of their adverts have become the starting gun for the festive advertising season over recent years, with the second Saturday of November becoming the traditional date of their first broadcast, usually to millions of viewers.

It’s been almost a decade since the release of the first John Lewis Xmas advert, so we thought we’d look back at how these trend-setting adverts have developed over that time.

2007 – “Shadows”

Tagline: “Whoever you’re looking for this Christmas”
Director: Michael Gracey  Agency: Lowe London

Using the projected shadows of products to create an image spoke volumes in this advert. Packed full of detail which shows off the range of products available at John Lewis, this was a simple but elegant presentation.

2008 -“From Me to You”

Tagline: “If you know the person, you’ll know the present”
Director: Malcolm Venville  Agency: Lowe London

Another simple advert, this time with emphasis on intimacy over clever tricks. It was also, according to Marketing Director Craig Inglis (a role now redefinied as “Customer Director“), created with deliberate avoidance of images of excessive consumerism. This advert introduced the use of gentle covers of famous pop songs into the John Lewis tradition. Recorded by John Lewis employees, the cover of The Beatles‘ “From Me To You” was available for free download, with people encouraged to make a donation to the Wallace & Gromit’s Children’s Foundation.

2009 – “Sweet Child o’ Mine”

Tagline: “Remember how Christmas used to feel?”
Director: Benito Montorio  Agency: adam&eveDBB

2009 saw the start of the creative relationship between John Lewis and adam&eveDBB (in 2009, it was pre-merger Adam + Eve), which continues to this day. Taking influence from the success of the previous year’s cover, Taken by Trees provided a folksy version of the Guns ‘n’ Roses rock classic Sweet Child o’ Mine, which accompanied images of children opening adult presents in an advert aimed at bridging the gap between children and adult’s experience of Xmas.

2010 – “A Tribute to Givers”

Tagline: “For those who care about showing they care”
Director: Eric Lynne  Agency: adam&eveDBB

Ellie Goulding‘s version of Elton John‘s “Your Song” continued the tradition of covers backing the action, this time focusing on people preparing gifts for their loved ones. The song carries most of the emotional weight of the advert while images that accompany it have a playful sentimentality.

2011 – “The Long Wait”

Tagline: “For gifts you can’t wait to give”
Director: Dougal Wilson  Agency: adam&eveDBB

This was the advert that made people talk and get excited for what John Lewis had in store for the future. Soundtracked by Slow Moving Millie covering The Smiths‘ “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want“, this advert told the story of a young boy impatiently waiting for Xmas, not for what he will receive, but to be able to give his parents their present. Interestingly, this advert featured no John Lewis products, such was the power of the brand they had built for themselves during previous years’ campaigns.

2012 – “The Journey”

Tagline: “Give a little more love this Christmas”
Director: Dougal Wilson  Agency: adam&eveDBB

Sticking to a successful formula, this advert contains every element of the previous year, including the lack of product advertising. Gabrielle Aplin provided the whimsical cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood‘s “The Power of Love“, which accompanies the story of two snowpeople in love. The advert made its broadcasting debut during the X Factor, illustrating just how “event television” the John Lewis adverts had become in the UK.

2013 – “The Bear and the Hare”

Tagline: “Give someone a Christmas they’ll never forget”
Director: Elliot Dear / Yves Geleyn  Agency: adam&eveDBB

Expectation was so high for the John Lewis Xmas advert in 2013 that a short teaser was broadcast on the Wednesday before the official Saturday debut. Details of the music to be used were also released in advance, such was public interest in the John Lewis Xmas advert. Lily Allen‘s cover of Keane‘s “Somewhere Only We Know” accompanied the animated tale of a bear and hare in a Disney-esque tale of friendship.

2014 – “Monty the Penguin”

Tagline: “Give someone the Christmas they’ve been dreaming of”
Director: Dougal Wilson  Agency: adam&eveDBB

Given a more “modest” launch in order to avoid hype fatigue, this campaign instead added in-store experiential marketing, a book, app narrated by Dermot O’Leary, merchandise, and an “Adopt a Penguin” charitable endeavour with WWF. The advert itself was another heartwarming tale of friendship, this time between a boy and a CGI Adelie penguin. The music was provided by Tom Odell, who covered John Lennon‘s track “Real Love

2015 – “Man on the Moon”

Tagline: “Show someone they’re loved this Christmas”
Director: Kim Gehrig  Agency: adam&eveDBB

With a budget of £7 million and a host of additional marketing stunts and products, John Lewis’ latest Xmas advert continues the big-budget event experience that’s been a winning formula so far. Working with and donating profits of certain products to the Age UK charity to raise awareness of elderly isolation, 2015’s advert was even more powerfully sentimental than previous efforts. Soundtracked by Aurora covering Oasis‘ “Half the World Away“, the advert has already gained praise for its effective simplicity.

Oliver Connor

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