The release of the John Lewis Christmas advert has become a hotly-anticipated, cultural event in the UK. The premiere of the advert usually kicks off the festivities and sets the tone for the rest of the season.

As a marketer, it has been extremely interesting to observe the evolution of the John Lewis Christmas adverts over the past twelve years. You can see how they have grown their success by keeping up with changing consumer demands and market trends. From simply promoting the most expensive and flashy products to building deeply emotional campaigns through character building and storytelling. We have decided to share their journey with you and explore how the retailer has evolved through hard political and economic seasons, as well as how they have adopted digital technologies to further connect with their customers and bring them into their stores.

2007: Shadows

This was the first John Lewis Christmas advert and one that would change Christmas advertising for good. It is miles away from the heartfelt, emotive John Lewis adverts we see these days. This advert is fairly ‘arty-farty’ and doesn’t feature any narrative about the characters in the advert. Instead, it showcases a selection of expensive, materialistic items that could be gifted on Christmas. This is not an advert that tugs on the heartstrings whatsoever.

2008: From Me to You

There is a theme of extravagance over the past two years of Christmas adverts, with this one again showcasing expensive items that could be gifted. This advert, however, allows the customer to think about what they could gift their loved one; a problem many face at this time of year.

2009: Sweet Child O’ Mine

This advert took the retailer’s first steps into tapping into consumers’ emotions by using nostalgia throughout the ad, from the music to characters. However, the advert still showcases expensive electronics and fails to tell a story that the customer could relate to.

2010: A Tribute to Givers

This was the first John Lewis advert that had a very noticeable tonal shift, grasping the UK’s attention, from the media to their competitors and right down to the end consumer. The storytelling and song choice brought a thoughtful and relatable story to life and truly wowed UK consumers. It was also the first time John Lewis didn’t advertise a particular item and instead used emotions and narrative to coax customers into store.

2011: The Long Wait

With the outstanding response John Lewis received the previous year, the marketing team and collaborating agency, adam&eveDDB, decided to stick with emotive storytelling within their campaigns. In 2011, John Lewis introduced an element of light humour to their Christmas advert, giving an even better emotional pay off.

2012: The Journey

A love story between two snowmen and an advert that would later define John Lewis as a festive brand. This was the first time the retailer introduced animation in their storytelling. The advert was less about flashy presents and more about the loving (and stressful) emotions of gift-giving, with the tagline “Give a little more love this Christmas”. This was another turning point for John Lewis, as it defined their Christmas strategy moving forward.

2013: The Bear and the Hare

The success of creating Christmas campaigns through storytelling led John Lewis to The Bear and the Hare. They created a story of friendship between two lovable woodland animals, bringing it to life with animation designed to look like a vintage storybook, and consumers were obsessed. There was no elaborate gift-giving or flashy technology and brought the viewer back to why we give gifts at Christmastime, to show our appreciation to the people we love.

2014: Monty the Penguin

A heart-warming, cute and humorous tale about love and friendship gripped the nation, and has since been the most successful John Lewis advert ever! During the six week festive period, John Lewis managed to increase their sales by 6% to £777 million. This is the beginning of the iconic John Lewis Christmas story - the bond between a young child and a character!

2015: The Man on the Moon

In collaboration with Age UK, the biggest tear-jerker yet, The Man on the Moon portrays the story of an elderly man alone during Christmas. The ad was created to highlight that over one million people in the UK are alone over Christmas. It is the first time John Lewis told the story of friendship between two people outside their immediate circle. The response to this campaign show that, while very successful, some did feel it was too sombre for the Christmas season.

2016: Buster the Boxer

After a deeply emotional advert the previous year, John Lewis decided to lighten things up with a funny, simple and heart-warming advert of how even the family dog gets excited for Christmas. The retailer also embraced social media by releasing Buster the Boxer Snapchat filters and Twitter hashtags.

2017: Moz the Monster

Taking it back to the classic John Lewis storytelling of a young child’s friendship with an animated character, in 2017 we met Moz the Monster. Spending over £7 million on this charming, multi-channel campaign, this year the retailer had a strong presence on social media and in-store through the use of hashtags, Moz emojis and Moz sounds (such as snoring) in the window of their London Flagship store. It didn’t get the same response from consumers as The Man on the Moon or Buster the Boxer got, as the ad lacked that emotional punch and probably related more to young children than people likely to purchase from John Lewis.

2018: The Boy and the Piano

A tribute to the life and career of Elton John, the retailer switched things up dramatically for their 2018 ad. It was the first time John Lewis used a celebrity as the face of their ad, which was slightly risky for them, but it seemed to have paid off; leaving viewers feeling sentimental. We do think that Elton John got a lot more out of this ad as it was promoting his upcoming film rather than what John Lewis had to offer at Christmastime.

2019: Excitable Edgar

This year, like every year, everyone was eagerly awaiting for the John Lewis Christmas advert, which has now become a British phenomenon. We were introduced to a mysterious character, Excitable Edgar, via an anonymous Twitter account a few days before the release.It was an excellent strategy to get people talking and wondering, “Is this the new John Lewis Christmas advert?”

This campaign celebrates the evolution of the adverts over the past 12 years; using the tried and tested script of presenting the loving friendship between a young child and an animated character, recognised songs and catchy, heart-warming slogans.

It has been important for John Lewis to draw customers in through emotive storytelling, especially during the festive season. According to reports assembled by Campaign, John Lewis have increased their social media views year on year. Back in 2011 the Christmas campaign received 14,000 views within the first 24 hours whereas in 2019 the Excitable Edgar advert received 17.3 million views in the first 24 hours.

Over time, they have successfully increased sales through their adverts by focusing more on the importance of relationships and less on what products they are trying to sell. For a long time, advertisers have been relying on storytelling as a way to connect with consumers, as a new generation of shoppers become dubious of advertising.

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