In the last six or seven years a new phenomenon has appeared in the British build up to Christmas. Now almost as anticipated as the arrival of the man in red and white himself, is the John Lewis TV advert.
This year’s offering appealed to the GeekDad side of my brain. There’s a telescope, a bow and arrow, a man walking on the moon, and some extremely dubious physics. It has also spawned a parody that is both funny and geeky, whether you’ve heard of John Lewis or not.
As TV advertisements go, they are bordering on genius. They use breathy cover versions of popular hits (such as Taken by Trees version of Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine“), played over a narrative designed to remind us of Christmases past. Built around the idea that the greatest gift you can give is love, the adverts tap into what we think the holiday season should be all about, togetherness. The gentle soundtracks, combined with the folksy manner in which most of the ads are shot, steep them in nostalgia, making it easier to believe that by shopping in John Lewis we’re not only buying a present but also a piece of a less complicated past.
For those that don’t know, John Lewis are a chain of upscale department stores, found exclusively in the United Kingdom. They pride themselves on being “Never knowingly undersold,” an appealing, if obscure, way of saying they have a price match policy. They are also renowned for their quality of service, particularly after-sale support. If you have a problem with your product, and you bought it from John Lewis, you know you there will be no issues sorting a replacement.
John Lewis is owned by its permanent employees. All 69,000 of them are “Partners” who own the business and through various democratic processes have a in say in management decisions. This and a strong commitment to paying tax in the UK, have made them the darling of middle-class ethically conscious consumers.
In past years John Lewis have treated us to:
- Children playing with grown up presents (soundtracked by the aforementioned “Sweet Child O’ Mine”).
- A boy desperately waiting for Christmas morning (Slow Moving Mille covering The Smiths’ “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” ). This one is my favorite and the benchmark against which I measure all others.
- A Snowman making a journey to a mystery destination (Gabriel Aplin covering Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “The Power of Love”).
- A hare waking up a bear so he can join in at Christmas (Lily Allen butchering Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know”).
- An implausible if heartwarming tale of a suburban penguin. (Tom Odell covers Lennon’s “Real Love”).
- This year’s song is an Oasis song covered by AURORA
Each advert is like the previous year’s only more so, and one has to wonder how long they can keep it up. The early adverts were met largely with approval, but each subsequent year the public’s cynicism level creeps up a notch. Spoof trailers and parody Twitter accounts spring up almost immediately. This year I have seen arguments vented that, despite the tagline, showing “someone they’re loved this Christmas” does not require money to be spent at John Lewis. The store’s fans retaliate that the advert isn’t saying that it does. I have some sympathy with this viewpoint. Most people are going to buy gifts, whether they be from John Lewis or not. A gentle reminder that Christmas is about more than presents is no bad thing, especially in view of last year’s Black Friday fracas.
Of course, it’s harder to defend this perspective when following the “Continue the Story” link takes you to a page where you can buy Man in the Moon products. Though, I should point out, from the same page it is also possible to make a donation to Age UK.
Whatever your perspective, it’s undeniable that John Lewis’ raison d’etre is to make money. If they didn’t they wouldn’t exist. So whilst I personally have some cynicism about their perfect Christmas nostalgia shtick, I recognise that it’s done well. There’s a genuine attempt to pass on an important message, albeit whilst promoting the company in the best possible light.
Other’s don’t agree, and there are vociferous condemnations across the internet that I’m not going to flag up here. Instead here are few choice tweets from the numerous parody accounts that exist.
— John Lewis Moon Man (@JLewisMoonMan) November 8, 2015
That #ManOnTheMoon advert has so many issues. They don’t even mention the Van Allen radiation belt or the complications caused by hypoxia.
— Kristopher Davidson (@kristanton80) November 6, 2015
— Monty The Penguin (@JLewisPenguin) November 6, 2015
But I’ll leave the final word to satirical website The Poke, with their awesome parody video… made with a little help from George Lucas.