The Making of a Memorable Ad: Q&A with the agency behind John Lewis' Christmas campaign

The wait for the John Lewis Christmas advert has quickly become as traditional as mince pies, stockings, and the jolly red man himself.

Having established itself as the king of emotional ads with the likes of 'The Long Wait', 'The Journey' and last year's 'The Bear and the Hare' the nation is due for another festive treat this Thursday when the retailer reveals its 2014 offering.

We don't know much but we do know it will not be animated, as Ben Priest, founder and executive creative director at Adam&EveDDB - the creative agency behind John Lewis' most memorable ads - tells The Drum.

We caught up with Priest to find out what it takes to elicit an emotional response in viewers and if the creatives behind the work really mean to make everyone cry.

Does an emotional response resonate with viewers/consumers more than say making them laugh?

I think moving people in any way – to laugh, to reflect, to reminisce etc is the key. If you're not moving them, you're invisible.

Does emotion have a more universal response compared to humour, which perhaps needs a more targeted approach as different groups have different senses of humour?

I don’t think so. Laughter and more serious emotion are tough to extract. One is no easier than the other. Lots of people are making more 'emotional' films these days, some work, some don't. There are very few genuinely funny ads out there though.

Do you ever actually set out to make people cry?

No, never. I think that would be far too manipulative. We set out to make beautiful films, with an insight in, that real people can relate to.

If so, how difficult a job is that?

It's just a question of pushing and pushing for an idea that can deliver that magic.

Do you take a scientific approach to this or is it purely a case of good story telling?

We take a very logical approach to the sort of idea we are looking for, based on the ideas we've done perviously. For instance, for this year’s John Lewis Christmas campaign we did not consider animation, having done it last year. Once we have an area, then it's all about the story.

And are there certain stories/situations/formulas that work better than others?

If you focus on an individual for the duration of the story, it has more traction and magic. Early on, we told stories about multiple characters and the films were less magnetic.

Lastly, what ads would you point to as exemplars of great emotional advertising?

The ad from last year that I really wish the agency had done is 'Mistakes' for New Zealand road safety.

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