John Lewis' marketing director explains why "thoughtfulness is more important than hard selling our product story" at Christmas

John Lewis Christmas campaigns have become synonymous with the festive season: the multimillion pound campaigns based around the department stores philosophy of “thoughtful giving” never fail to tug on the audience’s heartstrings.

Last year’s campaign featuring a young boy eagerly waiting for Christmas Day only to surprise his parents with a gift won countless awards and, in the words of John Lewis marketing director Craig Inglis, led to “a very good Christmas” for the retailer.

Discussing the process behind the John Lewis’ ad campaigns with The Drum, Inglis commented: “We believe thoughtfulness is more important to our customers than just hard selling our product story at Christmas and it seems to work, it feels more authentic and it’s right for our brand.”

This year’s creative, entitled “The Journey”, hopes to do as well if not better than its predecessor. The £6 million campaign created by Adam+EveDDB tells the story of a snowman who travels across rivers, mountains, roads and cities to get the perfect gift for the snowwoman who stands with him in the garden.

Inglis described the initial reaction to this year’s campaign, which debuted Friday 9 November, as “pretty overwhelming,” and within hours of the ads online premiere parodies of the advertisement already began to crop up online. When asked how he felt about the spoof’s Inglis said: “I personally am very happy with it, I think it just shows that we’ve entered the public consciousness.”

According to Inglis, John Lewis as a brand has been on a “journey in the last three years” to connect more with its audience on an emotional level and in doing so it has become his job to “to make sure we [John Lewis] keep raising the creative bar, keep the ideas fresh and keep entertaining and engaging with our customers emotionally,” something which Inglis describes as “crucial” to this emotional connection is the music used within the ads.

“The choice of song and the way that it’s recorded firstly helps you communicate the message with the audience. But secondly, and more importantly, is the thing that draws out the emotional connection between the commercial and the audience so it’s absolutely vital that we get that right.”

In choosing the tracks, Inglis explains “there’s usually a big old ding-dong or two with pretty vehement debates taking place because music is such a personal and emotional thing,” he added the decision is usually “more heart than head, which is certainly with case with this year’s song, when we heard Gabrielle Aplin’s version of ‘The Power of Love’ it hit us between the eyes that it was the right track.”

Though the retailer strives for this “emotional connection” Inglis stressed that “the campaigns are not just an investment in making people feel Christmassy, they have commercial effectiveness at heart.”

Having recently won the Grand Prix at the IPA Effectiveness awards it’s no secret that these campaigns do have major benefits for the retailer, Inglis describes the ads as a “springboard for our key trading period between now and Christmas,” and in terms of figures John Lewis earns “£5 for every pound we spend at Christmas time and that’s across all media.”

In discussing projections for this year’s ROI, Inglis continued: “We’re up against some quite tough numbers from last year, but we’re well set up for it. We have a good assortment [of advertising] in place and it appears to be having the right impact, so we’re pretty confident… clearly the economy is still struggling, it is still a struggle for people, but we’re confident we’ll do well and we’re certainly not having doubts.”

When asked what he thought of this year’s competition Inglis remained diplomatic saying he couldn’t “single anybody out” but what he would say was that “the marketing industry has upped its game this year.

“I think whether you love them or loathe them the fact that advertisers are making more effort to tell a story and to connect emotionally can only be a good thing…the watch out for all brands is you’ve got to be authentic to your brand.”

Since “The Journey” made debut last week the advert has already clocked up over one-and-a-half million YouTube views and catapulted Gabrielle Aplin’s version of ‘The Power of Love’ to number three in the iTunes chart to which Inglis concluded: “I never thought we’d reach the heady heights of last year but actually there has been an even bigger reaction this year, it’s incredible.”

The official John Lewis “The Journey” can be seen at the top of the page, with one of the online spoof ads shown below.

Inglis will also be speaking at this year's Marketing Society Scotland annual St Andrews Day Dinner.

Ahead of the event, Inglis told The Drum: “As this year the focus is fairly and squarely on creativity, I’m going to be talking about how we harness creativity at John Lewis to build an emotional connection between our brand and our customers.

“I’ll be talking about that [building the emotional connection] and the journey that we’ve been on in the last three years really in terms of doing exactly that. John Lewis is a brand that is very much trusted and that’s incredibly important to us, and will remain so."

The dinner takes place on Thursday 29 November at the Roxburghe Hotel in Edinburgh, the event is sponsored by The Scottish Government, The Famous Grouse, Creative Scotland and the Roxburghe Hotel.

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