John Lewis has dropped the biggest hint yet that the so-called ‘sadvertising’ of years past might not be used in its upcoming Christmas advert after the retailer’s head of marketing revealed that the mixed reception to ‘Man on the Moon’ caused it to revaluate the signature creative tactic.
With less than two weeks to go until the much-anticipated Christmas advert lands on screens (10 November), it was unsurprising that head of marketing Rachel Swift was hesitant to reveal too much on how data has been used to inform its festive strategy.
But, speaking at the IPA’s Genesis Conference in London today (2 November) she said that the mixed feelings toward last year's campaign led bosses at the retailer to take a step back and look at whether the creative manifestation of the message it wanted to convey was still compelling.
Last year was arguably the first time that its major rivals had given up trying to emulate the John Lewis approach, with some of the biggest festive spenders all opting for fast-paced, flashy spots over an emotional rollercoaster. Even M&S’ marketing boss said 2015 was the year for moving away from the “blockbuster” ads of old.
It's perhaps for this reason that John Lewis' efforts to tug at heart-strings sparked more criticism at the time than it would normally have received.
“We still had a really successful campaign with Man on the Moon, but there were murmurings that it was too sad. So, we looked at the data we were getting back,” Swift explained, although stopped short of revealing the creative direction it consequently followed.
However - perhaps hinting at the festive ad's move to elicit more than just a tear from viewers - Swift laughed and agreed when an audience member quipped that “melancholy isn’t the only emotion”.
But, it could very well be the case that John Lewis sticks to its tried and tested method. Swift also emphasised on the panel session that its TV campaigns “are still the most profitable in terms of ROI".
“We don’t just do it for the sake of it,” she stressed.
According to the IPA, between 2012-2015 it increased sales during the festive season by 16% on average, and produced over £8 of profit for every £1 spent. As a result, John Lewis’s annual market share has increased to 29.6%, its highest level ever.
And thanks to its weepie ad campaigns, Christmas it accounts for around 20% of John Lewis annual sales and 40% of profits, from which staff bonuses are generated.
Creativity versus effectiveness
Regardless of the feeling John Lewis looks to rouse in shoppers this Christmas, the main message from Swift was that creativity and effectiveness can, and must, work hand in hand.
It was an issue debated at a panel the day before, where Chris Hirst, European and UK group chief at Havas and chair of IPA Effectiveness Leadership Group, said adland has been under the illusion that it can often be a choice between great creative or highly effective work. It was a belief shared by SAB Miller’s group marketing operations director, Mark Luce,, who warned of the ongoing danger from polarising the two.
But, “brand fame, building and emotion are crucial for commercial success. We take it seriously,” said Swift.
In a bid to better align its commercial objectives with creative planning, John Lewis recently restructured its customer team so that all its online analytics and brand research sit within marketing communications. This followed the promotion of the high street giant's top marketer Craig Inglis to the board of directors where we was given the broader remit of managing the end-to-end customer experience.
The approach is an example of long-term thinking among marketers that the IPA has said is on the decline. Earlier this week the industry body suggested there is a “sub-optimal focus on short-term activation strategies” at the expense of brand building.