John Lewis & Partners has unveiled its Christmas ad for 2018, telling the story of how Sir Elton John’s first piano was ‘more than just a gift’.
Dubbed ‘The Boy and the Piano’, the ad is set to the sound of the musician’s first major hit, Your Song, it is the 10th festive ad created for the brand by agency of record Adam&Eve/DDB.
The story starts in the present day, showing the 71-year-old playing the tune in his living room. It then works backwards chronologically through his life – from stadium tours to glittering 80s dressing rooms, eventually taking us all the way back the year he was gifted his grandmother’s piano on Christmas morning as a young boy.
The TV campaign has been unveiled by staff. It will air on ITV at 9.15pm on Thursday (15 November).
Ending on the tagline 'Some gifts are more than just a gift' the spot marks a departure from previous creative in that it features a celebrity. However, it still bears some of the hallmarks from John Lewis’ tried-and-tested emotive festive formula that made the likes of 'Monty the Penguin' and 'Man on the Moon' a success.
"We’ve been doing John Lewis Christmas ads for some time now and what’s on my mind is how we move it on creatively but hold on to the heart of what makes them special," explained Craig Inglis, partner and customer director at John Lewis & Partners in a behind-the-scenes video. "So when I saw this script, I just thought, this was it."
A host of actors play Sir Elton – who recently announced plans to retire from touring – throughout the decades. John Lewis has plumped for a piano soundtrack and story-led creative in the form of a biopic about thoughtful gifting, rather than pivoting towards a message around the brand’s renewed focus on its 83,000 staff – or ‘partners' – as it did with its joint Bohemian Rhapsody spot with Waitrose in September.
The previous campaign marked a rebrand for both retailers to include ‘& partners’ at the end of their names in a bid to showcase their point of difference in a tough retail environment – the fact that they both are owned by their combined staff.
The Drum understands John Lewis and Waitrose chose not to team up for a Christmas campaign because the marketing teams believed each brand had a different seasonal story to tell and decided to keep them separate. Waitrose's ads were revealed last week.
While the creative makes no mention of partners, a shift in media strategy seen all employees from the John Lewis Partnership be given the first opportunity to share the two-minute-20-second long ad from their own social accounts two hours before the retailer puts it live on its own channels.
There will also be a number of other media firsts, including John Lewis and Waitrose’s Christmas ads both being shown in the cinema.
It was reported that John Lewis paid Sir Elton as much as £5m to score and star in the spot, which was speculated to have a total budget significantly higher than that. In a press release John Lewis said this claim was “wildly inaccurate”.
When first approached to be part of this year's John Lewis Christmas ad, Sir Elton requested that a portion of his fee was to be donated to the Elton John Charitable Trust.
A source with knowledge of the matter told The Drum that the overall Christmas campaign bill (the majority of which was spent on media) was close in price to John Lewis’ previous Christmas ads, which cost in the region of £7m.
With House of Fraser, Debenhams and Marks & Spencer all facing headwinds, John Lewis issued a financial warning earlier this year after its profits slumped 99%. Although it has sought to stress its partnership model and commitment to employees it was forced to cut around 270 jobs in the UK amid the fanfare of its September rebrand.
The department store has been firm that its big budget Christmas campaign is an important investment for the brand, and a “crucial” part of its overall marketing campaign to drive sales throughout the Christmas trading period. Previous Christmas efforts have yielded up to 20 times the ROI for John Lewis.
As well as social and OOH iterations, the overarching campaign will be John Lewis' "most experiential" to date. In its London Oxford Street flagship store, shoppers will be able to step into the set of the ad and experience it for themselves – including Sir Elton's dressing room and recording studio.
The 2,000 sq ft set will allow them interact with props, listen to recordings from Elton John’s 17-11-70 album and have photos taken at the piano played in the ad.
Oxford Street customers will also be able to enjoy a musical light show, being projected from the shop’s Oxford Street windows every 30 minutes from 4pm each day in the run up to the festive season. Elton John’s yuletide classic, Step Into Christmas, will blast from the display.
The shop, along with 14 further shops across the UK, will also open up a Yamaha piano for customers to play.
Inglis said: “Think back to all of the Christmases that you have enjoyed over the years - I’m sure there is one very special gift that stands out above all others.
"That’s the magical feeling we wanted to bring to life this year. The ad tells the story of why Elton’s piano was more than just a gift and we hope to remind customers of that special moment when they’ve given a gift at Christmas time that they know will be treasured forever."
'The Boy & The Piano' was created with help from Sir Elton's Rocket Entertainment Group with media planning and buying from Manning Gottlieb OMD. It was directed by Seb Edwards from Academy Films.
The ad is unconnected to, but precedes, an upcoming biographical film based on Sir Elton's life, Rocketman.