The Drum Awards for Marketing EMEA - Awards Show

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By Imogen Watson, Senior reporter

November 15, 2018 | 3 min read

Each year, the unveiling of the anticipated John Lewis Christmas ad is a key checkpoint in the Christmas countdown. Today is that day.

Starring Sir Elton John, ‘The Boy and the Piano’ is a sentimental story that spans the career of the pop legend, in reverse – from the present day, back to the game-changing moment he was gifted his grandmother’s piano.

It's a departure from the retailer's ads of recent years. 2017's ‘Moz the Monster’ received a lukewarm reaction, while 2015's tearjerker 'Man on the Moon' also split opinions.

In the few short hours since it was revealed on Thursday (15 November), the latest festive work has been viewed over two million times on the brand's social channels.

So what do people think of it? The Drum headed to the brand’s flagship store on London's Oxford Street to gauge the reactions of passersby.

All in all, it was mostly dewy eyes, with many feeling that the ad - which isn’t outwardly festive - captured the spirit of Christmas.

"I always look forward to seeing the new ad when it comes out because I think they're progressive, and this one touches the heart as much as anything," said passerby, before adding "having Elton John on it is just wonderful."

After watching the ad, another joked "I'm going to go buy a piano".

But not everyone was totally convinced by the subtle Christmas theme, as one viewer proclaimed questioningly "come on, where's Christmas in all this?"

Some of those in the ad industry had predicted it might split opinions.

Neil Cook, global creative director, at agency TCC said it might be polarising while Jane Bloomfield of marketing research firm Kantar Millward Brown suggested there was a risk that people might see the ad as "more of a tribute to Elton John, which may distract viewers from the story."

"The scale of the present and the presence of Elton John himself may hamper empathy for some people watching," Bloomfield said.

But, Cook added, "it stands out among a disappointingly anonymous batch of Christmas ads this year, and makes many rival ads look like unimaginative shop windows.”

Offscreen, the storefront festive display is in keeping with the musical theme of the ad, with a lit-up piano keyboard unwinding across the length of the window display, coiling around John Lewis products and other Elton John references, including a pair of iconic sunglasses decorated with beauty items and a turntable bowler hat.

Watch the unfiltered reactions in the film above.

Video filmed, edited and hosted by Jenny Cleeton.

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