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John Lewis’s latest ad has received 130 complaints, but did it actually break any rules?

The ASA has received 130 complaints about John Lewis’s latest ad ‘Let Life Happen’

John Lewis Home Insurance’s latest ad campaign, showing a boy in a dress leave a trail of destruction during a fit of frantic expression, has become the focal point of this week’s culture war and has inspired complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The body has confirmed to The Drum that some 130 complaints have been received, and it is assessing whether any of its rules were broken.

The frenetic spot from Adam & Eve DDB launched earlier this week, inspiring condemning headlines such as ‘Why the new John Lewis advert is everything that’s wrong with modern Britain’ [The Telegraph] and ‘John Lewis and the dreadful little emperors’ [The Spectator]. Discussions also emerged around stereotypes, sexism and, perhaps most pivotably, whether the insurer would actually pay out on the child’s wanton destruction.

The ASA, which is de-emphasizing the importance of public complaints to instead prioritize tackling actual harmful ads, has long been a deposit box of anxieties around queer representation on TV. Moneysupermarket.com’s ‘Dance-off,’ featuring a man in heels and hot pants, was the most complained about ad for several consecutive years – even long after it stopped running.

An ASA spokesperson told The Drum: “Some complaints argue that the ad is misleading regarding specific insurance policies around willful damage; others challenge whether the child’s reckless behavior in the ad might set a bad example to children who may emulate it; and some object that it is inappropriate for the boy to be wearing girl’s clothing and makeup.”

It is yet to make its decision on whether it will take the investigation forward.

John Lewis sent out a statement regarding complaints around the ad. It made a point of claiming the boy was not “willfully damaging his home and is unaware of the unintentional consequences of his actions,” which would mean the breakages are covered. But would a John Lewis Home Insurance adjudicator pay out on the evidence of the video? It may prove a tipping point in the eyes of the ASA, rather than anything around the boy’s appearance or behavior.

‘Let Life Happen’ was directed by Tom Kuntz and produced by MJZ and featured the upbeat notes of Edge of Seventeen by Stevie Nicks. It was voted Adweek’s Ad of the Day and was in contention in the halls of The Drum too. But it appears to not be universally loved by perhaps the most important audience – the British public.

If it remains unbanned, the integrated campaign will span YouTube, streaming services, social media and digital screens outside Waitrose stores.

Watch the ad below. Do you reckon the insurer would pay out on such a beautifully destructive spree?

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