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By Hannah Bowler | Journalist

November 4, 2021 | 5 min read

The annual marker that the festive season has officially begun – the John Lewis Christmas ad – has landed a week early.

John Lewis, like many others, has taken the decision to launch its Christmas advert earlier than usual this year to meet growing consumer demand for an early festive period. Its 2021 spot, ‘Unexpected Guest’, is all about ‘joy’, ‘escapism’ and taking time to savor the ‘moments of Christmas’, according to its customer director.

“People are throwing everything at Christmas this year to make up for the one that we didn’t quite get last year,” says John Lewis & Partners’ Claire Pointon.

‘Unexpected Guest’ is a story of friendship and taking pleasure in the individual Christmas traditions, rather than the gift-giving. “We wanted to get across the moments of Christmas from decorating a tree to hosting friends and family – these were the moments customers really missed last year in the lead up to Christmas,” she says.

Created in partnership with long-term ad agency Adam&EveDDB, the two-minute film charts the fleeting friendship of 14-year-old Nathan and space traveler Skye. The ad sees Nathan introduce Skye to key Christmas traditions, like sharing a mince pie, watching films and playing in the snow. Nathan’s parting gift as Skye returns to her home planet is his light-up Christmas jumper.

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“Space is really interesting right now – there are civilians going up to space and lots of films coming out,” says Pointon. “Space is current and that’s what great marketing should do to tap into what people are thinking.”

Smuggler is the production company behind the project, with Ewen Brown serving as producer alongside Mark Molloy who directed it.

John Lewis Unexpected Guest 1

The music behind John Lewis’s Xmas ads has become just as anticipated as the films themselves, and this year it is 20-year-old South Londoner Lola Young who takes the helm with a cover of Together in Electric Dreams by Philip Oakey and Giorgio Moroder, which was first released in 1984. Chosen for its “celestial complement” to the advert, Young was picked for “her rich and unique sound, which brings to life the magic of the advert and the friendship that develops on screen”.

The ad drops today (November 3), with John Lewis members getting exclusive access from 6am before it is distributed across its channels from 8am and lands on TV at 8.15pm during ITV’s Pride of Britain Awards.

Marking a change from 2020 when film theaters were shut, ‘Unexpected Guest’ is getting a cinema run. Pointon adds that Bond has brought cinema back and that “the ad is going to look beautiful on the big screen”. MG OMD handled media planning and buying.

The ad is the first major campaign since the retailer pulled its recent home insurance commercial, after it was hit with 130 complaints to the ASA.

To complement the new film, John Lewis has created space traveler Snapchat filters and set up Christmas emporiums in 10 of its stores, each with an ad experience where customers can stand under the spaceship and make animated gifs.

John Lewis Unexpected Guest 2

It’s the second year in a row John Lewis has split away from Waitrose for its Christmas campaign. Pointon says it was decided that advertising isn’t the place for the brands to collaborate, and instead the partnership will be focused on charities and gifting hubs in Waitrose stores.

“Although the partnership worked well in the past, we want to make sure our brands have real clarity of thought,” she says. In a two-minute film, it is “tricky” to communicate what both brands want to be famous for, she adds.

For the first time, John Lewis has moved away from creating new merchandise and, instead, all the products featured in the ad will be available to buy with options to shop the look on social.

Pointon says the concept always comes first and merchandise comes second, and that for this year’s ad, the concept didn’t lend itself to creating any merchandise.

John Lewis isn’t the only brand to bring its Christmas 2021 campaign forward. Very kicked its Christmas campaign off on October 1, citing research showing customers were eager to start their Christmas shopping.

Brands are expected to go big on Christmas this year, with AA/Warc research revealing advertisers are on course to spend an extra £1bn this festive period, up 14% on 2020.

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