End of an era: creatives reflect on Adam&EveDDB’s best John Lewis ads
After a partnership of 14 years, John Lewis parts ways with creative agency Adam&EveDDB. We dissect its lasting legacy.
Elton John in the 2018 John Lewis Christmas ad / elton
When the agency won the account back in March 2009, few would have known it would become one of the most lucrative partnerships in adland. Using a winning formula of emotional storytelling and recognizable soundtracks, the team created some of the brand's most-loved and memorable ad campaigns.
To commemorate the longstanding partnership, The Drum details the standout John Lewis moments according to adland execs.
Sweet Child O’ Mine
Al Young, joint chief creative officer and partner, St Luke’s: As adults, it’s hard to be surprised or profoundly delighted by a gift in the way a child can. And this ad captured a mood and a nation; and led the movement towards a higher quality of retail advertising – that had previously merely been visual conveyor belts of merchandise. It created the calendar moment that has tied the UK (and the world) to the anticipation of Christmas ads every year since.
The Boy and the Piano
Steve Aldridge, chief creative officer, Wunderman Thompson, said: Telling Elton John’s story in reverse, to the gift of a piano at Christmas, was everything an ad should be. Emotive, entertaining, informative and just beautifully executed. There is so much love and craft in this film, I never get bored of re-watching it. Some of the scenes are incredible. That you can get Elton John’s story into 60 seconds, let alone sell John Lewis at the same time, is a creative feat. I don’t know if it’s true, but I don’t think they even sold pianos before they made this ad. I’d love that to be true.
Ian Heartfield, founder and chief creative officer, New Commercial Arts, said: My kind of ad. So simple, so warm, so charming. And proof you can move people in a category as dry as financial services. It’s perfect. Not that I will ever admit that to Murphy or DG.
Monty the Penguin
Nicola Wood, creative director, Ogilvy UK, said: It’s hard to think of John Lewis and not think Christmas – and what a treasure chest of Christmas ads there are to choose from. Because just like the Grinch, John Lewis stole Christmas. Year after year. Triumph after triumph. It became our Super Bowl. But for me, the best was that wee little penguin and his endearing friendship with the young boy. It was 2014 and at that time, my boy was three years old. And he had a duck, creatively named Ducky. And everywhere he went, so did Ducky. I think I cried when I first saw Monty the Penguin because it resonated with me, and I didn’t just see a boy and a penguin, I saw my boy and his duck. That is what John Lewis advertising has always been so damn good at – playing with truths and hitting the right emotional chords.
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The Long Wait
Dylan Davenport, executive vice-president, Weber Shandwick, said: The first with a story that took you on a true journey. It was the first where the re-imagined music chimed perfectly with the narrative. The first that gave a proper emotional rug pull at the end. The first that brought a lump to my throat. And the first work I saw when I joined Adam&Eve. Memorable for so many reasons.
Dan Cullen-Shute, worldwide chief exec and founder, Creature, said: Despite having worked in the industry for over 20 years, I’ve never really been what you could describe as an ad nerd. I like advertising, sure, and I know which directors to get excited about, but there are proper nerds out there, and while I’m proud to work with a few, I’m equally proud not to be one: but for John Lewis, I make an exception. To my mind, while they achieved a genuinely insane degree of consistency, they never quite topped The Long Wait. It was the spot that established the ground rules for “what made a big Christmas ad” and gave the UK ad industry its festive Super Bowl. More importantly, I still can’t watch it without crying (in a good way).
Owen Lee, chief creative officer, FCB Inferno, said: A wonderful piece of storytelling but above all a brilliant script. The twist at the end is sublime, you don’t see it coming and it still moves me to tears now. And perhaps most importantly, this commercial is wrapped up with the perfect line for a retailer at Christmas: ‘For gifts you can’t wait to give’. I remember seeing that line all over John Lewis on Oxford Street and thinking what a brilliant piece of advertising, the commercial emotionally moves me and the line makes me want to buy.
Prabhu Wignarajah, creative director at AMV BBDO: Like most people, I imagine, I consider The Long Wait to be the one to beat. Which they never did. Because no jumping dog, horny penguin or lonely old space weirdo could ever jerk our tears like an infant who’d rather give than receive. No one was ready for that. Forget rug pulls, they yanked the carpet away and left us sobbing on the floorboards. It was the kind of wildly improbable fantasy that made alien visitors and excitable dragons look like characters from a Shane Meadows movie. Which is why it worked so well.
Simon Richings, executive creative director, We Are Social, said: There's a gentle plinky-plonky cover of a great Smiths song (before that treatment became over-familiar), a lovely performance from the boy impatient for Christmas Day and a brilliant rug-pull that transforms the assumed selfish kid into an angel (I’m not crying, you’re crying). Best of all, it ended with a good, old-fashioned promise of what John Lewis had for you in store: gifts you can’t wait to give. The other famous films may have looked better or had stories that were even more heartwarming. But this one’s by far the best ad.
Always a Woman
Jules Chalkley, chief executive creative director, Ogilvy UK, said: Early days and the beginning of a whole new brand narrative. It created an amazing brand tone of voice, gave them an enormous sense of who their audience is and captured a unique relationship in culture. Set the agenda for the following work for me.
Mark Rivers, executive creative director, Somethin' Else Creative Studio, Sony Music Entertainment, said: I’m on a WhatsApp group with some middle-aged mates that I’ve grown up with. None of them work in advertising, and the main topics of conversation are football and piss-taking. But every year, the new John Lewis ad gets a review from one of the group – Ross – and everyone else piles in with their views. To me, that shows the power of Adam&Eve and John Lewis advertising. But actually, my favorite ad isn’t a Christmas one, it’s Always a Woman. I love Billy Joel and I have a daughter so it’s always punched me in the gut.
Lynne Deason, head of creative excellence, Kantar, said: The Long Wait holds a special place in my heart – when my children were seven and five they refused to open their Christmas presents until I’d opened the scooter they’d bought me, mirroring the ad’s touching narrative. However, the 2010 ad soundtracked by She’s Always A Woman is John Lewis’ most powerful overall. It hits you in the heart, capturing so beautifully the strength, power and joy of being a woman. I love how clearly it depicts John Lewis’ commitment and relevance to all phases of our lives – it’s a great example of how the brand has become trusted and culturally embedded nationwide.
Grace Francis, global chief creative and design officer, Wongdoody, said: Save the best for last. An out-of-shape dad learns to skateboard to welcome his new adopted daughter at Christmas. Set to a crooning cover of Blink 182’s All The Small Things. I’m not crying. You’re crying. The new agency has its work cut out for them.
John Lyons, business director, Gasp, said: The soundtrack is sublime. The slow build and then the reveal. No sooner had my eyes started to roll at what seemed an ‘old bloke trying to be hip’ trope, than the door opened, a relatably human moment took place, and those same eyes started welling up. What could have been a clumsy attempt at telling a progressive inclusive story was authentic, beautiful and emotional. No, you're crying.