Ad industry has its say on Saatchi & Saatchi’s first John Lewis Christmas ad
The eagerly-awaited debut from the retailer’s new creative shop just landed. So what does adland think of the festive spot?
Since Saatchi & Saatchi won the coveted John Lewis account in May, the industry has been speculating on whether the agency would stick with the retailer’s tried-and-tested festive formula or take it in a new direction.
Chief creative officer Franki Goodwin has described the daunting brief as “like taking the reins of a movie franchise,” adding that the pressure was immense but the privilege was greater.
Well, today, all has been revealed and the internet is full of people wanting to give their two cents on the approach.
Did it land with adland? Let’s find out...
Joe Corcoran, executive creative director at Anomaly London: “It’s really lovely to see something silly. It’s seriously done. There’s not a moment wasted in the edit. They’ve built a full character, from a multi-headed plant, in two minutes.
“The score is original and hits all the emotions needed. But it’s made to enjoy. Even the sell doesn’t feel off, it’s part of the silliness. Well-crafted enjoyment, with a nice message that embraces all our quirks at this time of year.”
Tom Drew, executive creative director at Wunderman Thompson: “Let your traditions grow, they say. And John Lewis did – together with Adam&EveDDB they created a new tradition in which retailers (and now brands in all sectors) would put most of their annual marketing budgets into one big campaign that tries to capture the spirit of Christmas with the hope of being talked about. Saatchi and Saatchi have done the brand’s tradition proud, using the Little Shop of Horrors to sell wares for the ‘big shop of presents.’”
Lynne Deason, head of creative excellence at Kantar: “It retains the hallmarks we’ve come to expect, but for me doesn’t quite pack the same emotive punch. That said, I think audiences will respond positively to the humor that runs through the ad – our research has shown that brands are using humor more now post-pandemic.
“I would have loved for the brand itself to have played more of a central role in driving greater commercial awareness but, given the momentum John Lewis has built around its festive campaign, people will still be looking out for and talking about it.
“The essence of John Lewis sits at the heart of the story – drawing on the nostalgia of traditions but emphasizing how new ones emerge as life doesn’t stand still. This is synonymous with the brand. Shoppers can still rely on it in the way they always have – its fundamental values remain the same, but it is evolving to reflect people’s needs and how they live their lives.”
Rick Dodds, creative partner at Don’t Panic: “It must be incredibly daunting to be a creative taking over the phenomenon that is John Lewis. How do you make it your own, without jettisoning too much of what has made this brand the nation’s favorite?
“The joyful quirkiness of a Venus fly trap coming alive (special mention to the characterization here and resisting the temptation to give it eyes) with the distinct new direction in the soundtrack.. the balance is bang on!
“This is a John Lewis ad, but not as we know it. The most important opinions will happen in coffee shops, pubs and hairdressing salons; I hope it lands there as well as it has done with me. Congrats to all involved. I’m a fan.”
Curro Piqueras, executive creative director at Dude London: “The narrative evokes a sense of surprise similar to the good old days, with great humor and rhythm. I really appreciate the decision to focus on humor and entertainment rather than gauging the campaign’s success through tears.
“Indeed, it’s a genuine celebration of Christmas, powerful enough to convince even the most stoic grinches. Well done on creating such a beautiful holiday campaign.”
Regan Warner, executive creative director at McCann London: “We all knew that this was going to be a tough brief to crack for Saatchi & Saatchi and there were a lot of expectations when partnering with Megaforce. The first viewing didn’t give me all the feels but on the second viewing, its weird and wonderful charm kind of grew on me.
“Did I feel bad for poor Snapper being put out in the cold? Yes, yes I did. So that’s something right?!? On the other hand, my kids instantly loved it and I have a sneaking suspicion Venus Fly Trap ‘pets’ will be making their way on to their Christmas Lists.”
VJ Anand, executive creative director at Vaynermedia EMEA: “It’s time for ad agencies to take a step back and evaluate the way we create ads, especially during the holiday season. The traditional 'gut-feel' strategy might have worked in the past but this year’s John Lewis ad, while shot beautifully, lacks the innovation and edge you’d want to see from an agency that’s just come onboard with such an iconic brand.
“Maybe Saatchi & Saatchi didn’t want to try anything too radical for this first effort. The problem is, even with Andrea Bocelli and a Venus fly trap instead of a Christmas tree, the format feels the same as years gone by.
“We should embrace a more audience-focused approach. Advertisers should be leaning into social platforms to discover what’s brewing with audiences and what’s trending, then build campaigns around those conversations and sentiments.”
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Dede Laurentino, chief creative officer at Ogilvy UK: “Change is in the air. And it features a specially composed track... in Italian. Why? The answer to that question is the whole point.
“John Lewis has covered every angle and kicked it off with a study about how differently Christmas is celebrated across the nation. The spot brings the subject to life in a wonderful and surprising way.
“An unlikely hero in a typical story about bond and friendship. I particularly like the moment of crisis in the story, when Andrea Bocelli sings a few deeply sad ‘life is a celebration’. It’s as if the ad is aware of its current context when the world hasn’t got too many reasons to think life is a festa. It’s as if Bocelli – and the ad itself – is clinging to an old belief that doesn’t hold true and mechanically repeats it out of habit. A happy Christmas ad? Now?!
“But then of course it IS indeed an ad. And it does happen to be Christmas. So we must be hopeful and joyful, even if we need to search inside for motivation.
“And the ad ends with the point it wants to make: invent new traditions. Be open to what the world brings and make the most of it.
“A new agency, and perhaps a new partnership is born? To quote Lampedusa’s The Leopard (another Italian): "Everything must change for everything to remain the same.”
Kimberly Douglas, strategy partner at Leagas Delaney: “Ah, the John Lewis Christmas ad. A chance for every adlander to dust off their inner critic and, in recent years, that often means criticism over critique. Well, not this adlander. Not this year. John Lewis has been on a trajectory of increasingly heart-wrenching epics over the past decade, but this year (with a new agency), it seems that it has remembered two fundamental truths: Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy and advertising is best when it entertains.
“2023 has been a pretty bleak year all around, and the loveable chaos of a hapless Venus flytrap is apparently the antidote we didn’t know we needed. Unexpected? Sure. Impeccably crafted? I’d expect nothing less. Surprising storytelling that makes us feel warm and fuzzy about Christmas? That’s vintage John Lewis.”
Al Young, joint chief creative officer at St Luke’s: “The new John Lewis ad tells us to ‘grow our own traditions’ and M&S told us to do much the same this year. Are traditions bad, or is it as Mahler said that ‘Tradition is not worship of ashes but the preservation of fire’?
“John Lewis is the mother and father of every modern Christmas advert and here it upholds the tradition it established with the following characteristics: great music, great cinematography, great performances.
“The story of a child’s aspirations for Christmas is told through their loyal love for an unlikely friend.
“Perhaps the middle of the story lacked the elements to set one up, but the missing characteristic is a satisfying ending. And as tradition dictates, we all like a happy ending.”
Rachel Miles, creative director at Meanwhile: “Strange. Silly. Scary. Snapper the Venus Flytrap is giving us plenty food for thought.
“While the ad perhaps isn’t as warm and fuzzy as most people have come to expect with a John Lewis Christmas ad, I personally wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I appreciated the small things the average punter might have missed. Like the Jack and the Beanstalk-inspired wiggles on the logo on the end frame. I can only imagine how many meetings that must have had.
“And I can forgive the lack of a clear storyline because the music told me what to feel… I for one am glad it’s not a predictable sappy acoustic cover. Can we also give a moment to the well-crafted sound design? It does a lot of the heavy lifting.
“I think the Saatchi gang have put their own stamp on it, in a way that happily continues the grand old tradition.
“Change is a good thing, but too much change scares people, far more terrifying than a Venus flytrap.”
Camilla Yates, strategy director at Elvis: “Their tried and tested formula of 'child befriends thing' is in full force in the 2023 offering. From an ad industry perspective, this feels pretty formulaic by now, after the brand has told us similar stories for well over a decade. But from a consumer's point of view, maybe that's OK - Christmas is largely about returning to the familiar and the reassuring, and that's exactly what John Lewis is giving people, this year.”
Sophie Lewis, chief strategy officer at M&C Saatchi London: “Yes to the plinky-plonky piano opener. No to the track that kicked in (and I am a fan of Bocelli). Yes to the opening styling. No, to not following through in the rest of the ad
“Yes to the Venus fly trap (I liked Little Shop of Horrors). No to the tenuous present opening.
“Oh, I don’t know, it’s fine, I suppose. I wanted something more meaningful. Somehow. More thoughtful gifting (the old strategy), I guess. Will it drive footfall/sell stuff? Probably not.”
Ciara O'Meara, creative director at VCCP: “I was nervous for Saatchi & Saatchi, even if they weren’t. I was expecting a total departure creatively from where Adam&EveDDB had been but instead, they seem to have built on and flexed that world.
“I personally really like the use of a Venus flytrap as it’s not typically cutesy and both weird and wonderful. There have been some years where it’s just gotten too fluffy, from all aspects. I also really resonate with the nuance of a single-parent family as that’s my background so it’s eventually nice to see that represented. In my opinion, the boots have been filled but I’m more excited about the step they take forward next year.”
Emily Gray, founding partner, business director at Untangld and founding partner at by The Network: “It's a miss for me. Whilst undeniably a more fun and vivacious tone, it doesn't have the emotional depth in storytelling that we're used to seeing from this usually very considered brand.
“It's those strong stirring feelings that create memorability and have helped to position John Lewis as the thoughtful and quality option for gift shopping. Perhaps they're aiming for the same entertainment factor that we've seen Aldi's Kevin the Carrot successfully deliver, but for me, the character, whilst novel, is gimmicky. This could just have easily been a spot for Argos if you swap the logo out.”