‘Like taking reins of a movie franchise’: Saatchis on making the John Lewis Christmas ad
For the first time since 2009, the John Lewis Christmas campaign is in the hands of a new incumbent – Saatchi & Saatchi. Here the pair tell us why their debut festive foray is a break with tradition in more ways than one.
After parting ways with long-time creative shop Adam&EveDDB earlier this year, John Lewis has just released its 2023 Christmas ad conceived by its new agency Saatchi & Saatchi.
Upon winning the highly coveted account back in May, anticipation has been building over the direction chief creative officer Franki Goodwin’s team would take for the retailer’s famed festive offering.
“It does feel a little bit like taking the reins of a movie franchise,” says Goodwin. “And wanting to give as much reverence to what’s come before but then also to have a vision and move it forward to bring something different.” There’s a pressure, she adds, but it’s also a massive privilege.
The agency started by assessing how festive traditions in the UK have changed over the years due to social and economic shifts. That was part of the pitch that Saatchi & Saatchi brought to John Lewis at the turn of the year.
“It’s no secret that the Christmas campaign was the brief for the pitch,” says John Lewis marketing director Rosie Hanley. “The thing we loved about traditions, from that first response, was that traditions allow us all to have common ground. In a relatively divided country, or indeed, across generations, traditions bring people together, but they are also very personal and individual to us. It felt like rich territory.”
John Lewis commissioned the market research company YouGov to provide the data that would underpin the approach. What it found is that while there are the classic customs like decorating the tree and sharing gifts, many families also have new traditions – from all-day Christmas pajamas to meeting up outside.
And the retailer made sure to focus on what those modern families look like. The spot features a single-parent household. Office for National Statistics data shows 15% of families in the UK are single parents and it’s something that John Lewis hasn’t represented in its festive spot before.
What has transpired is a new festive spirit that shows how the unusual and unexpected, over the conventionally ‘perfect’ can lead to a joyful time together for everyone under the campaign tagline ‘Let Your Traditions Grow.’
At the heart of that sentiment is the film’s young protagonist who lovingly nurtures a plant from seed, in the belief he is cultivating a perfect Christmas tree. In a twist, the seed grows into an energetic and mischievous Venus flytrap called Snapper.
In a sad moment, the fast-growing plant sadly becomes too big for the living room and is cast out into the cold. Thankfully, the tearjerker scene doesn’t last too long and Snapper is embraced back into the family, giving out presents with such exuberance that the mum, son and grandma find a new joy in gathering around their unconventional ‘Christmas tree.’
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The spot was shot by the popular director ensemble Megaforce. “They are masters of their craft, creating category-defining advertising," says Goodwin. "They brought so much thoughtful storytelling and additional nuance and magic to it. It was their idea that the seed was found in a flea market because it brings that magical feel of ‘where did it come from?’ That Spielberg kind of feel to it.”
Building on that sense of wonder, fans of legendary Italian opera star Andrea Bocelli will be delighted by the soundtrack which is his re-recording of a track called Festa. It was written and produced specifically for this John Lewis ad, with lyrics written especially for and approved by the singer himself. Goodwin beams about traveling to Italy for the recording with the beloved tenor.
The song will be released in longer form as a charity single with a proportion of the proceeds going to the John Lewis Partnership’s Building Happier Futures charities, which help care for young people and families in need.
In a first for the brand, Snapper will be part of the ‘Christmas at Kew’ light trail. And there will also be a 15ft out-of-home (OOH) portrayal of Snapper going live today on Oxford Street. Toy versions of the plant will also be available to purchase.
“A lot of people see the John Lewis ad as the kick-off to the Christmas season. It’s almost like Christmas hasn't started until you see the ad, no pressure,” concludes Hanley. “We know how difficult things are for customers but ultimately, we are here with a bit of entertainment. This year was, we were quite deliberate about bringing a bit more joy.”