TV advertising expert Jason Stone takes a look at the John Lewis Christmas ads over the years, and judges how the new advert released today compares to the lauded commercials from previous years. You can have your say on which ad is best by clicking the 'like' button underneath your favourite.
Each year the buzz surrounding John Lewis's Christmas commercial becomes a little more animated and so – appropriately enough – does the ad itself.
Using a combination of hand-drawn animation and 3D sets, 2013's ad is the tale of a special woodland friendship between a bear and a hare. This rhyming duo are separated each winter by the former's biological predisposition for hibernation, leaving his leverine friend with a sense of loss as Christmas approaches.
Luckily, he's just one hare-brained scheme away from changing everything.
It's a touching tale told in a fashion that's simultaneously epic and understated and – in keeping with the precedent set over the last few years – it is remarkably free of the products you might expect to find inside one of the advertised department stores, successfully focusing instead on the idea that John Lewis 'gets' Christmas.Last year, Dougal Wilson's Christmas commercial had a snowman making a remarkable journey in pursuit of a scarf and gloves for his similarly frozen girlfriend. Although it was all done in camera, its inanimate protagonists gave it an animated feel.
The absence of human actors both this year and in 2012's ad has enabled John Lewis to dial up the sentimentality without straying into mawkishness. As Walt Disney once said, you can get away with so much more with woodland animals.The last John Lewis Christmas ad with people in it – 2011's commercial featuring a little boy whose eagerness for the big day had more to do with giving than receiving – edged beautifully towards these emotional limits. Dougal Wilson's wonderful film was rapturously received and remains the campaign's high-water mark.
The keen anticipation surrounding John Lewis's Christmas showpiece is all the more remarkable when you consider that the retailer is a relative ingénue when it comes to advertising.It had barely advertised on television at all when it aired its first Christmas commercial in 2007. While no one could have anticipated that this opening salvo would be the start of a phenomenon, it certainly stood out from the crowd. Michael Gracey's elegant treatment of a script by Johnny Leathers and George Prest at Lowe (before their union with DLKW) established the minimalist approach to selling that has become a benchmark of John Lewis's advertising.
The following year another precedent was established as a pop standard – 'From Me To You' by The Beatles – was re-recorded using the audio equivalent of Instagram in a commercial created by Ed Morris and directed by Malcolm Venville.
Between Christmas 2008 and Christmas 2009, Adam&Eve won the account and built on the splendid work created by Lowe to take John Lewis's Christmas advertising to the next level. Immediately there was a greater level of sentimentality as young children were used to suggest that we should indulge ourselves at Christmas. Beautifully shot by Benito Montorio, it was the first of four John Lewis Christmas ads made by Blink.
Elton John's Your Song was given the Instagram treatment the following year in a film directed by Partizan's Eric Lynne, as it was used to illustrate a series of vignettes that showed people getting ready for the big day by wrapping gifts, hiding presents and, memorably, hanging a stocking on a snow-bound kennel (prompting ludicrous complaints about animal cruelty).
Blink's Dougal Wilson picked up the directorial reins the following year and – as already described – created the ad that will be best-remembered when all of this is consigned to the history books.As music has played such a strong role in John Lewis's advertising, there must have been dismay at Adam&EveDDB when word got out that this year's ad would be accompanied by a Lily Allen cover version of a Keane song. The agency cleverly diverted attention by suggesting that music is such an integral part of the campaign that they would probably change the track if it was leaked. They didn't, as it happens... probably judging that questioning the veracity of the story had killed it.So where does John Lewis go from here? Each year there are fewer appearances for the stuff you can buy from John Lewis – there's only one this year – and there has been a progression from adults to children and from live action to animation. So perhaps 2014's Christmas ad will just be a drawing of a kitten – its eyes slowly widening over two minutes before the John Lewis logo appears.