The law of diminishing returns: has the John Lewis Christmas advert had its day?

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The John Lewis Christmas advert has become synonymous with the countdown to the festive period. With the latest ad, featuring Sir Elton John, released today, Woven takes a look back at the lasting legacy of the adverts and whether is still packs a punch, or if the brand has lost its Christmas sparkle.

Since 2007, the John Lewis Christmas advert has owned a monopoly on the festive conversation.

Starting its run with the wonderful ‘Shadows’, in which shoppers cast a Christmassy shadow with their John Lewis swag, the retail giant switched tack in 2011, when they began telling two-minute stories designed to make you feel as warm and cosy on the inside as it is cold and frosty on the outside.

And, boy, did it work.

Since then, the John Lewis ad release date has become a cultural touchstone.

The only thing worse than being talked about…

In recent years, the shine appears to have come off this seasonal phenomenon. John Lewis’ most recent effort, 2017’s Moz The Monster, was one of their least successful. Even more problematic for them, however, is the idea that their adverts, instead of merely being less enjoyable, are actually generating less conversation than ever.

With the next John Lewis ad just around the corner, we decided to use our social listening skills to see whether the reports were true: are people caring less about the John Lewis adverts?

We analysed their campaign feedback over the past five years, scouring social networks and the internet for mentions of related keywords and phrases, to see not just what people were saying, but how many were saying it.

Because it’s one thing to run a campaign that’s less well-liked than those of previous years, it’s quite another for people to stop caring about you altogether.

2013: The Bear and The Hare

A heartwarming tale of the importance of spending Christmas with the ones you love, The Bear and The Hare was a success on the social listening front.

Spurred on by Lilly Allen’s pitch-perfect soundtrack (it reached number one in the UK charts), charming animated story and positive mentions from the BBC, Caroline Flack and Jeremy Clarkson, it raked in over 80,000 mentions.

2014: Monty The Penguin

Proving that you can’t go far wrong with cute and furry animals, Monty The Penguin was a stellar year for John Lewis. The campaign hoovered up 151,000 mentions and attracted the online attention of Mashable and primo popsters, Little Mix.

John Lewis created a Monty Twitter account, too, to promote the perky little penguin.Even some negative feedback around Monty’s prohibitive £95 price tag couldn’t stop it becoming one of John Lewis’ most popular ads ever.

2015: Man On The Moon

Monty was always going to be a hard act to follow, and so it proved, with 2015’s Man On The Moon marking a potential turning point in the John Lewis Christmas advert journey. Maybe it was because of the lack of adorable animals. Perhaps it was the downright depressing idea of an old man being sad, lonely and a million miles away from anyone on Christmas Day. Whatever the reason, this one just didn’t resonate.

Man On The Moon registered just 64,000 mentions – down 57% from 2015 – and drew negative responses from the likes of Noel Gallagher (who claimed he’d ‘sold out’ by allowing his song to be used) and Piers Morgan.

2016: Buster The Boxer

Returning to safer ground, 2016’s Buster The Boxer once more used cute and furry creatures to sell the meaning of Christmas. This ad favoured a more humorous approach as opposed to the traditional tugging of the heartstrings.

Which might be why it wasn’t quite as popular as previous efforts, amassing 76,000 mentions.It also received backlash by suggesting that Santa might not be real. Well done, John Lewis, you just killed Christmas.

2017: Moz The Monster

Unfortunately for the retailers, 2017’s Moz The Monster marked a low point in their Christmas campaign history.

Moz garnered a measly 52,000 mentions, many of which were negative.‘Let’s hope this year’s John Lewis Christmas advert is their last’ said The Independent, while YouTube influencer, Zoella, tweeted to her 13 million followers that it lacked emotion.

Reversing the slide: Waitrose and Elton John

Our social listening results paint a largely downward engagement trajectory for John Lewis these past five years – which might make sense of their recent decision to release an advert in September. This ad, which ostensibly promotes the closer brand marriage between John Lewis and Waitrose, has a look and feel highly reminiscent of a Christmas campaign.A happy by-product of this is that John Lewis haven’t put all of their marketing eggs in one seasonal basket this year, lessening the potential impact of a negatively received 2018 campaign. This is particularly pertinent following their recently announced 99% fall in first-half profits.

On top of this, John Lewis has secured the services of Elton John for 2018’s campaign for a reputed £5,000,000. Far from being put off by the recent downward trend in public engagement, John Lewis appear to be going for broke in recreating their seasonal successes of Christmas past.

Our results show that it’s a gamble worth taking. John Lewis are struggling to stay relevant in an arena they’ve long dominated, so they need to do something big, bold and brilliant to keep hold of their crown.

Will they succeed? Well, that might all depend on whether John Lewis have been naughty or nice this year…

Daniel Swepson, head of marketing & communications, Woven