25 days of Ausmas: Ben Welsh, CCO, DDB Australia on John Lewis' Monty the Penguin

Every day an advertising creative from Australia and New Zealand will offer their own favourite Christmas campaign from over the years as we celebrate the best work from the festive period the world over and hear their views on what is best in class.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a suite of Christmas ads. Like an electronic advent calendar, they count us in from mid-November to that special day.

But some of them do it better than others. I’d argue that’s because some brands have a right to speak out at Christmas while others just get on board.

We can thank John Lewis and Adam & Eve DDB for elevating the Christmas commercial to an art form – and inspiring others to get on board. It began with ‘the long wait’ in 2011 with a story about a little feller, who like most kids at that time of year, can’t wait for Christmas. The lovely surprise is that instead of looking forward to receiving, he’s been looking forward to giving. And while this wasn’t the first John Lewis spot to use a great track - The Smiths’ Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want - it established it as an essential ingredient. There followed a couple of beautiful animated spots, but all of them were building up to my favourite – Monty the Penguin – in 2014.

Ever since that spot I’ve heard agency folk and clients say ‘What we need is a John Lewis Christmas commercial’ but they don’t, because a John Lewis Christmas commercial can only work for John Lewis.

What makes it so powerful is that it connects what we want from Christmas with what the brand delivers. Unlike many Christmas advertisers, John Lewis is a business that is built for Christmas and depends on it for a large chunk of business.

Now I must confess that the above ‘we’ is more ‘me’ and tell you that I was raised in a middle-class English family and that both parents once worked for the John Lewis Partnership - we even rented a house from them and going up to Peter Jones in Sloane Square was a treat.

But back to more general themes. Monty the Penguin tells the story of a boy and his favourite toy, giving insights into boys and their favourite toys. But more importantly, it paints a picture of two attentive parents in tune to their son’s emotions. And isn’t that what every parent wants to believe? Not only that, their home is a tasteful middle-class one and it even snows. Richard Curtis couldn’t paint a better picture of middle England.

The ad was a commercial hit winning the Effectiveness Grand Prix at Cannes I 2016. Interestingly, analysis by Neuro-Insight* found that the commercial was 23% more effective on male viewers compared to females.

Adam & Eve DDB has created so many brilliant emotional films for John Lewis – I read an article recently on the last 10 years. In doing so they’ve built an expectation and rarely failed to deliver on it. Proof that long term, emotionally-driven brand building is the way to go.

Ben Welsh, chief creative officer, DDB Australia

Check out the latest holiday ads from Australia and New Zealand here, and keep an eye on The Drum's ongoing Christmas coverage.

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