25 Days of Ausmas: Marcus Tesoriero, The Brand Agency on John Lewis’ The Boy & The Piano

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.

When it comes to epic Christmas spots, nowhere in the world does it better than the UK. I don’t think there’s a doubt in anyone’s mind about that. Big budget extravaganzas, capturing the hearts and minds of people all over the world. Well, advertising people around the world, anyway. Watching from afar, I’ve enjoyed seeing it evolve over the last decade to become the Super Bowl of Christmas ads, with major UK brands battling it out to affirm their position at the top of the tree. The grand unveiling of ads from November onwards is often awe-inspiring – but sometimes depressing to see millions dusted on a dull script.

The evolution of stories over the Christmas period is what I look forward to most. I love dissecting the best spots to see how they have topped the previous year’s work, hooking people emotionally in a refreshingly different way. Now, some people in the UK may not agree with my choice of The Boy and The Piano as the best Christmas spot of all time – but I love it because it is so different. It’s the only John Lewis Christmas ad that completely strayed from their formula. And for me, absolutely nailed the essence of Christmas.

Ironically, the spot isn’t about Christmas at all until the last fifteen seconds of the film. And that’s what lands the point so magically for the brand – some gifts are more than just a gift.

Upon viewing for the first time, I was launched into a rollercoaster journey of Elton John’s life while his first, hit single played throughout, ‘Your Song’. Years flashed by as the meticulously art directed scenes captured different periods of a rising rock star’s career but in reverse. The Benjamin Button-esque, motion picture slideshow then culminated towards a pinnacle moment as a toddler Elton excitedly ran down the stairs of his family home to open his gigantic present on Christmas morning – a shiny, new piano. The gift that would ultimately change his life forever.

Now, I may have done the spot a complete injustice describing it in one paragraph, but I was actually blown away. Even if Elton isn’t my number one choice on Spotify, this story made me realise that his iconic music has somehow been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I’m sure I’m not alone thinking that, either. And for me, that’s the real power of The Boy and The Piano that no other Christmas spot has come close to replicating. Every other ad is forced to build characters in a matter of seconds that the audience must instantly feel something for. This masterstroke of film took us on a journey with a loveable character we’ve all known our entire lives ­– and revealed the gift that started it all. Boom.

I do hate to be a spoiler but there was some creative licence given to the real story. The ‘actual’ piano Elton grew up playing was at his grandmother’s house – but let’s not allow the truth to get in the way of a good ad. For what it’s worth, every other scene was precise to the finest detail. Watch the behind-the-scenes video on YouTube if you get a chance, full respect goes to the production team for bringing every moment to life.

I also applaud the client for taking a bold direction away from the John Lewis formula and sticking with it. Over fifty million views on social media made it the most watched, Christmas spot of all time. There are many other factors within the marketing mix that attribute to overall sales but one tongue-in-cheek quote about the ad’s performance from John Lewis’ managing director, Paula Nickolds caught my attention.

“John Lewis was ‘pleased’ with the number of pianos it sold over Christmas but again stressed that the ad was less about the piano and more about ‘thoughtful gifting’.”

And if that was The Boy and The Piano’s ultimate goal, it was achieved in spades.

Marcus Tesoriero, executive creative director, The Brand Agency

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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