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25 days of Ausmas: Richard Morgan, Analog Folk on John Lewis' 2009 Christmas ad

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.

Advertising has a lot to thank Guns and Roses for. Not only did the song Sweet Child o’ Mine’ propel the band from obscurity into overnight superstars, but its re-work for John Lewis in 2009 also helped shape advertising and Christmas since.

It’s worth reflecting that it’s just 10 short years since a fledgeling Adam & Eve won the John Lewis account. This first spot helped reignite the public’s love for classic Christmas ads; setting off an arms race of ads between major retailers we’ve enjoyed since.

I’ll say right now, that while the spot is lovely, in my opinion it’s not the greatest of them all. No, they came a bit later. But what’s interesting is that it contains a number of key ingredients that were honed and evolved into the perfection of subsequent efforts like Monty the Penguin.

In 2015 at Cannes, I was fortunate to have dinner in a rambling laneway with Ben Priest, chief creative officer and a founder of Adam&Eve. Besides being a fantastic and humble guy, he imparted some insights behind the campaign and how that early pitch win drove and paralleled the agency’s success. Why I volunteered to pay for dinner for someone undoubtedly worth millions, I have no idea, but it was totally worth it.

But first, back to the ad itself. The music is a charming take on a headbanging song. Whilst Lowe & Partners delivered the first re-record of The Beatles ‘From me to you’ a year prior, the spot itself was flat and factual. ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ was the first in the series to link the re-recording of a classic Brit-pop track by top modern artists with the narrative of a story; making it emotive and newsworthy.

The other key ingredient is that of mystic realism; everyday life stories containing a trojan horse-like element of imagination.

To me, it seems the creators looked at each year’s last spot and asked, ‘what worked here, what can we make better?’ and honed accordingly.

At dinner, Ben recounted how in 2014, they were already busy in pre-production with that year’s Christmas ad, when a late entry script came through. Surely breaking another creative team’s heart in the process, he picked up the phone and said to the client, “Sorry, but you need to see this – and we have to do this.”

Named Monty the Penguin, I can only imagine how beautifully the script must have been crafted to make this happen.

Thanks to its trust in the agency, the client readily agreed and mobilised to not only make the ad, but also the thousands of fluffy toy penguins in order to get them on a shelf in time for Christmas.

So to me, this ad symbolises beginnings. It’s generated fantastic business for agencies since, and of course, has proven to deliver commercial outcomes; with John Lewis winning the IPA Grand Prix and a Santa’s sack full of creative awards.

Ultimately, ours is a business of unexpected breakthroughs. But for all artists, brilliance also comes through progression. So thanks Slash, Axel, Ben, Adam and Eve.

Richard Morgan, executive creative director, Analog Folk

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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