In the anatomy series, we attempt to explain the motivations behind big brand marketing campaigns as a learning process to help understand best (and worst) practice.
Like it or not, the John Lewis Christmas advert has become a cultural phenomenon, with millions of YouTube hits in its first day. It’s also a master class in advertising content and something we can all learn from.
This year is no exception with a £7million Disney-inspired advert that sets out to tug the heart strings of the general public and get us all spending money in a department store – because that’s what Christmas is all about.
Here’s the quickest synopsis I can muster:
Sad bear – hibernates – normally misses Christmas – Hare buys alarm clock to wake him up.
If you haven’t seen the advert yet – here it is:
How it works – Agonising Anthropomorphism
The 2013 John Lewis Christmas Advert uses anthropomorphism to draw in the viewer – this is the use of animals to infer human characteristics.
It’s a bold move away from telling a human story with real humans or in fact having any live-action real world element to the advert (like last year’s snowman advert.)
By doing this, the ad holds up the very purest mirror to the audience and forces them to look past any barriers that may stop them feeling emotionally attached to the characters. Smart move.
Instead of getting a bunch of weird, Benjamin Button-style forced nostalgia from a middle-class, white 2.4 children family (here’s looking at you Tesco) you get a transcendent clarity of emotion that reaches beyond any socio-economic or geographic divide.
The Nostalgic Mirror
To further draw you in, JLP use 2 really broad brush yet effective elements that sum up a romanticised version of Christmas.
The “couple tree decoration argument”:
The “play with the paper not the present” – which is something that appeals to parents (we’ve all seen or been that kid inside the box) and animal lovers alike:
I truly hope that on the cutting room floor somewhere there was an armchair ridden, sprout-based, flatulent drunk owl there representing Granddad…
The whole story is told to the soundtrack of the sub-Coldplay piano based version of Keane’s “Somewhere only we know” performed by Lily Allen – with no use of any dialogue from the characters.
This is a tried and tested technique for narrative Christmas ad’s – but it allows anyone to connect to the action and it’s not reliant on scripting or dependent on accents.
It makes the Bear and Hare YOUR characters, not John Lewis’.
Can you tell a story without words? Is your content better shown and not said?
The choice of a Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” is also a very clever creative choice. It was a one of the biggest hits of 2004 – and almost 10 years hits all the right nostalgic notes for a segment hitting early parenthood and possibly maturing into higher salary earnings.
The choice of Lily Allen could be a masterstroke or a miss. As someone out of the limelight to concentrate on parenting she could be considered “genuine” and extend the aforementioned emotional mirror to young and working mums.
But she also declared the ad a “big deal” – failing to realise the monetary connotations of the words and the release is well out of the streetwise, foul-mouthed pop comfort zone that made her famous.
Still – it’s the perfect springboard for her comeback with a new album next year. On a second cynical note “The Best of Keane” is out today – November 11th.
It’s almost a cliché now, but the use of the piano in Christmas adverts is inevitable. This may just be my interpretation, but it seems the piano has a nostalgic and romanticised aura, evoking the idea of families coming together for entertainment. It has also been referenced as such in literature, most famously DH Lawrence’s Piano.
This is the strongest call-to-action in the ad and it’s beautifully subtle. It is the insinuation of gifts equating to the feeling of giving and receiving, not that they have a cheaper price than anyone else.
The viewer is expected to put aside any rationality as the ad insinuates that it’s the purchase of a gift that defines Christmas.
It’s not about features – it’s all benefits. But it’s how the benefit is wrapped (pun intended.) Clearly the alarm clock benefit is to wake up, to not miss something – but JLP extend it into not missing the best time of year with someone you love.
Do you extend your CTA’s past the rational?
If your benefit is time/money-saving do you know how your consumer segment or persona would rather be spending that time/money saved?
The hare could have simply visited the bear to wake him up – surely being selfless would be the more Christian thing to do?
Modulation and The Happy Ending
After the call-to-action comes the oldest trick in the book and still employed weekly on the X-Factor… THE BIG KEY CHANGE.
It’s a stirring and sonically emotive end, with the visuals warming to the sentiment. The creative team clearly understand the importance of a multi-sensory experience.
Does your content also have the big crescendo and do you use all of the senses to deliver the message?