Ad breakdown: The John Lewis Christmas ad

John Lewis ad

THE ADVERT: John Lewis, The Long Wait

THE BRIEF: To press home the real meaning of Christmas - that it is better to give than to receive. And while you're at it, make sure it's one of the most-talked about ads around.

THE SCHTICK: John Lewis has been quick off the blocks with its blockbuster £6m Christmas ad. Arriving with much marketing fanfare and a telegenic seven-year-old, much of Middle England has been reduced to tears by a simple feel-good message.


If your heart hasn't been melted by The Long Wait then it is made of flint, and Scrooge-like you deserve to be visited by every ghost going.

Remember, out of the mouths of babes and all that. The child in question is seven-year-old Lewis McGowan, who in the ad spends 10 days counting off the hours, minutes and seconds until Christmas. Not so he can indulge in a frenzied present-opening fest, but so that he can experience the joy of giving his parents a special gift of his own.

See, it's better to give than to receive - that's the twist, and it took a child to point that out. This is John Lewis focusing on core family values, in these economic belt-tightening times. And it has captured the public mood.

The ad first launched on Twitter and YouTube, allowing time to generate chatter before it landed in the nation's front rooms during ITV's The X Factor two weeks ago.

In fact, this is less of an ad, more of a mini-film continuing a theme John Lewis rolled out a few years ago.

Smiths soundtrack

Please Please Please started life as merely the B-side of William, It Was Really Nothing but is as beloved of Smiths fans as any of Morrissey and Marr's better-known songs.

In its original form, it's barely longer than the John Lewis ad - two short sparse verses embellished with a dainty mandolin riff.

Versions of the track have been used on soundtracks. In Ferris Bueller's Day Off, an instrumental version underscores three school truants staring at canvases by Seurat and Kandinsky in the Art Institute of Chicago. The Smiths original plays under Maggie and Andy's estrangement in the Christmas episode of Extras. A version by Clayhill is at the end of Shane Meadows' This Is England.

The John Lewis version, by Slow Moving Millie, is one of many in the fragile, breathy style currently in vogue among advertisers. Other artists to sing the song include the Dream Academy, Muse and Deftones.

Alan Connor

It arrived with much hype - almost every major newspaper has devoted column inches to the launch and to the fact that heartstrings had been successfully tugged (apart from Charlie Brooker writing in the Guardian who states that anyone who cries at this is "literally sobbing IQ points out of their body").

For those who take a less "bah humbug" view, the young Scottish actor's family has been interviewed, assuring us that Lewis is really as thoughtful as the lad in the ad.

Interest was sparked ahead of launch with the news that a song by the Smiths was to be covered - and with the blessing of singer Morrissey. Fans took to Twitter to criticise their idols.

But there was a bigger debate to come. The online ad has been viewed by more than two million people, with the viewers who left messages on the YouTube page divided over whether it is genuinely moving or simply mawkish.

Launching The Long Wait online first clearly paid off. It topped Campaign Magazine's Viral Chart at the end of last week (Friday, 18 November) with more than 183,000 shares over seven days. It had also been mentioned in 192 Facebook updates, 10,000 tweets and 190 blog posts.

Capitalising on the interest, John Lewis this week launched a charity album of covers used in this and previous ads, with some of the proceeds of the sale going to Save the Children.

True to anything that becomes an instant hit on the web, the ad has already spawned a number of online spoofs. The most popular take has been to keep the ad but change the music to something from a chilling movie. There is the "Shining" version which features spooky organ music, and the Se7en version which is accompanied by dialogue from the 1995 thriller.

John Lewis chiefs don't appear too bothered by the spoofs - after all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

John Lewis ad Christmas can't come quickly enough

The mini-films technique has been one that John Lewis has been honing for some time.

"It has been using storytelling to take the viewer through a long-form ad for a few years. It is a successful strategy," says Marketing Week retail reporter Rosie Baker.

"[The Long Wait] is engaging on an emotional level - having a character that we can relate to."

It's not always been without the occasional glitch. Remember last year's ad, which featured a Christmas scene with a less than happy dog living in a kennel outside surrounded by snow.

This year's action takes place in a nondescript family house - this could be any family, from any part of the country.

But for many families, the festive reality is more likely one of Horrid Henry-like children merrily troughing their way through pounds of chocolate. More importantly, which child hops out of bed as late as a few minutes before eight on a Christmas morn - like our protagonist?

THE TWEETER'S VERDICT: @Glinner - Graham Linehan

The thing no-one seems to be pointing out about that John Lewis ad is that whoever wrote it has never met a real child.

Compiled by Kathryn Westcott


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  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    We are going to get Christmas adverts regardless at this time of year. They may as well be well conceived with a thoughtful message, rather than the usual demonstrations of greed and selfishness. It won't necessarily make me shop in John Lewis but it certainly made me smile (in between the tears).

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    It is a beautifully- made advert. What breaks the spell for me is the boy not waking up until full daylight. Never happened with my children. Even after midnight service, it was 0430 if we were lucky.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    The only emotion I felt when seeing this ad was vague irritation, coupled with mild nausea at the attempt to boost Chrimbo sales by tugging at parental heart strings. I do have to question how shallow this nation has become when people actually fall for such a blatant marketing ploy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    That was an advert? I barely noticed. Did I like it? Yes, it made me smile. Am I more likely to shop at John Lewis? No. That they make a nice little story doesn't make me, or my loved ones, want any of their products any more than we did before. This has happened before. Some people remember a good commercial but cannot recall what it was selling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    They want your money. That is all. If it involves making you happy, sad, thoughtful or aroused it doesn't matter. As long as they have your money. Saying this is better or worse than other adverts misses the point, they all have the same objective. This is just a bit more subliminally sneaky about it. It is to christmas what x-factor is to music.


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