John Lewis is counting on an excitable baby dragon called Edgar to put some heat under sales this Christmas in its first joint festive ad with its sister chain Waitrose.
The department store chain’s festive campaign – which costs about £7m a year – has become one of the media events of the year, generating millions of views on social media.
Waitrose has also produced glossy ads in the past, but has not garnered the same kind of attention.
The tearjerker, which harks back to previous ads featuring animated cuddly characters including Monty the penguin and Moz the monster, features a young girl, Ava, and a dragon who cannot stop himself spurting fire, disrupting Christmas fun by melting a snowman and a burning down a Christmas tree.
The ad is fronted by a 10-year old actor, identified only as Ruby, who had to act alongside a stick or a plastic model in place of Edgar, which was created using CGI digital animation.
It was filmed on a fairytale village set in Hungary. The story has a happy ending when Edgar uses his fiery breath to light the Christmas pudding for the village feast.
As in previous years, a reworked pop classic provides the backing track – this time US soft rock group REO Speedwagon’s 1980s power ballad Can’t Fight This Feeling sung by Bastille frontman Dan Smith.
By combining efforts for its two brands, the company is likely to have saved money at a time when profits are under pressure. The department store chain made its first-ever half-year loss in September.
Retailers are facing a tough Christmas as shoppers rein in spending amid economic and political uncertainty.
Sarah Vizard, a news editor at Marketing Week, said: “Most of the money when doing a big campaign goes into [buying space] and they have now got the same agency across two brands so there will definitely be efficiencies of scale. Having one big creative campaign is also going to have helped cost levels.”
The campaign’s return to a safe formula, after last year’s Elton John advert, was likely to be popular, said Vizard, because Edgar was a “hugely lovable” character.
The campaign will be launched on social media on Thursday night using the group’s 80,000 staff, before a TV premiere of the full two and a half minute ad during ITV’s X Factor: Celebrity on Saturday.
The full commercial will run several times, backed by shorter clips and separate product spots featuring Edgar for Waitrose and John Lewis.
The retailers will also be hoping to cash in with Edgar merchandise, including a £15 toy dragon, a children’s book and pyjamas. The company is also be making a £150,000 donation to the hunger and food waste charity FareShare.