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Is the hype around the John Lewis advert starting to backfire? You might think that having an entire nation awaiting your Christmas campaign with baited breath would be every marketer’s dream, but the circus that surrounds the release of the retailer’s festive clip each year has become so staggeringly huge it’s in danger of becoming a poisoned chalice. It’s impossible to please everyone and in the social media age, when even the most seemingly banal things can inspire endless dissection online, a backlash is always brewing somewhere.
For a case in point, see the furore around the retailer’s recent home insurance ad which featured a little boy wearing a dress, trashing his parents’ house with glitter and paint. They dared to stray a little from the usual JL formula and were slammed for doing so. One screaming newspaper headline even reckoned it represented “everything that’s wrong with modern Britain”. It eventually got banned by the FCA, though for being “potentially misleading” rather than for any of those criticisms. But it certainly proved that there’s a major downside to being one of the UK’s most visible brands.
After all that drama, it’s hardly a surprise that John Lewis has reverted to the tried and tested formula of cosy ads gone by for their Christmas offering — right down to the radio-friendly cover playing in the background. (This time it’s a slowed-down version of Together in Electric Dreams, recorded by rising star Lola Young).
It’s all about a teenage boy who ends up befriending an alien girl that crash-lands her space ship in the woods near his home, and teaching her all about Christmas traditions, from mince pies to snowball fights.
So far, so heart-warming, you might think — but now the company is in a position where it can’t really win. Go safe, as with this ad, and you’ll be criticised for being too bland, too samey, or not weepy enough (the amount of tweets you’ll see from grown adults moaning that a piece of commercial propaganda hasn’t made them cry this time is staggering).
Perhaps they need to burst their own bubble and take things back to basics next time — or better still, maybe we could have a year off from the corporate Christmas circus in 2022?