insights

  • Beth Hurst

John Lewis Christmas 2018 - Digital Marketing And Christmas Ads

Updated: Feb 22, 2019


It just doesn’t feel like the festive period until Christmas adverts start showing up on tv.


The annual heavyweight contenders are of course John Lewis and Coca-Cola, but notable other brands like M&S, Iceland, Sainsbury’s, Asda, McDonald’s and Heathrow Airport also make big-budget Christmas ads.


Christmas ads have become so huge that they now represent so much more. They are a seasonal and cultural moment - something to watch with your family, to post about on social media and to talk about at work.


But how does a video lasting a few minutes spread so effectively in a time when less and less people even watch tv? Even the Netflix-lovers and BBC iplayer aficionados among us can’t stop talking about the plug from Sainsbury’s ‘The Big Night’ 2018 ad.



We’re going to break down the mystery behind the biggest name in Christmas ads, and look at how they use digital marketing to conquer our hearts and minds from mid-November onwards…

The anatomy of the Christmas ad

We're focusing on the big dogs. And yes, that was a veiled reference to #BustertheBoxer from their 2016 ad.


John Lewis arguably created the idea of the Christmas ad. In 2011, ‘The Long Wait’ showed a little boy endlessly waiting for the chance to give his parents their Christmas present, to a slowed-down cover version of ‘Please, please, please’ by The Smiths. And thus, the magic formula was born. A new emotional take on an old song + children or animals (sometimes both) + a surprise ending = an emotional Christmas tearjerker.


Fast-forward to 2018. The Boy and The Piano was released on 15 November, an advert that only makes any reference to Christmas 1 minute 40 seconds in. But that doesn’t seem to matter. Using an icon like Elton John is a new direction for the brand, but it seems to have paid off. #EltonJohnLewis mania has taken over.




The original ad is the starting point, but from that comes different touch points for audiences to continue interacting with the concept...


Behind the scenes

Thanks to Youtube, Christmas ads are accessible wherever you are, whatever time it is. As of today, John Lewis’ original ad has 10 million views. Also on their channel is a heartfelt behind-the-scenes that gives further insight into the creative process behind the ad. It provides another talking point, and another video for viewers to share.

@johnlewisThe proud owner of the twitter handle @johnlewis is NOT the brand we all know and love. It belongs to a man from Virginia of the same name, whose bio reads “Computer science educator, father of four, social liberal, atheist, and not a retail store.” He frequently replies to people trying to reach the store, a duty which intensifies every time the brand releases an ad.


Instead of cursing the fact they didn’t make their Twitter account sooner, John Lewis & Partners (the store) took advantage of the fact, and made a Christmas ad specifically for twitter featuring John Lewis (the American man) himself!


It’s a clever nod to the impact their Christmas ad has on social media, and in particular on one man’s life. It can be enjoyed either in conjunction with their main ad or by itself.


Jumping on the bandwagon

As soon as the John Lewis ad gets released, other brands scramble to get in on the action. This year, Lidl’s Marketing Manager certainly deserves a raise for this stellar tweet. With the help of a quick-acting graphic designer and a witty pun, they manage to jump on the bandwagon of #EltonJohnLewis without having to spend a penny. The engagement speaks for itself.


A twist on this idea is one of the Waitrose Christmas 2018 ads that show a family watching The Boy and The Piano, fast forwarding through it in order to enjoy a Waitrose Stollen. It pokes fun at the John Lewis ad concept and is entirely relatable to those who feel indifferent to Christmas ads in general. It seems almost brazen until you realise that John Lewis Partnership owns both Waitrose and John Lewis. They know that there will inevitably be articles written on other brands mocking them, so why not get in on the action to promote their own partners? Genius.



Some gifs are more than just a gif

It’s no longer enough for brands to just pay for a prime-time tv spot. The best Christmas ads keep on going as they are shared, talked about and (if they’re lucky) made into memes. The rapid spreading of memes is something that happens naturally, as people iterate on an original concept.

Now, brands aren’t willing to leave this to chance. A quick search on giphy reveals a John Lewis & Partners account page full of Christmas ad gifs, ready to be shared.



It all pays off in the endThe energy, time and budget put into Christmas adverts is huge. And it pays off. While we will never know the amount of revenue that John Lewis generates from their efforts, a quick search into search patterns reveals all. Every peak in November and December represents the huge volume of people rushing to google as a result of the ad.


Now that’s a gift that everyone (especially the head honchos at John Lewis & Partners) will love.



The best Christmas gift is new customers for your business.


Thankfully, you don’t need a John Lewis budget to get the volume you need...