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The annual unveiling of John Lewis’s Christmas advert is upon us and, as has been the case for the past few years, the levels of anticipation and excitement are more than most brands would dare dream of.
The tradition began in 2007, remarkably recently given the campaigns have, for many, deposed the Coca-Cola Christmas advert as the official marker of the beginning of the yuletide period.
The John Lewis adverts have been noted for their departure from traditional festive marketing methodology, eschewing hard selling tactics in favour of creating a tangible emotional connection with customers.
The fact the retailer avoids overzealous promotion has struck a chord with those who feel that the Christmas period has become over-commodified and the values of community and togetherness have been lost.
This year’s effort, entitled “Man on the Moon”, follows the same formula.
A simple message is delivered in a perfectly judged package of heartstring tugging and nostalgia, while the backdrop of a cover version of a well-known song helps create a sense of familiarity while guarding against any suggestion of bias or ulterior promotional motive.
However, while the reaction to this year’s edition already suggests it will be another unqualified success, there are risks with pursuing such campaigns year after year.
John Lewis’s status as one of the UK’s most ubiquitous and well-known brands means it's uniquely positioned to spend astronomical funds on what is essentially a brand-building campaign.
The production cost alone of 2012’s 'The Journey' ad, shot on location in New Zealand, was an incredible £6m.
Despite increasing sales of the products fleetingly featured in the adverts, the disparity between the cost and direct, measureable ROI is one simply too great for the majority of retailers, and must sting a little even for John Lewis.
Beyond financial considerations, there are potential long-term ramifications which should make any ecommerce brand think twice before attempting to follow John Lewis’s example.
Firstly, while every one of the Christmas adverts produced by the company has so far been perfectly pitched, there are dangers with toying with the emotions of consumers.
The bittersweet note that the John Lewis ads have found so unerringly can easily morph into cynicism and mawkishness if only slightly misjudged.
Sticking too rigidly to the same formula for too long can also result in viewer fatigue and again risk appearing manipulative and disingenuous.
Further issues may arise if the company wishes to move away from the image that its Christmas campaigns have cultivated.
While John Lewis as a brand is extremely unlikely to make any significant changes in terms of business objectives or branding, history is littered with examples of businesses which have been dogged by unwanted associations with an old campaign.
If John Lewis were to decide in future to shift back toward more measurable, sales-focused advertising, they risk accusations of abandoning their principles or “selling out”.
Furthermore, it would retroactively damage the integrity of this year’s advert and those that have come before it, prompting a potential backlash.
John Lewis’s Christmas adverts are true marketing masterpieces, the quality of which every business should aspire to match.
However, by sticking to the winning formula, the company has cultivated a reputation that may prove problematic should one fail to hit the right note or if it attempts to change its marketing strategy in the future.