The John Lewis Christmas advert is now a beloved annual tradition for the British public, and for many it signals the beginning of the Christmas season.

But for an unfortunate computer science educator in Virginia, USA named John Lewis, it’s an annual exasperation.

That’s because in 2007, Mr. Lewis joined Twitter with the handle @JohnLewis – unaware of the years and years of misdirected tweets that would await him.

The retailer John Lewis can be found on Twitter under the handle @jlandpartners, and many Twitter users succeed in reaching them on the correct account. However, a significant portion of complaints, sarcastic comments, compliments and customer service queries aimed at the retailer are sent to the handle @JohnLewis – who responds to as many as he can with humour.

Throughout the year, most of these tweets are ordinary product queries or comments, but as John Lewis releases its Christmas ad, the tweets build up into a frenzy of feedback as every social media user weighs in on the quality of the long-awaited advert. And many of these tweets – intentionally or not – wind up in the notifications queue of Mr. John Lewis from Virginia.

It’s a tradition that many Twitter users await with humour, waiting to see Mr. Lewis respond to the many mis-sent tweets. And this year, Twitter has capitalised on the social media frenzy with an especially clever campaign: inviting Mr. Lewis to star in his own “John Lewis” Christmas ad.

A whole new level of meta

The one minute, 13 seconds-long ad was filmed at Mr. Lewis’ home in Virginia, and shows him patiently and wryly responding to the many tweets that are mistakenly sent to him over the Christmas period.

The ad sets a whole new bar for meta-references, with an alternate version of “In the bleak midwinter” playing in the background, its lyrics changed to reference Twitter.

The music, lighting and tone all parody the mood of typical John Lewis Christmas adverts, and in the background, numerous callbacks to previous ads can be spotted: a telescope, a moon ornament, Monty the Penguin, and Buster the Boxer.

Finally, the camera pans across to show that the music is actually coming from a young musician in the corner, strumming a guitar. As the tweets mount up, John Lewis politely asks them if they would mind leaving him to concentrate, and the musician asks, “Same time next year?”

The ad ends with Twitter inviting people to “Join the conversation” this Christmas – “Even if it’s by mistake”. The ad campaign’s hashtag, #NotaRetailStore, references Mr. Lewis’ bio on Twitter: “Computer science educator, father of four, social liberal, atheist, and not a retail store.”

As Econsultancy’s managing partner Ruth Mortimer commented on Twitter, referring to both this ad and the Waitrose ad that pokes fun at John Lewis’ Elton John spectacular, “It’s all gone very self-referential this year. The John Lewis ad seems to have created an ad bubble of its own.”

#NotaRetailStore

The well-timed campaign is an extremely clever way for Twitter to capitalise on a conversation that’s already taking place on its platform and turn it into a marketing opportunity.

While Twitter is not the only brand to have produced a John Lewis parody ad this year, it definitely has the most ingenious concept. After all, what better way to parody the John Lewis Christmas ad than by spotlighting the man who inadvertently deals with half of their tweets?

It’s a subtle way to highlight the best side of Twitter, where sometimes the funniest conversations can come from a humorous reply at the right moment, and it manages to be self-aware without being too self-promotional.

It manages to appeal to both lovers and haters of the traditional Christmas ads, by simultaneously celebrating and satirising them.

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Mr. Lewis has built up his own devoted social following, with more than 43,000 users who (presumably intentionally) follow him for his humorous and good-natured replies to misdirected tweets. The campaign builds on this goodwill, and has generated positive sentiment towards both John Lewises (the retailer responded to the ad with a tweet of its own) as well as Twitter.

Many tweets are calling the video “the best Christmas ad this year”, with #NotaRetailStore trending in London and across the UK this morning.

This is definitely not a stunt that Twitter can repeat – the joke won’t be funny twice – but it seems to have timed things perfectly to capitalise on the ever-growing John Lewis ad frenzy with a humorous and good-natured parody that has got everyone on social media talking.

Well played, Twitter.

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