Adam & Eve’s advertising gets right to the heart of the John Lewis brand

The new John Lewis TV spot has managed to get a great deal of coverage over the last few days; this advertising is beginning to become an ‘event’ and no doubt the Christmas spot will be eagerly anticipated. It’s a tough path to tread for any agency as the inevitable comparisons are made, a bit like the latest album from Coldplay.

So I asked around around over the weekend among people I imagine are the target audience – early forties with young children, professional people, proud owners of a nice house in (London) SW something. The INXS track is again perfectly chosen; the original was released in 1988 when a 42-year-old was 18 and into his or her music. Nostalgia rules with the JLP work and why not?

The reactions among my random, small sample were very polarised. In the blue corner the view was ‘what a self-indulgent ad’ through to ‘it’s so John Lewis and I love it’. Interesting interpretations.

I get the prima facie reaction of self-indulgent as it is 90 seconds of glossy, beautifully art-directed film, all set around a boy/girl romance with the theme that some things don’t change. It is easy to say ‘so what?’ and also ‘what’s the relevance to JLP and me?’ Fair enough and that may well be the reaction of some John Lewis loyalists.

What struck me though was a deeper thought and I have no idea whether this was or wasn’t intended.

Occasionally television advertising can express the culture of a brand, almost wearing its heart on its sleeve. It doesn’t happen too often. I have often experienced advertisers shying away from doing so; it’s almost a stretch too far. Mostly the reverse happens where an advertiser will express what they want to be rather than what they are. In my book M&S is a good example of this as the advertising has little to do with the experience of their stores.

My takeout of the latest John Lewis spot was one of comfortable reassurance. In a world of constant change, new online brands popping up all over the place, different ways of accessing music, the disintegration of established institutions, etc., etc., it is good to know some brands stay true to their principles and ethos. Is this reading too much in to the advertising?

I hope not because I would also hope the advertising for John Lewis is signed off by the top management as a statement of their beliefs and principles.

The very difficult trick to pull off is converting an internal philosophy into a tangible and motivating customer benefit. Nike manage it due to their wide ranging sponsorship, they put their money where their advertising mouth is; Virgin Atlantic pull this off too as the experience of travelling with them is a seamless journey. John Lewis via Adam & Eve/DDB has elevated the brand into the same hallowed space.

If this is an accurate reflection it does then provide the brand with a trajectory that isn’t reliant on one-off ads. David Abbott once said something like “it takes time to get in to the groove of a brand’s communication style” – he wouldn’t have used those words by the way and having bumped in to him over the weekend I know he didn’t! However the point is it doesn’t really matter if one ad doesn’t get ten out of ten because the chances are the next one will; they all act to create a cumulative feeling about the brand because the core thought remains consistent.

Examples of this are few and far between. One notable one was the great campaign BBH produced for Levi 501s in the ’80s/90s.

As a final thought I also applaud the outstanding use of television by John Lewis when the popular view is it’s all about online these days. That’s probably why we see less and less quality work on television these days.

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About Paul Simons

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Paul joined Cadbury-Schweppes in brand management and then moved to United Biscuits. He switched to advertising in his late 20s, at Cogent Elliott and then Gold Greenlees Trott. He founded Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson in the late 80s, one of the leading creative agencies of the 90s. Simons Palmer then merged with TBWA to create a top ten agency. Paul then joined O&M as chairman & CEO of the UK group. After three years he left to create a new AIM-quoted advertising group Cagney Plc. He is now a consultant to a number of client companies. Paul also shares his thoughts on his blog. Visit Paul Simons Blog.