Paul Simons: has John Lewis been rumbled by other Christmas advertisers in the “Ah” war?

The editor asked me if I could write an opinion piece on this year’s crop of Christmas advertising on TV, something I have been circumspect about for a few weeks. Not like me as I have jumped in over recent years but not this one.

I think the reason why is I feel as though I have been watching a competition for five years or so on which brand could claim the top spot on production values and emotional pull. Clearly John Lewis via adam&eveDDB has been the brand raising the bar each year. I have heard several times other agency folk saying a client walks in around June time and says “do me a John Lewis.” It has taken time but it has happened.

The amount of airtime devoted to Christmas must be approaching 75 per cent in prime time and it is tricky to recall which glossy production was for which brand. There is truly some outstanding creative work entertaining us re-positioning John Lewis as one of the pack rather than the pack leader. An example being Asda, excellent work although I haven’t a clue what their pitch is.

This is, I suspect, the reason for my reticence to rate the 2017 output. The genre established by John Lewis is the emotional “Ah” factor now copied by numerous advertisers. Hence we are going “Ah” to a wider range of brands so differentiation has gone out of the window. John Lewis no longer ‘owns’ the pull on heart strings it once did. Time for a change?

I noticed a very different strategy from Tesco focusing on the free meals they provide for homeless, a worthy and different approach that results in something like “well done Tesco” rather than “Ah.”

With the real danger of sounding like a pedant the old-fashioned rule of having a clear proposition in communications appears to have been lost in the desire for big productions. I’m very confident some kind of post Christmas advertising research will reveal a lack of brand proposition recall. I imagine questions might legitimately be asked inside the boardrooms of advertisers regarding the effectiveness of the Christmas splurge.

Add to this the £1m productions and it is easy to imagine the game changing.

I genuinely enjoy a lot of the output this time of year because it lifts the quality of the advertising on our TV screens due to more money, greater care and a need to set the bar much higher than other times of the year. But I would be very surprised not to see some big changes of direction in December 2018: my guess is John Lewis will now need to zig again given their advertising environment has learnt how to zag. The brand’s profile is best in class and now is the time for a refresh.

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