Paul Simons: retail times are a changin’ but is John Lewis changing in the right direction?

It ‘s that time again when the John Lewis Christmas TV spot is revealed although not the best kept secret given the leaked intel that Elton John is involved. Involved, more like high-jacked the production. It is an ad for Elton and his first ever hit back in 1970, John Lewis gets a credit on the last frame.

I wonder if the girls and boys at adam&eveDDB became star struck and let Elton and his entourage do whatever they wanted.

I have to admit I don’t understand the idea. It travels back in time from Elton today back to when he was a child being given a piano for Christmas. I noted John Lewis do not stock pianos but some smart JLP person added a Yamaha digital piano in three options with the line underneath “Inspired by our Christmas advert”. No sign of a proper piano though.

However no doubt the ad will get tons of airplay and Your Song will top the charts for the first time.

I do question though the strategic issues for all retail given the news of high street challenges for department stores in particular. It seems to me most big retailers have gone down the ‘feel good’ road such as the Boots work which is very John Lewis but without a punch line about why I should put Boots on my ‘must visit’ list for the shopping frenzy.

My fear for John Lewis (I am a fully paid up member of the fan club) is that they should have changed their strategy for this year and not attempted to do another blockbuster. I think they should have found creative and inspiring ways to promote harder benefits between their brand and the competitive landscape.

They need to drive more footfall and to do so give a reason to the wider public that John Lewis remains on the top of its game. Their service levels are excellent across the board for example. Their retail bricks and mortar sites are a pleasure to be in and the product ranges are also very good.

Finally I also can’t figure out the target audience for this year’s production. I have made the point previously that music is the core ingredient of past John Lewis advertising. Only this year they used Bohemian Rhapsody which focused on the JL and Waitrose partners with the line “When you are part of it you put your heart in to it.”

In the past the choice of music has tended to be aimed at couples with young children, say late ’30’s/early ’40’s, listening to music from their teen years. Elton on the other hand with Your Song is from 1970 so anyone in their mid teens then would be 64 now. Maybe the revised audience is the silver surfers who have the disposable funds but have become more confident about buying on-line?

Times they are a changin’.

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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.