Laurence Green: and then there were three – John Lewis ads this Christmas

Christmas comes early for adfolk. We gorge ourselves on the first Christmas commercials in early November and go back for seconds soon afterwards. And we still find space for the sherry trifle that then follows in the form of the fragrance category’s annual festival of nonsense.

As ever, our eyes prove bigger than our bellies but in truth it’s just nice to see broadcast brand commercials return to centre stage: like catching up with elderly relatives on Boxing Day. After all, who knows when we’ll be seeing them again?

Amid the Christmas din, for which Noddy Holder must still bear at least some responsibility, I find that quiet is the new loud. And I’ve learnt to steer an especially wide berth away from anything described by its creators as ‘unashamedly populist.’

John Lewis remains the benchmark, of course: the first domestic brand to weaponise Christmas, and still an unlikely candidate to have done so.

After a misjudged attempt to yoke Waitrose to the JL Christmas juggernaut in 2019 and a more forgivable departure from the script last year, this year’s offering – in which a wide-eyed child makes an unlikely (extra-terrestrial) friend, set to an acoustic re-working of a 1980s hit – is something of a return to form.

There’s just one problem (or perhaps not, as we shall see): there are at least a couple of other advertisers who have made pretty good John Lewis adverts this Christmas also.

McDonald’s is one of our more consistently creative (and thus courteous) advertisers: it knows, and habitually shows, its place in our lives. Then, and only then, flogs us breakfast, home delivery or a McChicken Sandwich.

So I’m not in the least bit surprised that they’ve made a very good Christmas ad…just perplexed by quite how closely it resembles the John Lewis template. A wide-eyed child makes an unlikely (imaginary) friend, set to an acoustic re-working of a 1980s hit. Sound familiar?


Impeccably executed ‘sadvertising’ it may be, but ‘Imaginary Iggy’ is just a little too close to Monty the Penguin, Moz the Monster and Edgar the Dragon for commercial comfort.

They’re not alone. The otherwise sure-footed Apple have also plumped for “wide-eyed child makes unlikely friend” this holiday season, albeit minus the acoustic reworking of a previously bombastic 1980s hit.
The point of ‘Saving Simon’ (the diminutive snowman in question) is actually that it’s shot on an iPhone, so the narrative familiarity here is arguably less problematic. Plus, there’s a counter-punch that would never have got through John Lewis’s group discussions in Watford.


And so we have it. A good John Lewis ad from John Lewis. A really good John Lewis ad from McDonalds. And a pretty good John Lewis ad from Apple.

Advertising legend has it that Jack Dee’s ‘Penguins’ campaign for John Smith’s Bitter sold a lot of chocolate biscuits also. On that basis, at least one and perhaps all three of the brands in question can look forward to a successful trading season, despite all having opened the same present.

Laurence Green was co-founder of Fallon London and 101. He is now an independent adviser to creative businesses.

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