Remember, remember the 6th November. Whilst the UK was recovering from Guy Fawke's night, one of the country's oldest retailers was preparing to dominate the run up to Christmas. John Lewis has been trading for 150 years and for 143 of these the Partnership did not advertise on television. Strange then, that in less than a decade, the company has managed to become the unofficial launch of the Christmas retailing season by creating a series of memorable advertisements that are now part of the media calendar.
John Lewis' 2014 advert follows a tried and trusted pattern: reinvigorate an old song with a new artist, introduce a little Christmas magic and sit back and wait for the tills to ring. 2014's effort – including a cover version of John Lennon's Real Love by Tom Odell, cost £1 million to make and the company will spend another £6 million on airing the advert before December 25th.
Predictably the media loved it, and ran to the story in droves on the 6th, 7th and 8th November. According to the analysis tool in Nexis the phrases Christmas advert and John Lewis were almost synonymous over this time period with more than 750 references at the beginning of November alone. Competitor Marks & Spencer, with its Follow The Fairies advert received little or no media and John Lewis marketing executives must have been ready to crack open the champagne.
But not quite. Retailer Sainsbury's still had to lift the lid on its 2014 Christmas offering, but did so too little in the way of expectation, on 12th November. Driven initially through viral channels, the advert began picking up media steam on 13th November, with almost 100 media mentions. Sainsbury's ad recreated a famous scene from World War One (of the British and German troops ceasing hostilities to play football on Christmas Day 1914). This was pertinent in a number of ways: the advert was launched the day after Remembrance Day; Sainsbury's is a partner of the Royal British Legion, a key charity in providing help and welfare to ex-servicemen and women and also the iconic face of Remembrance Day; finally the advert was made in association with the Royal British Legion.
The results have been a longer and more controversial media debate across the merits or otherwise of the Sainsbury's advert. Whilst the John Lewis advert has elicited one complaint (from a viewer that feared children might wish to buy penguins), Sainsbury's advert has amassed hundreds. Chocolate bars that were featured in the advert and which Sainsbury's is selling in support of the Royal British Legion are reportedly selling at 5,000 per hour.
Meanwhile the debate as to whether the advert is respectful or cynical rages on in the media. Whilst the John Lewis advert led to a sharp peak in media comments, Sainsbury's advert remained in the media spotlight for several days.
For the record, at the time of writing this blog, the John Lewis advert has been watched over 20 million times, Sainsbury's advert (which remember was not released until six days after the John Lewis advert) has been viewed 15million times. Meanwhile 3 million people have watched the Marks & Spencer advert. Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the difficult year Tesco has had, the company has wisely remained low profile.
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