Why is the John Lewis Christmas ad so successful?

[Try this link for the latest update on John Lewis Christmas Advert Marketing  Updated in Nov 2019]

Every year the major UK retailers compete to put out the most charming Christmas advert. John Lewis has been the undisputed winners of winter video advertising several years in a row now –but how do they keep on doing it, and are there any lessons to draw for your own business?

High quality

The John Lewis advert reputedly costs a million pounds to make each year and it shows: 2013’s Bear-and-the-Hare is animated perfectly, and the CGI penguin in 2014’s offering is integrated well with its real-life surroundings. There’s always an expensive pop star covering a well-known hit. But it’s not the production values that stick with you.

Tell a story

The John Lewis adverts also work because they tell a story – and not just any story: they tell a simple story with a strong emotional thread through it and show rather than tell the viewer what is happening. Add in a dash of nostalgia for childhood and you have the perfect Christmas recipe.

Be genuine

John Lewis’s advert works because as well as telling a powerful story with a hint of nostalgia, the adverts are aligned strongly with their brand: John Lewis is always there for you, a testament to the retailer’s longevity and the fact that you want it to be there for you is a testament to their long-standing reputation for quality.

These sorts of heart-tugging adverts don’t work half as well for the supermarkets, because no-one actively likes and trusts supermarkets in the same way that they trust John Lewis.

So in terms of other video advertising, it’s important to choose a story that feels real to the viewer and that feels appropriate to the product being sold. Everyone is jumping on the quiet-adventures-with-family bandwagon at the moment as seen in countless beautifully-shot cinema adverts as they try and ape this recipe for success – but it really only works for products that tie in well with genuine family experiences.


That authenticity combined with an emotional tug is what drives people to share the John Lewis advert – 2014’s offering was briefly the single most shared video on the planet. John Lewis cleverly created buzz around the advert before it was even screened with a Twitter hashtag. The result was not only a boost in sales but people spending money on tie-in merchandise specifically connected to the video advertising itself – a true success story.

Stand out from the crowd

Never mind that John Lewis adverts have followed a simple recipe of emotional story plus superstar pop cover; we shouldn’t be surprised if they change the recipe up or put a completely new twist on it this year simply to get away from the hordes of imitators. It’s not good enough to just do what everyone else is doing, or no-one will be able to distinguish your video advertising from anyone else’s. So whatever you take from John Lewis’s success, find a new angle and lead, don’t follow.

If you are based in Portsmouth, Hampshire or surrounding areas and would like to discuss how to use video advertising in your digital marketing for your small-to-medium business, view our portfolio or make contact with our web design and digital marketing team. We really like to talk.

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