The John Lewis Xmas Advert

Well I’m not sure I get the new one actually. So child imagines monster under the bed, then becomes friends with it, then imagines he’s going to get it for Xmas and then gets something else and he’s fine with that. Mmm, its not a patch on that penguin one nor as playful as last year’s bouncing dog one. I sense a sixth album syndrome kicking in where expectation outweighs anything that anyone could possibly produce. I can also visualise a more surreal version where it turns out that this is all in the head of the monster and the last frame is of him opening a present in which there is a model of the child. Or is that too creepy for Xmas?

The arrival of the John Lewis Xmas advert is now the biggest signifier of the festive season. That used to be Xmas decorations but once shops started putting them up in September everyone did their best to ignore them. However when the John Lewis Xmas advert drops you know it is The Time. The time that is to wrap up your normal life and prepare to spend six weeks in a tinsel lined alternative universe where everyone should buy as much as they can. Or am I misinterpreting the whole thing?
Though they seem recent these hallmark adverts have been going for a decade though initially they eschewed both sentimentality and movie signatures by just being clever ads. The first one in 2007 was called `Shadows`. It was two years later that the more emotional ads began with `Sweet Child O’Mine` in which we were encouraged to “remember how Xmas used to feel” by watching lots of shots of kids opening presents until in the last scene a girl unwraps a camera and becomes a woman. The first one I remember people talking about was 2010’s`A Tribute to Givers` showing how people secretly prepare their gifts over a cover version of Elton John’s `Your Song` by Ellie Goulding.
The most effective one artistically was probably 2011’s `The Long Wait` which showed a child anxiously waiting for Xmas Day, counting it down and we all assumed it was because he couldn’t wait for his presents but actually it was because he was waiting to give his present to his parents. This was a genuinely clever and original work which may well be wishful thinking on behalf of adults but let’s remember its adults the ads are aimed at.
Rather like an artist who has enjoyed enormous success and reached a commercial and artistic apogee, `The Long Wait` was a tricky one to follow and 2012’s `The Journey` tapped into everyone’s love of `The Snowman` while `The Bear and the Hare` was animals. The human touch came back with the other undisputed classic 2014’s `Monty the Penguin`. This is a delightful ad about how children love toys and how this penguin is real to this child. Aided by some excellent effects – and a very funny moment when he holds out a fish at the dinner table and Monty jumps up to take it - the final reveal that he’s bought a companion penguin is just lovely. Yes that one even got to me. Anyone who’s been a child (i.e everyone) could surely relate and it is the most popular of the ads. Since then we’ve had the man on the Moon which raised questions about how he got there and last year’s rather low key - though technically excellent- trampolining pets.
(Above The classic 2014 advert `Monty the Penguin`)
The question about this landmark advert now is whether it actually achieves its purpose which is to entice more customers to shop at John Lewis. I’m not sure it does because here I am- alongside thousands of others today- online talking about the aesthetics and content of the advert yet not about the store itself. Is there anyone who sees one of these ads and immediately decides they must go and shop at John Lewis as soon as possible? As if realising this may be the case, this year’s ad has a toy of the featured monster to buy in store, an item that unintentionally spoilered the ad a couple of days ago when it showed up on the shelves of some branches. I wonder if the toy came first – or was it the ad?
The ads are all beautifully filmed and that makes them worthwhile discussing as art. Other big store Xmas adverts are of course available but lack something. Even at their least convincing – and I don’t think this year’s will go down as a classic- the John Lewis ones are still very strong examples of the artform and in some cases excellent. Mmm, perhaps I will pop into John Lewis tomorrow…*
*Other retailers are available.

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