Christmas at John Lewis

Everyone knows the John Lewis Christmas campaign, but not everyone knows the story of the strategic thinking behind it.

Martin Beverley

Executive Strategy Director adam&eveDDB


Everyone knows the John Lewis Christmas campaign, but not everyone knows the story of the strategic thinking behind it. It began with a shift in strategy around how and when John Lewis advertised. In terms of how, whilst many clients focused their advertising budgets on rational persuasion, we invested in emotional brand marketing. In terms of when, we decided to focus our budget around Christmas time, when around 40% of profits were achieved. Christmas is a special time of year, full of emotion that we could tap into.

We then set about developing a ‘proposition’ for our Christmas marketing activity. Our qualitative and quantitative research revealed three insights:

Our ‘business insight’ was that John Lewis has more products than anyone else on the high street. So, no matter who you are buying for, you will find the perfect gift.

Our ‘brand insight’ was that John Lewis is always a calm, understated brand. At a time of festive glitz and glamour, John Lewis is more considered and thoughtful to stand out from the crowd.

Our ‘customer insight’ was that John Lewis appeals to affluent customers, who like to buy well, and be seen to do so. When it comes to buying presents, they like to think more carefully and choose more thoughtfully.

These insights came together to create John Lewis’ Christmas marketing proposition: the home of thoughtful gifting, a place where shoppers can find gifts that show ‘a little more thought’. Crucially, it’s more than a rational proposition: it’s a platform for emotional storytelling. It has gone on to achieve the holy grail for creative briefs: tight enough to focus the mind and expansive enough to excite the mind.

However, the campaign that followed wasn’t an instant success. Remember the one with a series of gifting moments with an Ellie Goulding soundtrack? Ok, no worries. The following year we switched to an emotional story of a little boy who appeared to be waiting to open his presents, when in fact he was waiting to give a gift that he couldn’t wait to give. The rest is advertising history.

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record level sales increase over four Christmases
of profit for every £1 spent
market share increased to, its highest level ever

Building on the success of ‘the long wait’, we developed principles that defined every campaign and made them unmistakably John Lewis. We would be emotional and heart-warming. We believed in the power of storytelling before it became a buzzword. We would be understated. We would tell simple stories, centred around human truths. We would be populist. We were writing adverts for the public, not advertising award juries. We are the cultural equivalent of Coldplay, and proudly so.

We would be surprising. The twist at the end had been the secret to its success. We would endeavour to recreate the cleverness of that moment to engage and reward our audience. We would embrace the power of music. Music evokes an emotional response and became part of our campaign handwriting.

As the campaign became a success, we kept the long-term strategy the same, to build consistency in a marketing world full of short-term tactics. We maintained the same proposition ofthoughtful gifting’ at the heart of our stories. We maintained investment in the same primary media channel, using TV to share our stories with the masses. Despite the hype around digital media, TV continues to deliver as our econometric analysis proves.

Every year, from the Snowman, to Bear and Hare, to Monty, to Man on The Moon, to Buster, to Moz and Elton, we have found ways to keep raising the bar.

We have found insights to keep our proposition fresh. Each year we find a new take on ‘thoughtful gifting’ to connect with the public. We have turned the campaign into a national event. Through teasers and ad break takeovers we’ve managed to get the nation talking.

We have embraced new media partnerships. Every year we embraced a more diverse channel mix, including partnerships with Google, Sky+ and Snapchat, to immerse people in the story. We have endeavoured to hit the right emotional note. We have flexed the feeling we evoke from the sentimentality of ‘Man on The Moon’, to the joyousness of ‘Buster the Boxer’.

We have used our influence for good. Building on the John Lewis Partnership’s desire to give back to society, we have partnered with charities every year. 

The result is Britain’s most famous and effective advertising campaign, that has become a national event every Christmas. Advertising awareness surpassed every other retailer and British mums voted John Lewis their favourite brand.

Sales hit record levels, increasing 33% over four Christmases and market share increased to 29.6%, its highest level ever. The campaigns delivered more return every year, peaking at over £10 of profit for every £1 spent, with an incremental £177m in profit over four Christmases.

Ultimately, the John Lewis Christmas campaign is a story about the power of sharing. John Lewis gave the public heart-warming Christmas stories that they shared as a nation. And when the nation gave John Lewis their business, they shared the profits with their staff.

adam&eveDDB, London
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Guest Author

Martin Beverley

Executive Strategy Director adam&eveDDB


Martin Beverley is the Executive Strategy Director of adam&eveDDB. Whilst helping to lead strategy at the agency, adam&eveDDB has been awarded ‘agency of the year’ by the APG, IPA and the Effies.

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