John Lewis drops the special effects for purpose-fuelled festive ad

Taking a cue from customer sentiment amid the cost of living crisis, John Lewis has swapped glossy effects for a simpler story highlighting the experiences of children in care.

John Lewis wants to focus on a different kind of family story this Christmas, with an advert shining a light on the experiences of children living in care.

‘The Beginner’ focuses on a middle-aged man who takes up skateboarding. The ad shows him progress slowly at first, incurring embarrassment and even minor injury as he attempts to master his new hobby. He sticks at it and eventually gets better.

The reason for his persistence is revealed at the end, when he and his wife open the door to Ellie – a child they will be fostering. Carrying a skateboard, a nervous-looking Ellie bonds with her foster father by discussing their shared hobby.

Developed by creative agency Adam&eveDDB, the campaign “puts purpose at the heart”, says John Lewis & Partners customer director Claire Pointon.

She explains over the festive season the brand wants to shine a light on children and young people with experience of living in care, a topic the team believe is often overlooked.

The festive ad follows the launch of the retailer’s ‘Building Happier Futures’ programme in October, positioned as a “long-term commitment” to help young people with experience of care into the world of employment and provide direct apprenticeship opportunities within the business.

I would say how the cost of living has come out in terms of our Christmas activation is definitely in the tone of the ad.

Claire Pointon, John Lewis

The advert is a distinct departure from last year’s festive spot, the ‘Unexpected Guest’, which depicted a friendship between a schoolboy and a space traveller. In the context of the cost of living crisis, John Lewis made the decision to go with an ad focused on purpose, which was also simpler in terms of production.

“One of the things I think every brand has thought about is the cost of living, in terms of what a customer is thinking and feeling,” says Pointon.

“I would say how the cost of living has come out in terms of our Christmas activation is definitely in the tone of the ad. You can tell there’s no special effects and the production values are very different to where we’ve been before.”

While the creative differs from 2021’s offering, there is a consistency in the theme of family, says Pointon, albeit a family viewers may be less used to seeing on TV. John Lewis was keen to ensure it presented a realistic picture of the experiences of children being fostered.

“We worked with our charity partners and also social workers on making sure the scenes were reflected in the right way, because we are not experts in this,” Pointon adds.

The retailer tested the creative with customers to ensure the ad was being received in the right way. John Lewis has never tested its full festive ads with customers before, with Pointon citing the “nightmare” involved with confidentiality around each hotly-anticipated Christmas campaign.

The 2022 ad continues the John Lewis tradition of an emotional cover to soundtrack the ad. This year the retailer has opted for All The Small Things, originally sang by pop-punk band Blink-182, covered by American singer Mike Geier.

The song was chosen in part because the lyrics “carry the story”, explains head of brand and marketing Rosie Hanley, who explains it was also important to have a voice representing the father character.

“We really wanted to make that stepchange away from the kind of breathy female [voice] and tell the story through the music of a male voice,” she says.

Starting conversations

John Lewis wants to fuel the “conversation” about the experiences of children in care, Hanley explains.

The full advert is 90-seconds long but will also run in 60 and 30-second slots across TV, social media and other video channels. She acknowledges it is difficult to pick up the nuances of the conversation about care-experienced children and young people in a short ad slot.

“We’ve also partnered with some of the Gogglebox families to allow us to not just only see their reaction to the story, but also have them unpack some of the big commitments that we’re making and really help the audience understand why this matters this year,” says Hanley.

While the Gogglebox reactions will air on 17 November, in store customers will be able to support the cause by purchasing the retailer’s ‘Lewis Bear’ products. Some 25% of the sales from these items will go to John Lewis’s charity partners Action for Children and Who Cares? Scotland. Shoppers will also be able to donate through the retailer’s ‘giving tree’ in John Lewis stores.

‘This is not just an ad campaign’: John Lewis repositions with new brand promise

In addition, the retailer will look to directly support children and young people in care through providing electronics, furnishings and decorations to transform residential homes, as well as donating items to children and young people leaving care.

“The thing that really gets us excited is the seriousness with which John Lewis are working with us on this,” says Action for Children’s director of policy and campaigns, Imran Hussain.

“That seriousness is, yes, the care that’s gone into the ad….But there’s also the long-term commitment. So, this is not just a Christmas campaign. This is not a one-year thing. It’s a multi-year long-term commitment.”