Have John Lewis kept the festive magic going for another year?

It’s almost here. A time when the majority of the country ever so slightly loses their minds and the world gets a bit more sparkly. A period when outside clothes become optional, boozy breakfasts encouraged and a chocolate orange one of your five a day. Christmas is upon us.

How do I know ‘tis almost the season to be jolly? Well, in recent years there is one major landmark that signifies this shift in time – John Lewis have debuted their Christmas advert.

Whilst not the first brand to become synonymous with the festive season (Coca-Cola were chanting “holidays are coming” long before John Lewis began tugging on your heart strings) their annual Christmas offering is nothing short of the advertising holy grail.

Advent of the modern Christmas advert

Every year conversation is dominated by these festive outings. Did it make people laugh or cry? Is it better than the year before? Office workers gather around screens to watch and ads are shared on social media and actively searched for on Google. From a brand perspective, you literally couldn’t ask for more. John Lewis have set the template and, until now, the other major retail brands have followed.

However, as they unveiled their 2017 effort starring “Moz the Monster” I found myself wondering if the sparkle had worn off.

Part of the problem, at least for me, is that over the last couple of years the adverts feel too engineered toward creating merchandisable characters. This trend really took off with the advent of Monty the Penguin, the star of their 2014 edition. By launching a line of “Monty the Penguin” products it became the most searched term on their website during that festive period, and the Monty Christmas app was downloaded 458,000 times.

From a brand equity perspective, there’s no doubting the brilliance here. To make your advertising effort that week’s hot topic AND spawn a commercially successful product line off the back of that is awe inspiring – but is the retailer now falling from its pedestal?

Same offering, different wrapping

Since Monty we’ve had Buster the Boxer and now Moz the Monster and the adverts themselves have begun to feel much more formulaic. In creating these sales friendly characters it’s my opinion that the ads are now missing the unexpected skew and emotional punch that made early offerings strong enough to spark conversation the next day – brand recall in its most authentic form.

While the media reporting for this year’s ad is as widespread as ever, a closer look sees this same slight cynicism reflected in that coverage. Continuing a form of brand activity because it’s expected is ill-advised. To regain their crown in 2018 John Lewis are going to have to reinvent their own wheel, pull something different out of the cracker and change the pudding recipe. And that will take some challenging thinking. Still, only another 410 or so sleeps until Xmas 2018, eh?