Why is the John Lewis Christmas Advert so popular?

3 Henry Kingston

Be relevant, be engaging, be shareable. This is what we are told by Google when it comes to creating content for our websites, however this isn’t always easy. In a way, trying to create content that’s all three creates the same issue as the traditional ‘Project Management Triangle’:

Problem Triangle

When it comes to projects it is generally very difficult to achieve something good, within a short time frame and for cheap. This could be said to be the same with content too:

Content Triangle

Content can be engaging and shareable (think of a cat in a bucket) but is this truly relevant to your brand? Meanwhile, relevant and shareable content is usually targeted to niche audiences and therefore may not be engaging to a large percentage of people. Finally, relevant and engaging content is not always sharable – how many times have you read an interesting article yet decided not to share it (hint hint)?This is why John Lewis’ Christmas adverts – particularly this year’s – is so genius. It manages to broach the issue of engaging/shareble/relevant in a way that is rarely accomplished. To understand how this was achieved I have broken down the advert into the three sections and analysed each one separately:


In order for an audience to engage with your content you need to make them feel something: happiness, anger, sadness. In the John Lewis adverts it is generally a feeling of sadness mixed with a longing for childhood. Christmas is generally an emotional time for people, which is why John Lewis plays on these emotions especially when it comes to longing and abandonment. Each of the John Lewis adverts over the years has the same type of story: a cute protagonist finds themselves in a situation which parts them from the ones they love, a situation which is ultimately improved by John Lewis. Whether it’s a snowman wanting to buy his girlfriend the perfect present, a rabbit upset that his bear friend won’t wake up for Christmas day or a penguin wanting a girlfriend, the advert plays on the fears that we all have at Christmas time. Is this slightly vindictive? Yes, but it works every time.


Who doesn’t love baby penguins? In fact, who doesn’t love baby animals in general, especially at Christmas time when cuteness levels are at an all-time high? If this advert was aired at any other time of the year it would be accused of being twee or even saccharine, however during the Christmas period if you say anything of the sort you are automatically labelled a scrooge. This is the defining shareability factor of the John Lewis adverts – they’re cute, they’re fluffy and they’re Christmassy. In fact, they have become so well known that the release of their annual adverts sparks mass sharing across nearly every social media platform. In fact, in just eight hours the video had been shared 95,000 times on Facebook and mentioned 145,528 times on Twitter.


So John Lewis has engaged their target audience and had their content shared across numerous social media sites, but how is this relevant to their store? At the end of the day John Lewis is a retailer, which is why fluffy penguins aren’t particularly relevant – unless you sell them. This is a stroke of genius on John Lewis’ part, as previously their adverts may have indirectly improved sales online and in-store, however now they are selling a range of ‘Monty’ and ‘Mabel’ penguin themed gifts. It is highly likely that these products will fly off the shelves, especially as the company has revamped their entire website to include dedicated Monty and Mabel sections featuring the advert, games and even a 360⁰ panoramic story book world narrated by Dermot O’Leary. We dare you to go on their website without being tempted to purchase something!

John Lewis has managed to broach the issue of the engaging/shareable/relevant triangle in a dedicated campaign that is likely to make them millions. Furthermore, it has cemented their place in the industry as a supporter of Christmas, with their advert release now being an annual event. So what can digital marketers learn from this? A few things:

  • Relevance can be subjective and tenuous – penguins and retailers go hand in hand if your brand image allows it.
  • Successful content and social campaigns take time, money and a lot of work. There is no cheap or easy option here!
  • Engaging your target audience is only achievable if you understand their feelings during certain time periods. What works in December may not in June or July.
  • Everyone – and I mean everyone – loves baby animals.

In next week’s blog post PPC Executive Aaron Falloon will be providing further advice on how to prepare your PPC campaigns for the Christmas period. If you would like to prepare your digital marketing strategy in time for Christmas make sure you get in touch with Gravytrain today for advice on SEO, PPC, Content, Social and Web Design and Development.

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