The law of diminishing returns: has the John Lewis Christmas advert had its day?

By Woven Agency, Tuesday November 6, 2018

We used our clever social media listening software to collate all the mentions of the John Lewis Christmas ads from recent years to really dig deep and see which one has been best received by the public — and why.

But first, let’s set the scene. Since 2007, the John Lewis Christmas advert has owned a monopoly on the festive conversation. Starting its run with the wonderful ‘Shadows’, in which shoppers cast a Christmassy silhouette with their John Lewis swag, the retail giant switched tack in 2011, when they began telling two-minute stories designed to make you feel as warm and cosy on the inside as it is cold and frosty on the outside.

And, boy, did it work.

Since then, the John Lewis ad release date has become a cultural touchstone. Within minutes of their adverts being aired, opinions are flying around offices, homes and the internet – a wintry flurry of John Lewis conversation.

The only thing worse than being talked about…

But in recent years, the shine appears to have come off this seasonal phenomenon. John Lewis’s most recent effort, 2017’s Moz The Monster, was one of their least successful. A Telegraph poll rated it as the least popular of their decade-long run of Christmas adverts, scoring only 5% of the vote.

Even more problematic for them, however, is the idea that their adverts, instead of merely being less enjoyable, are actually generating less conversation than ever. Campaign reported, for example, that poor old Moz achieved the lowest awareness in its first 10 days out of any of the previous 4 years.

So, with the next John Lewis ad just around the corner, we decided to use our social listening skills to see whether the reports were true: are people caring less about the John Lewis adverts? To find out, we analysed their campaign feedback over the past five years, scouring social networks and the internet for mentions of related keywords and phrases, to see not just what people were saying, but how many were saying it.

Because it’s one thing to run a campaign that’s less well-liked than those of previous years, it’s quite another for people to stop caring about you altogether.

Because, as Oscar Wilde said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

2013: The Bear and The Hare

Lily Allen claims the Christmas number one spot

A heartwarming tale of the importance of spending Christmas with the ones you love, The Bear and The Hare was a success on the social listening front. Spurred on by Lilly Allen’s pitch-perfect soundtrack (it reached number one in the UK charts), charming animated story and positive mentions from the BBC, Caroline Flack and Jeremy Clarkson, it raked in over 80,000 mentions.

2014: Monty The Penguin

Monty mania sweeps Britain - penguin toy is a huge hit

Proving that you can’t go far wrong with cute and cuddly animals, Monty The Penguin was a stellar year for John Lewis. The campaign hoovered up 151,000 mentions and attracted the online attention of Mashable and primo popsters Little Mix. John Lewis created a Monty Twitter account, too, to promote the perky little penguin. Even some negative feedback around Monty’s prohibitive £95 price tag couldn’t stop it becoming one of John Lewis’s most popular ads ever.

2015: Man On The Moon

Noel Gallagher admits he sold out letting John lewis use Oasis song

Monty was always going to be a hard act to follow, and so it proved, with 2015’s Man On The Moon marking a potential turning point in the John Lewis Christmas advert journey. Maybe it was the lack of adorable animals. Maybe it was the downright depressing idea of an old man being sad, lonely and a million(ish) miles away from anyone on Christmas Day. But, whatever the reason, this one just didn’t resonate.

Man On The Moon registered just 64,000 mentions – down 57% from 2015 – and drew negative responses from the likes of Noel Gallagher (who claimed he’d ‘sold out’ by allowing his song to be used) and Piers Morgan.

2016: Buster The Boxer

Parents say the ad has 'ruined the magic of Christmas'

Returning to safer ground, 2016’s Buster The Boxer once more used cute critters to sell the meaning of Christmas. This ad, however, played it more for laughs than the usual tugging of the heartstrings — which might be why it wasn’t quite as popular as previous efforts, amassing 76,000 mentions.

It also received some backlash by — look away now, kids — suggesting that Santa might not be real. Well done, John Lewis, you just killed Christmas.

2017: Moz The Monster

"Let's hope this year's John Lewis Christmas ad is their last" - The Independent

Unfortunately for the retailers, 2017’s Moz The Monster marked a low point in their Christmas campaign history. Either because people didn’t get the story or didn’t feel it was festive enough, Moz garnered a measly 52,000 mentions, many of which were negative. ‘Let’s hope this year’s John Lewis Christmas advert is their last’ said The Independent, whilst YouTube influencer, Zoella, tweeted to her 13 million followers that it lacked emotion.

Oh, and being accused of plagiarism probably didn’t help, either…

Reversing the slide: Waitrose and Elton John

John Lewis Christmas ads over the years

As you can see, our social listening results paint a largely downward engagement trajectory for John Lewis these past five years – which might make sense of their recent decision to release an advert in September. This ad, which ostensibly promotes the closer brand marriage between John Lewis and Waitrose, has a look and feel highly reminiscent of a Christmas campaign. A happy by-product of this is that John Lewis haven’t put all of their marketing eggs in one seasonal basket this year, lessening the potential impact of a negatively received 2018 campaign. This is particularly pertinent following their recently announced 99% fall in first-half profits.

On top of this, John Lewis have reportedly secured the services of that evergreen prince of the piano, Elton John, for 2018’s campaign. And the fee is pretty princely, too, coming in at a reputed £5,000,000. Showing that, far from being put off by the recent downward trend in public engagement, John Lewis appear to be going for broke in recreating their seasonal successes of Christmas past.

And our results show that it’s a gamble worth taking. John Lewis are struggling to stay relevant in an arena they’ve long dominated, so they need to do something big, bold and brilliant to keep hold of their crown.

Will they succeed? Well, that might all depend on whether John Lewis have been naughty or nice this year…

Speak to a member of the Woven team today Click Here to get in touch