Why do the John Lewis Christmas adverts make us cry?

What can advertisers learn from John Lewis?

Screenshot from John Lewis Christmas ad 2019

It happened on Sunday evening during one of the ad breaks for I’m a Celebrity Get me out of Here. I saw this year’s John Lewis Christmas advert. It runs for two minutes thirty seconds and features Excitable Edgar — a well-meaning, yet accident-prone green dragon.

Watch John Lewis Christmas advert 2019

For those of you who don’t know, John Lewis & Partners is a chain of high-end department stores, operating throughout the UK. Since 2007, the company has created a benchmark in advertorial campaigns during the festive season. Their adverts use a mini feature film formula, and this year’s advert is no different.

John Lewis has done something that few advertisers manage to do — they’ve created a tradition that pulls at the heartstrings of consumers. Typically, we find ourselves skipping past the adverts, but the John Lewis Christmas ad is the one we’ll keep watching for. Each year, as the festivities subtly start, we find ourselves waiting for the John Lewis advert to hit our screens.

They’re the most anticipated videos of the year (UK). They make us laugh, cry, and buy. So, what’s their secret formula?

Capturing imaginations.

It’s a well-known fact that advertising campaigns that capture imaginations are more likely to be successful. Emotions are heightened during the Christmas season; buying gifts, bringing people together, and spending time with our loved ones. These adverts work on the psychology of how we’re feeling at this time of year.

Watch John Lewis Christmas advert 2012

The John Lewis Christmas adverts move beyond mere customer satisfaction; they connect with us on an emotional level. By using a mini feature film formula, there’s enough time to build a story that tugs at the heartstrings. Pair this with the emotive, acoustic soundtracks, and you’ll find yourself watching a little piece of Christmas magic.

Creating memories.

The audience anticipation for these annual adverts has become a bit of a phenomenon in the UK. “Have you watched the John Lewis advert?” is often heard around the workplace. Advertisers are always selling something, and John Lewis’ ROI for these adverts is their most profitable. But, the adverts also manage to bring a little bit of happiness to those of us who watch it — that feels like a valuable exchange to me.

“Nothing is more efficient than creative advertising. Creative advertising is more memorable, longer lasting, works with less media spending, and builds a fan community…faster.” — Stephen Vogel

The adverts usually have a plot twist and an unexpected ending — hence the mini film formula. This art of understanding what drives an audience is one that builds a strong personal brand. Connect with your consumer on a level they respond emotionally to, and the rest will fall into place.

Triggering sentimentality.

At the heart of these adverts is their ability to evoke sentimentality; joy, warmth, and nostalgia. These triggers of emotional response are what encourage us to share the videos and spread the message of the story they’re telling.

Watch John Lewis Christmas advert 2011

Heart-wrenching twists and emotive storytelling are the perfect ways to leave lasting impressions. And that’s why we anticipate these adverts every year. Because at Christmas time, we want to feel joy, warmth, nostalgia, and most of all, happiness.

A new wave of mini films.

We’ve always loved a good Christmas advert that pulls at our emotions, haven’t we? Things like Coca Cola’s ‘Holidays are Coming’ truck are the triggers that make us feel ‘Christmassy’. After John Lewis’ success in using the mini film formula, we’ve found other brands joining this style of advertising. But, have any captured our hearts this year quite like little Excitable Edgar has? For me, not quite, but McDonald’s are a close second with their #ReindeerReady campaign.

Watch McDonald’s Christmas advert 2019

Advertising is always about selling. But, gee, isn’t it nice to feel a little merry inside?

Thanks for reading. What’s your favourite advert?

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Photographer and writer. Based in Scotland. Using Medium for opinion pieces, marketing advice, and motivational articles. https://www.laurenmacneish.com/

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