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John Lewis advert is ultimately about profit

ByIsobel McConville

Nov 17, 2015

The première of the 2015 John Lewis Christmas advert probably had a lot of us reaching for the tissues. The advert shows an old man living on the moon; lonely at Christmas time, who is sent a present by a little girl to show that she cares. John Lewis does a good business in tugging at the heart strings, and aside from some glaring scientific inaccuracies, this years advert is no exception, being voted the best one yet by Mail Online readers. The advert seeks to raise awareness for Age UK and a percentage of profit from themed products will be donated to the charity. Is this a retailer using its Christmas marketing power for good? Or is it simply capitalizing on our emotions, using the most vulnerable in society to pedal John Lewis wares?

I want to believe that the company has the best of intentions. As a former salesman of their finest ham and cheese I have a soft spot for the John Lewis brand. But it’s hard to reconcile this with the massive gains the company stands to make from the campaign – gains that are not going to be shared with the lonely old people they are depicting. The budget for the ad was a giant £7 million. If there was such a moral incentive behind it, surely this money could have been given straight to Age UK. Additionally, only three themed products will have some of their profits donated to the charity – and this includes cards and gift tags, which hardly bring in the big bucks. The haunting songs that accompany the annual ads – this years offering is a cover of Oasis’s ‘Half the World Away’ by Norwegian artist Aurora – usually bring in massive sales – Lily Allen’s cover of Keane’s ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ in 2013 reached Number 1 in the UK charts. So while we think we are just watching a moving story about an old man, we are actually being manipulated for financial gain.

John Lewis has successfully come to define the standard for Christmas adverts, and the hype surrounding the annual premiere is akin to that of a huge movie franchise. Christmas seems to begin earlier each year – it is only the first week and November and it is already an all-pervasive presence – as it presents a huge marketing opportunity for businesses. The John Lewis Christmas adverts never directly market products, but they have capitalized on the perfect vision of a family Christmas that we all yearn for, and transformed it into a money-making scheme.  Contrary to popular belief, advertising does not aim to make you want a certain product, it just aims to make the company memorable. John Lewis has firmly positioned itself in our minds as the retailer of choice.

And what of the old man in the advert? He is given a gift and forgotten about, doomed simply to observe the joyful familial festivities. In reality, the advert is a capitalist venture hiding behind emotional manipulation. Many of us will shed a tear and feel compelled to give our grandparents a call, but in the next moment the plight of the lonely elderly will be forgotten about, while the John Lewis seed will be firmly planted in our minds – at the end of the day, it is much easier to buy a new toaster from John Lewis and feel like our money has made a difference, than to help a real life old person in need this Christmas.

Image: Andy K




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