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What’s John Lewis’ real Yuletide motivation?

ByElla Olszowska

Dec 8, 2017

What marks the start of the festive season for you? Is it the surplus of ridiculous jumpers? Or perhaps the appearance of mince pies on supermarket shelves? Many say that the true indicator that Yuletide is underway is the release of the highly anticipated annual John Lewis Christmas advert.

Since 2007, the well known department store has graced our screens with the likes of ‘Snowpeople in Love’ (2012), to ‘The Man on the Moon’ (2015). However, despite its overwhelmingly positive reception, a question remains: are adverts like this just emotionally manipulating consumers?

On 10 November, John Lewis revealed its most recent instalment in the Christmas advert tradition, with ‘Moz the Monster’. Receiving over 36,000 retweets within only a few hours of being released, the advert is set to be a success, with the marketing director of JustEat, Ben Carter, saying it is sure to ‘get the tills ringing’. And it is not only him who shares this idea, as, according to The Guardian, John Lewis purportedly spends around £6 million on each campaign, suggesting that they expect it to directly impact sales.

Looking back, it is fair to say they would not be far wrong, as the company has estimated that since 2012, sales have increased more than 35 per cent because of Christmas advertising. This, coupled with the ad-themed product line, which, this year, includes a Moz the Monster cuddly toy (£20), picture book (£8.99), mug (£5), two sets of pyjamas and slippers (£20), is sure to make the John Lewis Christmas an (expensive) success.

But what is their advertising strategy? And how do they go about to ensure that their Christmas advert brings results?

Multiple marketing experts and consumer neuroscience specialists have looked in depth at the powers of advertising to emotionally manipulate consumers, outlining a few key reasons as to why we are so readily sucked into their web.

Firstly, successful adverts tend to trigger the viewer’s memory through a strong narrative. In all of the John Lewis adverts, there is an identifiable story line, which draws on our emotions. As Will McInnes from Brandwatch commented, “a great ad is all about eliciting emotions…and John Lewis knows [that]”.

Classic FM recently published an article on the importance of music in the John Lewis adverts, in its ability to engender certain reactions in viewers. As Ruth Simmons, CEO of Soundlounge, said, “John Lewis selects tracks that are familiar and loved, with strong top lines that tell a story of love, relationships and reconnecting”.

But can we really accuse adverts of emotionally manipulating the public? Or are they just doing their job by convincing you to buy a product?

While many people could justifiably accuse John Lewis of manipulating customers, every year the company works in compilation with a charity by offering them free publicity in the Christmas advert, and it is, therefore, difficult to see the advert as completely self-serving and profit-aimed.

In the past, charities such as Age UK have been chosen, with the advert targeted to raising awareness of loneliness amongst the elderly. This year, the charity is Barnardo’s, to whom John Lewis has offered to donate some of the proceeds from their Moz the Monster products.

There is certainly a fine line between what can be considered emotional manipulation and what is simply effective advertising strategy. As a consumer, we should remain aware that what we see is not always what we get, and be conscious of the fact that adverts are ultimately trying to sell something, so as not to be so readily drawn. However, it should also be the responsibility of companies to ensure that they are not excessively coercing the viewer into reacting in a certain way, which is to their detriment.


Image: Laura Spence

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