John Lewis is turning its attention to children and families in the care system in the U.K. retailer's most purpose-led Christmas ad to date.
This year, the company famous for its award-winning, heartwarming Christmas campaigns such as Monty the Penguin, The Bear and the Hare and Excitable Edgar, eschews fantasy, VFX and animation in favor of a more "real-life" approach to storytelling.
Its new ad, titled "The Beginner," revolves around a middle-aged man who's teaching himself to skateboard in the run-up to Christmas. At first, the viewer isn't sure why he's putting himself through all this (with subsequent injuries, aches and pains), as well as avidly viewing skateboarding videos while at work. However, all becomes clear when a teenage girl called Ellie arrives at his family's front door, clutching a skateboard; she's a new foster child that they are taking into their home, and he's been learning about skateboarding in order to better bond with her.
The brand was keen to depict a more authentic, real-life situation in order to communicate the sensitive subject matter of children in care, according to Clare Pointon, John Lewis director of customer. John Lewis worked with charity partners Action for Children and Who Cares? Scotland closely on the ad, including on casting decisions and the portrayal of the family at its heart.
Pointon described it as "a very big choice" for the John Lewis brand to focus on the topic and put purpose "at the heart" of the ad, and to showcase "a different dynamic that tells a different story" while keeping families at the heart of the narrative.
"We wanted to tell a story that was authentic in terms of the storytelling, that struck a tone in terms of having joyful moments but having sensitivity for the subject we are communicating," she said. "It's a story about what you do that matters most."
The U.K.'s cost-of-living crisis also played into the tone of the ad, she said, and the fact that the "production values are very different to where we have been before."
In September, John Lewis Partnership, which operates John Lewis and Waitrose, cautioned that its outlook for the remainder of 2022 was "highly uncertain owing to the cost of living crisis and its impact on discretionary spending as well as [the] criticality of our Christmas trading period."
The last 10 years of John Lewis ads as have had a "very specific feel," she added, and the retailer is known for "emotive storytelling." However, following a brand relaunch in September, John Lewis felt "it was important to depict a family story but a different type of family. It's a story that the majority of us wouldn't know because we haven't come from that environment."
John Lewis will still measure the success of the ad in the same ways as before, Pointon said, including evaluating people's emotional reactions, despite the different focus. But it will also look at some metrics around being "a brand that has purpose at the heart."
The ad was created by John Lewis's long-time agency Adam&Eve/DDB and directed by Steve Rogers via Biscuit Filmworks. In keeping with the retailer's tradition of featuring covers of well-known music tracks in its advertising, it's set to a version of Blink-182's "All the Small Things" by American singer Mike Geier. This time, the brand chose an existing cover, rather than making a new recording.
The music choice is aimed at conveying a "modern nostalgia," as the early 2000s track will appeal both to customers who were teenagers when it first came out and who are now parents, as well as those older customers who were parents at the time, according to Rosie Hanley, head of brand and marketing at John Lewis. The brand also wanted a male voice, as the story is told from the point of view of the father in the ad.
"We wanted to make a step change away from a breathy female voice," said Hanley, referring to past John Lewis Christmas ads that featured singing by the likes of Celeste and Lily Allen.
The ad will run on TV as 60-second and 30-second spots and on social media. It will also air in next week's episode of Channel 4's reality show "Gogglebox" where the regular families featured in the show will comment on it as they watch it on TV. "We are so conscious that this is a conversation and it's a lot to land in a 60-second spot, so we're hoping they will unpack some of the big commitments that we're making and help the audience understand why this matters this year," said Hanley.
The campaign, which concludes with a message about the children who will spend Christmas in care this year, highlights the recent launch of the retailer's "Building Happier Futures" program, in which it made a long-term commitment to help young people with experience of the care system.
The program will include making donations to children in care via product sales, as well as helping to prepare young people who have grown up in care for employment, in part through apprenticeships at John Lewis.
John Lewis will also invite groups of children in care on special trips to its in-store Santa's Grottoes, and it will help to decorate children's homes at Christmas.