Breaking free of tradition is an apt theme for John Lewis’ 2023 Christmas ad, given that the British retailer—that most hallowed of holiday advertisers—broke free of longtime agency adam&eveDDB this year to try something new with Saatchi & Saatchi London.
The result is a strangely appealing campaign starring a Venus flytrap who wants to be a Christmas tree—and who grows, “Little Shop of Horrors”-like, to suitably mammoth proportions.
In the end, though, the creatures gets just too big for the living room. So, sadly, it’s relocated to the chilly backyard, where you might assume it would begin plotting its revenge.
Good thing no one pricks a finger, or this thing could get ravenous.
Turns out, however, that the creature, dubbed “Snapper,” isn’t a plant-agonist at all but a friend—one whose present-unwrapping and confetti-launching skills are second to none. The point being that it’s OK to upend traditions and start new ones at Christmastime.
That can be a dicey message in uncertain times, when people are perhaps more likely to cling to the sureties of the past—and criticize those who don’t. Fellow U.K. retailer M&S learned that earlier this month, when its seasonal spot—in which celebs including Hannah Waddingham threw away (and in some cases literally burned) old customs in favor of new ones—was met with some backlash. It didn’t help that some burning party hats were said to look like the Palestinian flag.
John Lewis has been careful in the press materials around the “Snapper” camapign to emphasize that old traditions can be cherished as well, even as research suggests many British families are embracing new ones.
“We are a nation that loves the traditions of Christmas—from classic traditions like pantos and putting up the tree to evolving new ones like crafting our own presents and Zoom get-togethers,” said Charlotte Lock, customer director for John Lewis. “Many of us have our own unique festive traditions, and that makes them even more special. The film celebrates themes of family and evolving traditions and shows that a ‘perfect’ Christmas is finding joy together with loved ones, whatever your traditions.”
Another break from tradition in the campaign is the music—an original track by legendary tenor Andrea Bocelli. John Lewis made a note in the press release to point out that the music is “wildly different to AI-generated predictions, which forecast that a cover of a classic ballad would feature on the soundtrack.” (It may also be a new tradition to mention AI in all holiday-ad press releases going forward.)
Sarah Jenkins, managing director of Saatchi & Saatchi had this to say about the spot: “It’s an extraordinary privilege to be working with the John Lewis Partnership, and it’s particularly magical to be launching a campaign that celebrates all of the traditions—both eternal and evolving—that make Christmas so special to the nation. The race to be the No. 1 Christmas ad brings extra festive spice and is such a brilliant embodiment of the skills and smarts of the U.K.’s incredible creative industries. We’re raising a glass to all.”
The campaign includes all manner of distribution, from TV to social to Meta AR filters to a digital advent calendar on the John Lewis app. There is also, of course, a Snapper collection of merch, which John Lewis says is it “widest ever range” of products associated with its holiday ad.