John Lewis is kicking off the U.K.'s Christmas ad-fest this year with a heartwarming tale of a teenage boy and an alien girl as it looks to recapture the joy of Christmas after a locked-down 2020. In a time of retail supply chain worries, the brand is also launching its ad earlier than usual, showcasing merchandise from its existing range.
With echoes of "E.T.," "Close Encounters," and even the holiday classic "The Snowman," this year's film concerns a 14-year-old boy, Nathan, who finds a spaceship that has crash-landed in the woodlands near his suburban home. He discovers an ethereal alien girl, Skye, and introduces her to some U.K. Christmas traditions: a holiday tree, decorations, lights, mince pies, movies and festive sweaters. Meanwhile, she's able to use her alien powers to join in the celebration—for example, she helps switch on the lights.
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Eventually, their adventure comes to an end on a bittersweet note (as all good alien encounters do) with the spaceship ready to leave. Nathan gives her his Christmas jumper, and Skye says goodbye with a touching kiss on the cheek before flying off and leaving a sparkling star on the tree. The spot ends with the words "For a Christmas as magical as your first."
The ad was created by longstanding agency Adam&Eve/DDB London and directed by Smuggler's Mark Molloy, the Australian director behind Apple's "Underdogs." The spot marks his first for the brand. As with previous John Lewis ads, music is integral to the film. It's set to a cover version of "Together in Electric Dreams," the '80s hit by Giorgio Moroder and Phil Oakey. This time it's performed by a relatively unknown singer, Londoner Lola Young.
Not just about gifting
John Lewis previewed the ad at a press event his week. According to the brand, the new spot is all about creating wonderful Christmas memories as if you were experiencing them for the first time. Claire Pointon, John Lewis and Partners customer director, said during the event that the company also aimed for a "joyful, optimistic" feel as well as "escapism" after the disappointment of Christmas 2020 when much of the U.K. was in lockdown and families could not meet. As for the cosmic theme, she noted the team felt that "space is interesting right now," with recent space flights and explorations capturing headlines.
The focus is deliberately not just on gifting but also on the "many moments that customers really missed," said Pointon. "This year people are really aware of the little things that matter, like Christmas movies or carol concerts, and it's about that just as much as the gifting."
John Lewis' Christmas campaigns have typically featured a themed merchandise component. The award-winning "Monty the Penguin" spot, for example, came with a range of more than 40 related products. Although this year's ad does feature the company's goods—such as the Christmas sweater worn by Nathan—Pointon said John Lewis is also being mindful of the supply shortages experienced by many retailers this Christmas. It has not created any new tie-in merchandise, and all of the goods featured are from John Lewis' existing lineup of goods. The ad is also breaking earlier in November than is traditional for John Lewis, to encourage customers to shop early.
After two years of joint campaigns for John Lewis and Waitrose, the supermarket chain owned by John Lewis, the two brands have reverted to separate commercials. "We wanted to make sure the two brands have clarity of thought," said Pointon. "There are places where the two brands should come together in marketing but that will be more in our charitable work."
(John Lewis's charitable initiative, Give a Little Love, which was the subject of last year's ad, continues with 10% of the profits for each Christmas jumper going to two charities, FareShare and Home-Start U.K.).
As well as the TV ad, which breaks tonight on ITV, the wider campaign includes two Snapchat lenses: one where people can turn themselves into space travelers and another that lets them explore Skye's spaceship. John Lewis will also have ten Christmas emporiums in stores where people can pose with the spaceship and create interactive gifs to post on social media.
Meanwhile, John Lewis and Adam&Eve/DDB will be hoping that the ad goes down well with the British public, after the brand's recent home insurance ad, featuring a destructive little boy, sparked public outcry for various reasons and was later pulled for potentially being misleading about the product offering. The retailer is reviewing its media account, currently held by MG OMD.