From the editor-in-chief: 'Tis the season to be jolly - why the John Lewis ad will strike a more joyful note this year

The run-up to Christmas is when we both review the year's best communications campaigns and watch as a swathe of festive ones are launched, including the much-anticipated John Lewis advert.

The PRWeek Awards provide the industry’s definitive review of 2016, including standout campaigns such as UK Blood & Transplant’s ‘#MissingType’ and Marks & Spencer’s ‘Spark something good’. We continue to see the award-winning campaigns as those showing tangible results, real social purpose, astute audience insight and simple creative ideas.

As November starts one can also look forward to the launch of manifold Christmas campaigns striving for exactly those characteristics. Burberry has already launched its effort (below) and the next couple of weeks will bring M&S, Sainsbury’s and, of course, the big one: John Lewis.

Up to 50 per cent of these retailers’ annual marcoms budget can be spent in this period. Festive campaigns make a major difference to their annual sales figures and we will see many mentioned in their financial statements in January.

In recent years the PR or ‘earned media’ element of these campaigns has grown exponentially as they seek the appropriate brand narrative, values-driven messaging and, crucially, shareability. Sainsbury’s charity tie-ups have underpinned its messaging of late, while M&S’ PR shop, Unity, plays a key role in the chain’s festive connection.

John Lewis has gone one step further and managed to lead the nation’s cultural conversation around Christmas. The retailer has leveraged its ‘middle England’ reputation to reinterpret the festival in a commercial age, using carefully crafted, emotional films across many channels, but particularly via editorial and social media.

Last year’s campaign – ‘Man on the moon’ – addressed loneliness among old people, in conjunction with Age UK with a rather more downbeat theme than those of previous years.

So what can we expect from this year’s effort? Scheduled for release on Thursday (10 November), I predict that John Lewis will look at the zeitgeist and take a very different approach. The year had a melancholy start, with the deaths of numerous celebrities such as David Bowie and Prince; it was also characterised by the terrorist atrocities in Nice and Florida; and major political campaigns such as Brexit and Clinton/Trump have divided, rather than unified, Western society.

A teaser clip accompanied by the hashtag #BounceBounce has already been released (above) and it suggests John Lewis will adopt a more joyful theme. It will attempt to interpret Christmas as a happy, unifying celebration. And don’t be surprised if the other brands take a similarly upbeat, cheerful approach. God knows we need it.

But of course the other job of these campaigns is to get us into stores and shift stock. And this is where the ‘owned media’ element comes in. Look out for in-store, experiential initiatives that drive footfall and sales.

Never have communications campaigns been so integrated – with PR battling to prove its role within the mix – and focused on the bottom line. It is a tough balance to strike: too much focus on sales and product and one may lose that all-important emotional connection. But that’s the fascinating business we are in: inspiring, enduring, mutually beneficial relations with our publics.

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