The centrepiece of the retailer's £7m campaign is a two-minute film which tells the story of six-year-old Lily who spots an old man living on the moon while using her telescope. Noticing he is lonely, she sends him a Christmas present of a telescope so he can see her. It closes with the strapline 'Show someone they're loved this Christmas'.
The film was released on John Lewis' Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels at 8am on Friday morning and will first air on television on Friday evening, during the first ad break in Channel 4's Gogglebox, which starts at 9pm. The adam&eveDDB-produced film is set to Oasis song Half The World Away, covered by Norweigian artist Aurora. Details and stills of the film were released to the press under an embargo of 00.01am Friday morning.
"Our Christmas advert is once again all about going the extra mile to give someone the perfect gift. This year though, the story is told in a uniquely creative and engaging way as we see Lily, our heroine, go to great lengths to connect with the man on the moon," said Peter Cross, comms director of John Lewis.
He said the role of the ad was primarily to stimulate conversation on social media. "Last year we had 22 million downloads and likes. While we are unlikely to repeat that success, downloads and social media will be the measure of success - although ultimately it is about sales."
The ad is just one part of a broader integrated marcoms campaign. The message will be amplified through a range of channels including an advent calendar app and merchandising.
The campaign finds its higher purpose in a charity partnership with Age UK aimed at highlighting the problem of loneliness among older people at Christmas.
A free app using augmented reality works by pointing a smart phone or tablet at the image of the man on the moon printed on shopping bags and found on social media and in stores, or by holding a device up to the moon itself. This will unlock a new 'moon fact' every day up to Christmas day itself - which this year is the date of a full moon. The app also features a 'man on the moon' game.
There will also be supporting activity in stores. There will be a 'moon' installed in John Lewis flagship Oxford Street store which customers can sit inside and there will be telescopes at the John Lewis Winter Garden on the roof and at ten other branches.
Shop windows will be dressed to support the film and versions of Lily's telescope will be on sale, costing £100.
There was intense media speculation about the ad in the run up to its launch following a teaser 'blipvert' during X Factor last week. The Sun ran a page about the potential soundtrack while the Daily Telegraph had a live online countdown and a 'Build your own John Lewis Christmas advert song' feature online. The Financial Times ran an analysis of previous ads.
However, the company said the interest was spontaneous and was not manipulated or seeded by John Lewis. "We are very aware that the launch has captured the imagination of the media and the public, but we did nothing to promote it," said senior comms manager Laura Coles.
She said that although John Lewis has increased its social media spend this year, the balance between social media and conventional media was "much the same as last year".