'A knockout, highly emotive' or 'something anyone could have produced'? PRWeek's panel on John Lewis' Elton John campaign

John Lewis has finally released its Christmas ad, a week later than usual. So, what does our creative panel make of the trip down Elton John's memory lane?

This year’s John Lewis campaign stars British music and cultural icon Elton John – following the somewhat marmite Moz the Monster campaign last year.

The clip retraces Elton’s "incredible journey", wrapped up in emotion and nostalgia. It’s based on the premise that some gifts can be life-changing. The film goes back in time through special moments in the musician's life, such as that time he performed an epic stadium concert in the 1970s West of the Rockies Tour in North America, a pub gig as a teen, and a school recital.

The clip delicately builds to a crescendo when the young Elton gets his first piano – a moment that is based on the star’s recollection of when he first played a piano at his grandmother’s house.

The campaign is much more than a TV spot, with John Lewis upping the ante with in-store experiences around the creative. Later today, customers can visit the flagship store on Oxford Street and explore three of the actual sets used in the video, plus plenty of Elton John props from different eras. There are also regular light music shows beaming across Oxford Street.

Nick Woods, partner, Well Hello

"You know when you go to the cinema and see what feels like endless ads and trailers before your film actually begins… that’s what this year feels like with ‘John’. Even the timing, almost a week after others, fits: Elton would never be the first at a party, especially if there is the chance he can arrive last and make The Grandest Entrance. It’s really difficult to find much fault with this – it is smart brand-storytelling carried out by one of the best integrated teams in the business. The ad itself is beautiful and, while Elton’s story hasn’t exactly been a secret, this feels like a new view and the ending provides the same fuzzy glow we expect from JL. And then there is the integration. This isn’t just an ad campaign: this is a 2,000 sq ft retail experience which will see social lit up with dressed-up little Eltons for weeks; it’s a light show every day on Oxford Street; it’s an employee-engagement campaign; it’s a six-week omni-channel media campaign for Elton’s forthcoming tour (aaaah, penny drops). And so, for another year, everyone already at the party is left looking on with enormous envy at John Lewis’ arrival and outfit #EltonJohnLewiswins."

Jo Chappel, creative director, Fever

"Finally! Christmas has officially launched. A simple song; a simple story; a global megastar. Much like the main event itself (remember this is all about Christmas, right?) most of the fun is in the hype and anticipation – rendering the ad itself pretty irrelevant in past years (remember Moz?). After last year’s flirt with fantasy, this year John Lewis goes back to reality – albeit featuring a millionaire megastar. Yes, in part the ad feels like a gratuitous promo for Elton’s tour/film, but the simple beauty of the story and song unashamedly tickled my emotional ivories. Sadly for Kevin the Carrot, the sheer classiness and stadium-sized sparkle of the ad outshines the rest of the bunch. This is Christmas as you want it to be – full of hope and dreams that come true (if you have a spare £800 for a piano)."

Fenella Grey, London chair, Porter Novelli

"The one we have been waiting for. Does it rise to expectations? Oh my goodness – yes. The marriage of a reflective and stylish homage to one of our most unifying of British icons, with the powerful feeling of gifting that can enhance someone’s life, creates a knockout, highly emotive piece of work that fills your heart. It might be that this resonates particularly with me as my grandmother also passed on her piano to me, and it was a similar moment, but this is one you want to watch and rewatch to marvel at all the detail. Supported by magical in-store experiences to revel in the ad itself, it won’t just be Elton John fans itching to be where he has been, but a nation looking for something new to enjoy and do together this Christmas."

Tom Rouse, creative director, Hotwire

"A celebrity out of context does not make a good advertising campaign. John Lewis appears to have forgotten that rule, forgotten to come up with a heart-warming story, and forgotten why everyone loves their Christmas adverts in the first place. In short, they've produced something anyone could have produced. The pay-off of a young John getting a piano doesn't make up for what otherwise feels like a music video and does nothing to earn our emotional investment in the first place. Past adverts have worked so well because they've put a child at the front and centre of the ad campaign, reminding parents how much they loved Christmas as a child and giving children someone to relate to. We know Gen Alpha children don't care about celebrities from a different generation and want to see their peers on screen - so why on earth John Lewis has gone Elton John is beneath me. I can't imagine a single child watching this advert and asking their parents for a piano for Christmas. We're a far cry from the emotional kick in the gut of Man on the Moon or The Long Wait. I'm sad to say, but this is the first John Lewis ad I’m consigning to the bin after a single viewing. And, best of all a search on the John Lewis website returns 0 results for pianos."

Mark Perkins, executive cretive director, W

"So, the worst kept Christmas ad secret is out of the bag and that means I don’t have to watch any more of them for PR Week. I’m sure many of us are already fatigued by it all and it’s only mid-November. There’s a blockbuster Elton John bio-pic coming out in 2019 and this could well have been the trailer, with a Christmas tree bunged in as a favour to John Lewis, begging the question how much Elton paid them to be the subject of their campaign? Two-and-a-half minutes is great if you like the music of Elton John. Some of us really don’t. What we didn’t see was the earlier Christmas where a young Elton threw one of his legendary hissyfits and stormed off because his mum bought him a banjo. Now THAT I’d watch and is far more relatable to what most parents endure on Christmas morning."

Arvind Hickman recommends

John Lewis Christmas ad 2018

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