Oh bah humbug! I love Elton and John Lewis

The new John Lewis ad broke late last week, and I think for the first time in its history it's creating a true marmite response. So which side of the fence am I on? Well, I just loved it.

John Lewis and Elton John recognise they could only do this with one another, says Frankie Oliver
John Lewis and Elton John recognise they could only do this with one another, says Frankie Oliver

It’s easy to throw stones at a campaign that uses a celebrity or seems to move away from a trusted formula, but unlike last year’s 'Moz the Monster', I think they’ve cracked it – by actually sticking to the formula and using celebrity in a way many other campaigns fail to do.

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

We open with Elton John but we close with Reggie Dwight.

Yes, there’s been the fame, and rock and roll, and the epic journey that has been Elton John’s life.

But at the beginning and the end, there is just a little boy and his mum. And a piano.

Julia Roberts said in Richard’s Curtis’ Notting Hill …. "I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy".

And much like Julia, who played a mega star actress, so is Elton just a boy who happened to become a mega rock star.

It is that humanity that binds us, not just to his story and his memory of Christmas, but to our own. We are all just a boy. We are all just a girl.

We are also the parents doing everything we can to make our little people’s Christmas the memories they remember at 70.

This humanity, this simplicity, this belief that frankly nothing matters but this love between a boy, his mum and a piano is why this ad works.

For this is Christmas. For this is love. And this is why we cry.

This isn’t just a campaign for John Lewis. Or Elton John. This is a campaign for Christmas.

But it’s not all tears.

This John Lewis ad is a moment of unity and ‘poptastic’ Christmas rocking fun.

Unlike so many years since the demise of ‘the Christmas number one’, this year we have an anthem for Christmas. And not just one.

I’m excited to hear that further campaigns will continue from John Lewis with Elton’s songs – we have a Nespresso and Rocket Man campaign to look forward to.

This may sound like commercial guff, but really it’s not. It’s brilliant.

From now until Christmas Day we will be singing Elton’s songs and enjoying one of the few true pop stars we have left alive in our country - with a biopic due to be released next year - since the sad losses of George Michael and David Bowie.

And this is why this celebrity partnership works. It’s not a bolt-on; a cameo; a one-hit wonder. No, John Lewis and Elton John both recognise they could probably only do this with one another.

Elton John would only do this with the one retailer that totally reinvented Christmas advertising and one that puts partnership at its heart.

John Lewis would only do this with an artist so prolific and loved that they are chosen to play at Princess Diana’s Funeral.

And in recognising the potential in that partnership, they have thrown themselves 150 per cent into it and done everything they could conceive together.

From a catalogue of songs to the in-store execution – they’ve gone for it. Turkey, stuffing, mince pies - the lot. And I love them for that.

Because, so often, celebrity partnerships only go so far; they often fail to be a ‘partnership’.

And I don’t think I’m the only one that thinks this.

Despite some negative comment in the press, national sentiment towards the campaign is already more than 30 points ahead of Moz.

Will it beat Buster The Bouncer? I’m not sure.

That might still hold the number one spot. And the ‘Man On the Moon’ is still my favourite. But I think this will give both a good running.

Which brings me onto next year’s campaign.

I don’t think they should use a celebrity again. Or an animal. But please, like this year, tell us a new beautiful story that connects us with our Christmas past.

That formula is most definitely not broken. Well done John Lewis and Adam&Eve for keeping it well-and-truly alive.

And well done for having the balls to allow sister brand Waitrose to also take the mick out of you. Now that’s partnership. Happy Christmas everyone!

Frankie Oliver is a freelance PR consultant and a judge in the 2018 PRWeek Awards

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