Festive feels or offensive pigeons? John Lewis divides PRWeek UK Christmas panel

PRWeek UK has assembled a team of creative comms experts to critique some of this year's major festive campaigns. Today it's the 'big one': John Lewis (and Waitrose).

Panelists (clockwise from top left): Lotte Jones, Julian Obubo, Mandy Sharp, Steve Strickland, Sophie Raine and Andrew Soar
Panelists (clockwise from top left): Lotte Jones, Julian Obubo, Mandy Sharp, Steve Strickland, Sophie Raine and Andrew Soar

John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose & Partners have launched their much-anticipated joint Christmas ad campaign alongside a drive to raise £4m for two charities.

“Give a little love”, by Adam & Eve/DDB, encourages the nation to spread kindness and draws inspiration from the British public’s response during the coronavirus pandemic. The release coincides with National Kindness Day, which is today (13 November).

At the centre of the campaign is a two-minute film which takes a different creative approach from John Lewis’ previous festive ads. Rather than a long-form narrative, the spot comprises nine different vignettes and styles of animation, which illustrate everyday acts of kindness.

Mandy Sharp, founder and chief executive, Tin Man Communications

This ad gives me all the festive feels. A definite shift from their previous big production ads but tonally, it’s spot-on. Everyone needs a little love this Christmas and John Lewis is showing us exactly how with this beautifully produced narrative. I like the flow of the individual acts of kindness and symbolic heart that features throughout. Whilst the medley of different animation styles is a touch busy on the eye, Celeste’s stunning and soulful vocals smooth it all over and take you on the journey with the characters.

I much prefer it to some of the brand’s glitzier festive ads, because as we end the hell that has been 2020, we want brands to act with sincerity, kindness and real purpose this Christmas. This ad seems to do that and using an original track helps it feel authentic, wholesome and heartfelt. There is also a strong charity initiative and a genuine message that we can all relate too. Yes, it’s a winner from me.

Steve Strickland, co-founder, Talker Tailor Trouble Maker

I am writing this review sat in a hospital queue in Lewisham so “Be more kind” slaps hard right now. John Lewis and Adam & Eve have got themselves into the same rut Kylie once had: if you release anything unexpected, you risk pissing off your fans, so the job is to innovate very very slowly. There is also a benefit of animation feeling Christmassy - who doesn’t love a Muppets Christmas Carol? - and being COVID safe. The hip-hop street pigeons offend me but given this ad is primarily aimed at families in the home counties ordering food before a stroll to Barnard Castle, I’m sure it’ll pass without a second glance.

I’ve never been a person to fawn over the John Lewis ads but rather marvel at the artistry and this is a lovely, flowing example of what hard work and vision can deliver. The brand ad is now a symbol of Christmas so it needs to provide so few nods to wonder and snow to spark amazement that nobody can argue it hasn’t succeeded. I might be tempted to buy a heart umbrella, so that works. And an original song is a good shout but I really wanted them to come out of the gates with something more bold. It all feels as safe as the service and as typical as its stock so whilst it might work this year, if I were the brand manager I’d call last orders on the direction. Launching a kindness ad around world kindness day is smart. And the coverage in today’s nationals shows that one thing they get right every year is the media planning and PR and that deserves snaps.

Lotte Jones, partner, Freuds

This year has been complicated. And here’s John Lewis doing what it does best - reminding us what really matters by keeping it simple. If you were described this ad without seeing it, you’d be guilty of thinking it’s cheesier than a Forever Friends teddy bear on Valentine’s Day, but somehow the heart motif, the female acoustic vocals and the cute animals and families all come together in one big dose of brilliance.

For a year that’s hit John Lewis hard, it was necessary to keep it humble – both the message and production values – which they’ve definitely done. As well as the charitable links, I love the fact they used eight different artists in order to provide richness to the visuals, but also spread jobs across the creative industries.  I also feel like the message serves as a sweet reminder of our collective optimism from the first lockdown and gives a window of escapism from this second slog just when we need it.

Andrew Soar, creative director, Ogilvy

In a year where a pandemic has caused a seismic shift in all our daily lives, John Lewis has fittingly followed suit by taking its Christmas ad in a radically new direction.

Although this year’s advert reflects the current climate and is all about spreading kindness and love, for most it will underwhelm. It’s just so hard to please that expectation across the nation.

We are now hardwired to believe that without John Lewis’ “festive feels” it isn’t even really Christmas and let’s be real, this doesn’t come close to its greatest hits of 2011-2014: The Long Wait, The Journey, The Bear and the Hare or Monty the Penguin. That’s mic drop territory for JL.

Personally, there is a lot to like. Cleverly slicing it into nine vignettes - perfect for those media buyers. It has flipped the script on the music - bye bye covers; enter Celeste with a brand new track.

I’m sold on the mix of artistic mediums - animation, claymation, CGI, cinematography and more, the philanthropic spirit and matched donations for two fantastic charities. If us comms folk don’t agree with supporting the creative industry (like John Lewis has) and those most in need, no matter what form, we might as well give up.

Also the cool hip-hop pigeons munching on a bag of ‘Crumbs’ crisps and the hedgehog wanting to be part of the gang is epic! 

Julian Obubo, brand strategy director and partner, Manifest

Considering there is a chance John Lewis stores might be shut for months, it's no surprise Waitrose is prominently referenced in this year's Christmas ad.

I must say, as much as I liked this ad, it didn't quite tug the heartstrings as much as previous offerings. John Lewis has set the bar quite high and I don't expect they will hit the mark all the time.

I expected John Lewis would have engaged head-on with the impact of the pandemic through its creative. I understand the desire not to fill our TV screens with more despair at Christmas, but I feel the generic 'Give A Little Loveapproach is a missed opportunity. I'd wager that I'm not alone if feeling a little let down by this ad.

That said, I do hope they sell some 'Pigeon Posse' merch. I'd buy those!

Sophie Raine, managing director, consumer brands, Ketchum

The moment you’ve all been waiting for... the most boring review of a Christmas ad ever.

John Lewis and Waitrose have hit the spot, shining some much needed light into a year characterised by darkness and fear. The festive offering beautifully depicts how good deeds can multiply and lift communities - symbolic of the best bits of humanity that have shined through during this gloomy pandemic.  

I have more than “a little love” for the Celeste track - I have bucketfuls of love for it! Her voice, smokier than a smokehouse on fire, provides the perfect romantic backdrop to the series of kind encounters.

The ad is a welcome departure from saccharine and unexciting 'Excitable Edgar' of 2019 fame, and donating £4m to charities which support those most in need is absolutely the right thing to do. The only negative for me is the jarring of the kindness and love sentiment with the recent 2,800 job cuts at the partnership.

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