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John Lewis Christmas Advert 2013

Monday 11 November 2013

One may as well begin with some social media comments about the latest John Lewis Christmas advert:

They’ve done it again. It’s animated and I still cried.

It’s another tear jerker.

Made me cry but has a happy ending.

It’s perfect!

Anyone that doesn’t share a tear at the John Lewis Christmas advert isn’t human.

If you haven’t seen the ad in question, perhaps because you live on Mars, then here it is:

Our mission here at Spindle is to Unravel Creativity, so here goes: as far as I can make out, the advert features a hungover bear in a need of a hug and The Animals of Farthing Wood putting up a Christmas tree. You’d be forgiven for thinking the tagline of ‘Give Someone A Christmas They’ll Never Forget’ sounds like the vaguely threatening teaser campaign for the Christmas Day episode of Eastenders.

Quite how any of this compels anyone to go and buy stuff from John Lewis is beyond me, but then again John Lewis has always been about selling an idea rather than some individual product (yeah, I watch Mad Men; I understand things), and this keenly observed blend of customer demographics and focus-grouped emotional cues means the nation has now officially ‘got into the Christmas spirit’ – and we all have John Lewis to thank.

However, what you’ll also have noticed from the above social media comments is that no-one, but no-one, mentioned that they were intending to even visit a John Lewis store – let alone do the bulk of their Christmas shopping there.

But could there be anything more appealing to John Lewis’ middle-class MOR target consumer than a Lo-fi Lily Allen cover of a bloody Keane song? I mean, I’m happy that Lily Allen’s making a few quid off music again because she was fairly good at it for a while, and I’m pleased that Keane are once again achieving some modicum of cultural relevance. But as I’m sure Smiths fans noted after the use of Please, Please, Please in the 2011 John Lewis Christmas ad, your moment of association with high quality, reasonably priced white goods will only provide a momentary resurgence in popularity among the average Jonelle customer.

Don’t get me wrong; I have no beef with John Lewis. Why, one time they saved me from a wretched hangover when I visited the High Wycombe store with a friend who wanted to buy a coffee maker. Those little free shots of espresso handed out by the highly professional demonstrator gave me the strength to carry on. They made me who I am today.

In all fairness, this year’s ad isn’t as baffling as those of previous years, such as 2012’s ‘Snowman leaves snowgirl mate to climb a mountain and hop over a motorway bridge in order to get to a John Lewis and return with a gift’ or 2011’s ‘white middle class kid who’s never wanted for anything in his life is impatient for Christmas to arrive but in a dramatic twist just wants to give his Mum a nice gift’. The stunts have worked: John Lewis is in rude health, posting profits of £3.3 billion (about $5.3 billion) in 2012.

Now can I attack the hypocrisy of Christmas in general? Oh, come on now – don’t close the page! Just hear me out. As a recovering Catholic (Hi Mum! *waves*), this is one aspect that particularly sticks in my craw. Surely you remember a few years ago when it was fashionable to at least take a moment to think about the irony of atheists, agnostics and, you know, Jews and Muslims celebrating Christmas. Now it seems we’ve gotten over it and are happy to indulge ourselves unabashed at this time of year. And I get it; Christmas is so twinkly and sweet – even my Muslim sister-in-law was so moved by a friend’s stunning Christmas tree last year that she declared that she would get one this year.

The tree in question has not materialized and is unlikely to, further demonstrating the momentary mania that affects us all at Christmas.

Perhaps the collective abandonment of religion at Christmas and gleeful offloading of any kind of guilt about this means that culturally we’ve had to re-frame what Christmas means: therefore, “it’s all about family” (or “all abaaat faaam-leee” to continue the Eastenders metaphor, inextricably linked as Christmas and the nation’s flagship soap opera are in the British psyche) has become the accepted refrain by Mums and other deranged folks through the land. Nope, it’s definitely still about the birth of Jesus. Sorry to disappoint you.

Who knows – the current trendy Archbishop of Canterbury and this new-fangled Pope are taking steps to get with the times, so maybe by this time next year they’ll announce that Christmas really is all about family and we shouldn’t worry too much about the Jesus thing.

So, for now, let’s worship at the altar of John Lewis once again: and remember, if you don’t cry over this advert, then you definitely aren’t human.