Arif Durrani, head of media, Campaign / editor of Media Week
Arif Durrani, head of media, Campaign / editor of Media Week
A view from Arif Durrani

The media story behind the festive magic of Monty

Who would have thought we'd all be talking about the arrival of a flightless bird native to Antarctica in the run-up to Christmas 2014?

John Lewis has done it again: this year’s tale of Sam and Monty the Penguin did not disappoint. And behind the £1 million creative magic lies a sophisticated £7 million media campaign that deserves closer inspection.

In terms of television, the most significant change in approach from last year’s ad was the decision to partner with Channel 4. The commercial tie-up, brokered by Manning Gottlieb OMD, allowed for collaboration that went far beyond the usual TV spot.

"The switch in TV strategy was an attempt to reduce the risk of John Lewis being viewed as 'boastful'"

To build anticipation, Monty started appearing within Channel 4’s idents five days before the spot’s Friday-night TV debut during Gogglebox. Accompanying the TV trails were digital outdoor executions that had Monty playing about. All creative was unbranded to fuel speculation.

When the TV ad broke last Friday, the deal with Channel 4 ensured not only a full takeover of the commercial break it was in but also a voiceover introduction from the broadcaster.

Last year, the retailer opted for the immediate scale and glitz of ITV’s The X Factor for "the bear and the hare". I’m told the switch in strategy was an attempt to reduce the risk of John Lewis being viewed as a "boastful brand". The perils of becoming the one Christmas ad that now defines the season, no doubt.

But this year’s spot actually made its debut on social media. Two posts were uploaded at 8am the day before its TV appearance via YouTube and, for the first time, Facebook’s video format. Both versions sent Twitter into overdrive.

PR specialist Hotwire tracked more Tweets about "Monty’s Christmas" in the first three hours than its predecessor managed in 24 hours. It took just 90 minutes for "#montythepenguin" to become the top UK trend and John Lewis says the ad was viewed seven million times in the first 24 hours – seven times more than last year.

People clearly liked it too. Hotwire’s analytics tool found that, of the 49,562 Tweets measured, a staggering 97.7 per cent were deemed positive or neutral. Of the 2.3 per cent that were negative, many were jokes about a boy ordering a mail bride for his penguin.

Going forward, the characters of Monty and Mabel will be further developed online and in-store, thanks to partnerships with Microsoft (to bring children's own teddies to life) and Google Cardboard.

John Lewis’ social activity played right into a simmering battle between YouTube and Facebook too, vying for the mantle of the world's biggest video platform. By Tuesday afternoon, YouTube had the lion’s share with 12 million views. But with 18 million views in total, most generated organically (with paid amplification kicking in later), John Lewis has been the clear winner.