Adwatch: John Lewis and Waitrose ad is strategically spot-on but let down creatively

John Lewis and Waitrose spot is popular because it tugs at familiar cues but it lacks emotional power, says Gyro UK's chief strategy officer Ian Bell

Adwatch: John Lewis and Waitrose ad is strategically spot-on but let down creatively

It’s no surprise that the John Lewis and Waitrose film was the most liked TV ad in September. Britain’s most loved retailer, John Lewis, allied to fellow national treasures Queen: a brand and a band both universally acclaimed, delivering a pull-out-all-the-stops rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody – "the nation’s number one single", according to a 2012 ITV poll.

It's the number one most liked ad because it lovingly tugs at familiar cues that make the nation feel good about itself – our eccentric theatricality, parental pride at the school play and the geeky inventiveness of our scientists. Adam & Eve/DDB borrowed Disney’s Star Wars formula of using references that appeal to both kids and parents, with nods to the franchise, as well as Doctor Who, Clangers and The Wizard of Oz, among others. Yet, like an over-commercialised Christmas stuffed with tinsel and baubles, this bombastic ad fails to pack the emotional power that ads like "Monty the penguin" deliver. In this context, we need to ask why only 49% liked the ad?

Strategically, "When you’re part of it, you put your heart into it" is spot-on in its ambition to differentiate John Lewis by demonstrating how its employee-powered business model stands it apart. The creative execution, from the "John Lewis Playbook of Christmas Ads", suggests there is a lovable amateurishness to the brand, but it's predictable and misses the mark. This is not a galvanising message, especially for the current staff at a time of profit warnings and staff layoffs.

Focusing on the individual stories of the employees and the contributions they make would deliver a more authentic emotional power and it would also explain the aim of the campaign – that John Lewis and Waitrose have a unique partnership model and belong to the same family. That has been obscured by the rock operatics.

Ian Bell is chief strategy officer at Gyro UK

TV ads 27 August-30 September 2018. Adwatch research is conducted via an internet omnibus survey among 1000 adults in Great Britain, aged 16-64, through Research Express, part of Kantar TNS, one of the world’s leading data, insight and consulting agencies. Data supplied by Ebiquity.