John Lewis Christmas ads: the first 11 years

As the industry – and the country – awaits the John Lewis Christmas ad to lift its spirits, Campaign recaps more than a decade of creative excellence.

Excitable Edgar: John Lewis and Waitrose's' 2019 Xmas ad
Excitable Edgar: John Lewis and Waitrose's' 2019 Xmas ad

John Lewis and Adam & Eve/DDB's seasonal ad offerings have arguably driven the Christmas ad bonanza since they first arrived in 2009 – despite the mumblings of detractors in recent years.

Pippa Wicks, executive director of John Lewis, said last month that this year's campaign "will be like no other" and it is hoped it will raise £5m for FareShare and Home-Start, who work with people struggling with food poverty and struggling parents respectively.

In September Wicks said the new ad would be "Covid-appropriate".

Campaign is yet to spot any teasers on social media but the industry expects this year's spot will launch towards the end of this week, after many other retail brands (Asda launched last week) but before Sainsbury's, which always waits until after Remembrance Day (11 November) due to its partnership with the Royal British Legion.

There has been lots of change at the John Lewis Partnership this year following the arrival of chairman Sharon White.

John Lewis' long-time marketing leader, Craig Inglis, who was latterly customer director at the retailer, left in March. Meanwhile, Becky Brock, mission director at John Lewis Partnership, departed for Costa Coffee in September.

2019: 'Excitable Edgar'

For their first joint Christmas ad, John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose & Partners told the story of an excitable dragon who can't help but set fire to things. When he turns up to the villagers' Christmas lunch they hide under the table but there is nothing to fear – he has brought them a Christmas pudding, which he safely sets fire to.

The spot is set to the REO Speedwagon song Can’t Fight This Feeling, which was re-recorded by Dan Smith from the band Bastille. Simon Lloyd created the campaign and Blink’s Dougal Wilson shot the TV ad in Hungary.

"Excitable Edgar" beat Sainsbury's ad to the top spot in YouTube's Christmas Ads Leaderboard for the second year in a row.

2018: 'The boy and the piano'

Viewers were taken on a journey through the decades of Sir Elton John’s life, from the young stirrings of what would blossom into songwriting genius, to flamboyant stadium performances, studio sessions and private jet flights. It's a highly ambitious piece of film that effortlessly links the present with the past, underpinning it with sentiment.

While Kantar Millward Brown’s Christmas ad survey found the ad "lacks relevance and credibility", Campaign chose it as Pick of the Week, describing it as a "beautiful piece of craft" and lauding the flair for year on year reinvention of Adam & Eve/DDB and its client, now called John Lewis & Partners.

But, most tellingly, it outperformed "Moz the monster", becoming the most-view Christmas ad on Facebook and YouTube, accruing 11 million views in just 24 hours. 

2017: 'Moz the monster'

Three years ago John Lewis' campaign starred friendly monster Moz, who lives under a little boy's bed and keeps him awake at night.

When Joe starts losing sleep after playing with the monster every night, Moz finally delivers a Christmas surprise and lets him get some rest.

The soundtrack is a cover of The Beatles’ Golden Slumbers by Elbow and the story was brought to life through a children’s book and digital activations such as a Facebook augmented-reality filter.

The spot was written by Patrick McClelland, art directed by Feargal Ballance and directed by Oscar-winning Michel Gondry through Partizan.

2016: 'Buster the boxer'

Humour came to the fore for 2012's Christmas campaign. Wilson was again onboard to direct the ad, which depicts a dog called Buster who finally gets the gift that everyone wants.

The film is set to a cover of One Day I’ll Fly Away, recorded by Vaults. The campaign included a number of digital firsts, extending to Oculus Rift, Snapchat and Twitter Stickers for the first time.

The spot was shared more times in its first hour than any of its predecessors managed in their first 24 hours.

2015: 'The man on the moon'

This real tearjerker tells the tale of a girl who sends a gift to an old man living alone on the moon. The campaign saw John Lewis partner Age UK. Kim Gehrig directed the ad through Somesuch.

2014: 'Monty the penguin'

Little Sam finds a partner for his best friend, Monty the penguin. Adam & Eve/DDB recreated the magic of "The long wait" with a multimedia campaign that included an in-store experience using technology that brought toys to life. Wilson returned to direct the spot.

2013: 'The bear and the hare'

Rumours about the creative were fed morsel by morsel to a ravenous public (and media), including that the ad would be accompanied by a cover of Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know by Lily Allen.

After ITV viewers gained a sneak preview during Agatha Christie's Poirot, when an animated image of a bear was shown with the hashtag #sleepingbear, the following morning saw the full ad revealed and Twitter going into meltdown. Again.

2012: 'The journey'

Love was again the beating heart of the campaign in 2012, despite the ad’s lead characters being far from warm-blooded.

In the 90-second spot, again directed by Wilson, a snowman goes on a quest to a John Lewis store to buy a hat, gloves and scarf for his lover, with the outcome witnessed by a young girl looking out of her bedroom window on Christmas morning.

The action takes place with another female singer crooning a minor-key version of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s The Power of Love.

The spot again made a significant impact, accounting for a 44.3% year-on-year sales increase in the five weeks to Christmas and helping Johnlewis.com breakthrough the £800m mark in sales.

It was not as popular online as "The long wait", although it still drew a far-from-paltry 3.5 million views on YouTube.

2011: 'The long wait'

This was the year that John Lewis went with a full-blown, narratively sophisticated approach, with a beautifully shot 90-second ad called "The long wait". It starred a boy counting down the days to Christmas so that he could give his parents a gift.

Set to the melancholic tones of a cover of The Smiths’ Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want, the spot, directed by Wilson, saw John Lewis and Adam & Eve (pre-DDB merger) embrace almost Spielbergian levels of schmaltz. But it was done with aplomb.

The strategy paid off, with the ad proving massively successful online – within days of its launch, it had passed the one million mark online. Sales mirrored its popularity – they were up 9.3% year on year to £596m in the five weeks to December 2011.

2010: All hail the rise of Craig Inglis

In February 2010 John Lewis promoted Craig Inglis to director of marketing, nearly a year after former marketing director Gill Barr left the company as part of management cutbacks.

Later that year, the retailer unveiled a 60-second Christmas ad comprising several vignettes depicting people wrapping presents for loved ones, with one scene showing parents in the background sneaking a rocking horse upstairs while their children watched TV.

Ellie Goulding covered Sir Elton John’s Your Song for the spot, a song that was to make a return in 2018 but sung by the man himself.

2009: Adam & Eve makes its John Lewis debut

That use of a classic track done in a stylistically contrary style that has since become so commonplace was something of a novelty in 2009. A folk cover of Guns N’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine accompanied the first John Lewis Christmas TV campaign by Adam & Eve.

The £5m campaign depicted children opening gifts intended for adults, such as a laptop and slippers. The final scene showed a girl becoming a woman.

The campaign, which relaunched John Lewis' "Never knowingly undersold" customer proposition, had an increased emphasis on narrative, offering a hint at how the retailer’s Christmas ads would develop.

It helped to drive a sales increase of 12.7% over the Christmas period compared with the previous year.