John Lewis 'The boy and the piano': the creative directors' verdict

McCann London's Rob Doubal and Publicis London's Dave Monk give their views on this year's John Lewis Christmas ad featuring Elton John.

Dave Monk, executive creative director, Publicis London

Was this year's #EltonJohnLewis ad written by @bot?

Of course it wasn’t. It was gloriously crafted to within an inch of its life by an agency and client in their stride. But, thinking about it, and pulling it a part a bit, like I imagine many agencies in Christmas ad village might be doing today, but mainly because Maisie at Campaign asked me to, you can’t help wondering whether a very clever algorithm pumped this one out. A greatest hits. Produced by Elton towers.

Don’t get me wrong, I really love it. My favourite in years. The idea is bang on the money. Great direction. Elton’s face. Cracking sew-up line. The performances and craft are next level (even with a bit of obligatory hide-the-seams lens flare). It is, however, like a welcome lovechild of Britain’s favourite John Lewis ads: an emotive journey through time ("Always a woman"); Great kid casting and perfect twist ("The long wait"); Elton John soundtrack ("Tiny dancer" and the slightly dodgy Ellie Golding one) and a line that rivals one of its previous best, "If you know the person, you’ll find the gift", from even before Adam & Eve’s time. Golf clap for that line. 

Will this one stand up to the others? I think it’ll slot in neatly at number three on the John Lewis Christmas ads chart, behind 2011 and 2014 (the penguin one). And that’s the other thing. Year after year, they crank them out. People even talk about which years John Lewis ad was which. We remember them like it’s a challenge. The 2014 one, the 2013 one. "No, you idiot, that was 2016!"

Laurence Green mentioned its life and death dates, 2011-2018, this week. How many other brands can you say that about? Not even Guinness. Remember 2009’s ad for Kwik Fit? Doesn’t happen. One year’s good work is hard enough. So the pressure of a John Lewis ad living up to a John Lewis ad must be immense. Even while the gliteratti are sunning it on the Croisette, the collective bumholes of Adam & Eve/DDB must be twitching like a desert camel's eyelids as to whether they’ll live up to the previous year's offerings.

Occasionally at Christmas, you get something really new. PC World with that bloke from The Fly was genius. This year’s chicken/turkey stand-off from Mother is a welcome bucket of daft. But almost every year the whole country waits for the John Lewis ad to plunge into their lounges and laptops.

I reckon the class of 2018 have done a grand job. I think the country’s punters will agree. So of course it wasn’t written by bots; it was written by a team who know their audience, know the country they’re talking to. A fantastic greatest hits album wrapped up in some delicious craft. Thanks for this little gift. Happy 16 November 16.

Rob Doubal, co-president and chief creative officer, McCann London

I’ll be honest. I didn’t know John Lewis sold pianos. But I love the idea of them selling dreams. And I (sort of secretly) love Elton John.

So, well done, Adam & Eve/DDB.

It might be tempting for some to get a little hung up on the borrowed interest, ever so slightly awkward lookalikes and wording at the end. More than a gift? Surely, that’s just a good gift. 

But hey… 

I’m a big fan. Well done, John Lewis. For making a John Lewis ad. At the only time of year when someone should be making a John Lewis ad. And one thing that I think will genuinely make people consider their gifts a little more seriously.

It’s shot nicely. Single-minded. It feels a little more grown up than last year.

Frankly, I nearly shed a tear at the little boy, but then he does look quite a lot like my son. And then I worried that my son may end up looking like Elton. But I am a big softie – and I’ll be buying him a piano this year.

He’ll say: "Do John Lewis even sell pianos, Daddy?"

And I’ll say: "Well, son. They do now."

And he’ll say: "Just to fit with the Elton John ad?"

And I’ll say: "Perhaps, son. But that’s OK."

Because this is advertising. And I think it’ll sell more stuff at John Lewis. That’s the point.

And he’ll say: "I still want to be a doctor, Dad."

And I’ll say: "I know, son. But even saving lives can get boring."

Advertising should never get boring.

(And you don’t have the dexterity in your hands for being a doctor… or playing the piano.)

And then I’ll have to return the piano. But because of John Lewis’ service, I’ll be fine. Because John Lewis feels all nice and cosy and stuff. Like its advertising.

So, high fives all round. Merry Christmas.

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