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What can Christmas adverts teach us about business storytelling?


Written by Jennie Armley

It’s that time of year again, December has arrived, and I am now officially allowed to mention the C word! For many the iconic Coca Cola advert marks the official countdown to the holiday season, but for me the real festivities begin following the air of the greatly anticipated John Lewis Christmas advert…

This year’s two-minute advert was hailed ‘an absolute triumph’ by viewers and begins with a present day shot of Elton John playing his 1970 hit song ‘Your Song’ at his home, before taking us on a journey back in time. The advert flips between highlights in Elton’s career – playing in front of a huge arena audience, singing in his dressing room, on a private plane, before taking the audience back to his childhood. Here we see Elton at a school performance, playing in front of a crowd of parents – including his very teary-eyed mum! The advert concludes with a young Elton running down the stairs on Christmas day, delighted to see a piano wrapped in Christmas paper, and ending on the message, ‘Some gifts are more than just gifts’.

There is no denying that John Lewis have got their Christmas adverts down to a fine art. My personal favourite will forever be the Monty the Penguin advert, aired in 2014. This tells a heart-warming story of a little boy and his toy penguin. Whilst the penguin is happy playing with the boy, his dream is to find love. The boy realises this and on Christmas day surprises the penguin with a female companion. This advert racked up a massive 1.8 million views on YouTube on its first day of release! Before long this christmas campaign reached social media with the hashtag #MontyThePenguin and a toy Monty was even available to purchase in store.

But what is it that makes these adverts so successful? You’ll notice that the John Lewis adverts don’t actually try to sell you anything, there are no products on display. The reason John Lewis adverts will be remembered for years to come is because of the story they tell. They do not focus on the what, nor do they dwell on the specifications or features. They are selling you a feeling.

John Lewis aren’t the only brand to have mastered the art of storytelling this year. In fact, this year’s Sainsbury’s Christmas advert was voted the best of 2018. Featuring a primary school nativity, this advert truly pulls at the heart strings. According to a study into 11,000 tweets commenting on each brand’s advert, this advert received the most positive reaction and was ranked the highest based on ‘sentiment’. Even Aldi used a fairy-tale like narrative this year to tell the story of Kevin the carrot and the wicked parsnip.

The strongest Christmas campaigns this year will be those that evoke and emotional reaction in its audience. It will be the brands that take an integrated approach and align their adverts with wider marketing strategies. Most importantly, it will be the adverts that conjure feelings of nostalgia, that will truly resonate with us.