John Lewis has turned to a cheeky carnivorous plant – and an operatic superstar – for its Christmas advertising campaign.
After last year’s low-key charity-linked clip featuring a skateboarding foster dad, the department store chain has returned to its tried and tested formula of a heartwarming story featuring a child and an unusual friend – with a twist from some catchy Italian rock opera sung by the tenor Andrea Bocelli.
The track, specially commissioned from obscure Italian electropop artists Le Feste Antonacci, is to be released as a single with profits going to charities including Action for Children. It marks a break from John Lewis’s tradition of getting a young artist to reinterpret an old pop hit.
The John Lewis Christmas ad, the 2023 version of which will be screened from Thursday, has over the last decade become a national moment, marking the beginning of the festive shopping binge.
Back in 2011, the promotion featured a cover of The Smiths song Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want, while Monty the Penguin and Buster the Boxer starred in later productions.
However, the magic may have faded a little after many years on a similar theme and with efforts made by rival retailers to steal the limelight.
This year’s Marks & Spencer clothing and homewares ad features a string of celebrities ditching unwanted traditions, while Sainsbury’s showcases real staff members and the creators of the Morrisons campaign plumped for singing oven gloves.
John Lewis, which is struggling to negotiate a turnaround after falling to a loss, has switched to a new agency, hiring Saatchi & Saatchi after 14 years with Adam&eveDDB – although it claims to have spent no more than usual on the campaign.
Launching online on Thursday, and on TV during Friday’s episode of Gogglebox on Channel 4, the ad features a young boy, Alfie, who buys a seed to grow his own Christmas tree at a market and finds instead that he has planted a giant and mischievous Venus flytrap.
When the plant gets out of hand, in a tale reminiscent of the kitsch 1980s musical Little Shop of Horrors, it is ousted to the garden. Alfie sticks by his new friend and puts his present underneath it anyway – joined reluctantly by the rest of the family. The plant wows them by snapping up the presents, only to pass them back and spurt out wrapping paper like a confetti fountain.
The online-first launch reflects wider industry trends, with spending on TV spots expected to be down 0.2% this Christmas, despite a 20% rise in spend on video-on-demand ads, according to new figures from the Advertising Association and analysts at WARC (the World Advertising Research Center). Online display ads and social media spending are up 9%.
Charlotte Lock, customer director at John Lewis, said its ad reflected a desire for something fun and uplifting and was intended to show how families evolve traditions to suit them. “When you make traditions your own they are more special,” she said.
While M&S caused a ripple of controversy with its clothing ad, in which singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor torches Christmas cards, Lock said John Lewis could only create something “true to our brand research” and not fully control social media reaction. “Everyone is entitled to their opinion but we are proud of what we have created,” she said.
With the strapline Let Your Traditions Grow, the ad is accompanied by at least six short clips which focus on individual products including a hair styler, a Nespresso coffee machine and a perfume.
Shoppable versions will be available on YouTube and Google while the ad will be linked to the widest ever range of associated merchandise including a soft toy version of Snapper the plant for £18, children’s pyjamas for £19 and venus flytrap plants for £10.
Snapper will also be appearing as part of the Christmas lights at Kew Gardens in London and as a 5-metre tall construction climbing the front of John Lewis’s store on Oxford Street in London.