Chapter 20 John Lewis Focuses on Storytelling Over Brand

/ 3 min read

John Lewis Focuses on Storytelling Over Brand

Get The Print Version

Tired of scrolling? Download a PDF version for easier offline reading and sharing with coworkers.

Add your info below to have the PDF sent to your inbox.
A link to download the PDF will arrive in your inbox shortly.

Over the last two decades, fierce competition has erupted between companies and retailers attempting to dominate the public’s attention with increasingly lavish advertising campaigns.

Such campaigns have become talking points in their own right, discussed on social media, among celebrities on television, and even in news outlets.

2007: “Whoever You’re Looking for This Christmas”

John Lewis’ 2007 ad campaign marked the beginning of the British department store’s primacy in this field.

The first in this campaign shows a number of people arranging different items until they cast a shadow of a girl with her dog looking out into the distance, akin to the work of artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster.

It concludes with the simple tagline “Whoever you’re looking for this Christmas | John Lewis,” aside from which there is no mention of the brand or Christmas, but for a couple of stars and glitter-y snowfall.

The campaign reflects previous ads which also arrange eclectic items to produce something unrelated, such as a Rube Goldberg machine.

Over the years the campaign transformed, depicting more emotional content.

2010: “Show Someone They’re Loved This Christmas”

The 2010 advertisement depicted people wrapping and hiding gifts for loved ones, set to a mellow cover of Elton John’s ‘Your Song,’ whereas 2015’s ad showed a man on the moon and a young girl on earth attempting to contact him; this carried the tagline “Show someone they’re loved this Christmas.”

Since 2007, the ads have almost doubled in length to over 2 minutes. Each tells a different story containing repeated themes of love, friendship, family and Christmas.

These stories are the focus of the ads, with the brand only ever being revealed at the conclusion. This format of telling a story first and focusing on the brand later has since been adopted by numerous other campaigns, including Sainsbury’s and Curry PC World’s.

The brand’s head of marketing, Rachel Swift, described the ads as “storytelling through music and emotion.”

The John Lewis campaign is successful for using a compelling story to create a buzz around the brand, as opposed to directly showing consumers what the company offers.

By telling emotive stories with incredibly high-quality production, people are drawn to discuss the ads while always being aware of the brand.

With innovation occurring in the stories told and the use of different media such as animation, the campaign is memorable and inherently repeatable.

Stealing the Holiday Crown

John Lewis has owned the holiday marketing space in the UK for a number of years, taking the crown from Coca Cola.

They have turned their TV adverts into must-see viewing that people now anticipate every year. They create campaigns that people will talk about at work the following day:

2014 was the first year it went mainstream – there was a TV show following the agency round that shot it while Aldi also did a take-off version where they cooked the penguin for Christmas dinner!

In the past two years, John Lewis have also started selling merchandise to sit alongside their adverts and sell, proving their popularity.

– Rupert Cross, Digital Director, 5874 

2018: “The Boy and The Piano”

In 2018, John Lewis’ Christmas campaign titled, ‘The Boy and The Piano – #EltonJohnLewis 🎹’ was essentially a mini-film that told the story of the life of Elton John from 1950–2018.

It featured recreated video footage of Elton John’s performances over the years, backed with a soundtrack of Elton’s hit track, “Your Song” (an obvious John Lewis favorite, as it was featured in their 2010 campaign as well. 

The footage, running nearly 2 ½ minutes, ended with a scene showing young Elton playing his first notes on a brand new piano he had just received forChristmas, then switching to the 71-year old legend closing the piano. 

The ad ends with the caption: “Some gifts are more than just a gift,” followed by a John Lewis and Partners logo.

In just three days, this campaign earned over 7 million views on YouTube and 5 million on Twitter.  

The only irony was that John Lewis didn’t even sell pianos — a detail that did not escape many Twitter users.

John Lewis promptly added a range of Yamaha digital pianos to its catalog and responded to the backlash it received on social media

“We wanted to share with our customers that some gifts are more than just a gift… they can make a difference to someone’s life. Thanks — Karen”.

Holiday Marketing Takeaway

Tug at your customers’ heartstrings with an emotive and relatable story. With great execution, it will resonate more than any product advertisement ever could. But don’t get carried away by a story at the detriment of a little product promotion.

Table of Contents

Intro150 Years of the Best Holiday Campaigns
Chapter 1 The Genesis of Holiday Window Displays
Chapter 2 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Brings Spectacle to the Season
Chapter 3 How Coca-Cola Invented The Father of Christmas (Or did they?)
Chapter 4 Budweiser Celebrates the End to Prohibition
Chapter 5 Montgomery Ward Employee Invents Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Chapter 6 Campbell’s Soup Speaks to the ’50s Housewife
Chapter 7 Mr. Potato Head Becomes First Toy Ever Televised
Chapter 8 NORAD Tracks Santa’s Journey Around the World
Chapter 9 Norelco Popularizes Stop-Motion Animation
Chapter 10 Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas? Why You’ll Eat KFC in Japan
Chapter 11 Folgers Advertises the Intangible
Chapter 12 Hershey’s Holiday Bells Defy an Ad Agency
Chapter 13 Coca-Cola’s Polar Bears Humanize Global Warming
Chapter 14 Coca-Cola’s Christmas Fleet Brings Truckloads of Cheer
Chapter 15 M&M’s Stumble Upon Santa –– No One is Left Standing
Chapter 16 Starbucks Red Cups Spark Consumer Salivating (and Controversy)
Chapter 17 Target Keeps it Simple with Their Black Friday Catalog Focusing on Price
Chapter 18 Pampers Silent Night Raises $40 Million for Charity
Chapter 19 Give a Garmin Hits on Travel, Humor and Holiday Stress
Chapter 20 John Lewis Focuses on Storytelling Over Brand
Chapter 21 Macy’s Believe Campaign Raises $10 Million, Involves Schools
Chapter 22 American Express Small Business Saturday Supports Local
Chapter 23 Apple Misunderstood Campaign Makes Technology and Family a Priority
Chapter 24 REI’s #OptOutside Campaign Bucks Tradition
Chapter 25 Amazon’s “Give a Little Bit” Campaign Gives a Lot
Chapter 26 Spotify’s 2017 “#2018Goals” Campaign Speaks Loudly
Chapter 27 Google Home’s 2018 Alone Again with Google Assistant Campaign is the Ultimate Nostalgia


Kunle Campbell

Kunle is a trusted advisor to ambitious, agile ecommerce brands. His core strengths lies in growing revenue by developing and executing scalable customer acquisition and search marketing strategies for online retailers.  He blogs, runs webinars and teach courses about ecommerce growth on He also hosts an ecommerce podcast dedicated to growing and scaling online retail businesses.

View all posts by Kunle Campbell

Less Development. More Marketing.

Let us future-proof your backend. You focus on building your brand.