Elton John ad ‘nothing to do with Christmas’

Rocket Man: Elton John, 71, is currently performing a 300-concert retirement tour.

Is it consumerist rubbish or genuinely touching? The John Lewis Christmas advert has finally been released. It charts the career of music legend Elton John with a signature emotional punch.

This year’s long-awaited John Lewis Christmas advert has finally hit our screens, this time with added star power. In it, Elton John sings his 1970 hit Your Song as his legendary career plays in reverse. At the close, the £7 million advert movingly suggests that it all hinged on one childhood Christmas gift: his first piano.

Praise has not been universal.

It’s “more like a biopic of Elton John’s life” than a Christmas story, says marketing reporter Ellen Hammett.

And John Lewis is seeking to make people do more than smile or shed a tear. By telling us “some gifts are more than just a gift”, the brand associates itself with values of generosity, warmth and success.

Its depiction of the close-knit family unit in John’s childhood home suggests that the perfect Christmas — snug and happy, filled with love — really does exist and that it can be found in the tinsel-strewn aisles of a department store. It might even lead to super-stardom.

This advertiser’s technique — of depicting desirable qualities and associating them with products — is nothing new.

Advertising moguls have even developed a name for this kind of emotionally powerful brand: a “lovemark”. People respect a brand, the thinking goes, but with a lovemark, the feeling turns into a deep emotional attachment. Rather than just being a store, advertisers hope John Lewis will become part of people’s lives, representing happiness and success.

This might not necessarily be a good thing, warn some psychologists. By telling us we can be more successful or popular if we buy products from a certain shop, they think, the marketing industry fuels insecurities and prompts us to buy things that will not really make us happy.

But, however it affects viewers, John Lewis hopes its new advert will be good for sales. The company made a loss in the first half of 2018 amid a crisis on the high street.

Is the advert consumerist rubbish or genuinely touching?

You can tell everybody

Adverts like the John Lewis film may be moving, say critics, but they are also dishonest, using fundamental values and deep emotions to sell £800 pianos. All adverts want is to persuade us to part with our cash. They do not have a place in exploring the real struggles, challenges and feelings of human lives.

Anti-consumerist critics should lighten up, others argue. Adverts are short films that contribute something to our lives by offering moments of emotion or inspiration. If we’d rather not subscribe to John Lewis’s consumerist dream, we can leave our wallets at home and just enjoy a touching story about a boy who grows up to fulfil his dreams.

You Decide

  1. Is this year’s John Lewis advert any good?
  2. “Advertising is a necessary evil.” Do you think this is true?

Activities

  1. Choose an advert that you think is inspirational or moving this Christmas. Write a paragraph analysing the techniques it uses to make the product or brand more appealing.
  2. In groups, film your own Christmas advert for a product of your choice. Think about the qualities and emotions you want consumers to associate with it, and how this could be communicated in a creative way.

Some People Say...

“Advertising is legalised lying.”

H.G. Wells

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Your Song was written and released by Elton John in 1970, and it has been covered many times since — most notably by Ellie Goulding, for another John Lewis Christmas ad back in 2010. The store has been releasing Christmas adverts since 2007, with the song choice often climbing the UK official charts, and twice reaching number one.
What do we not know?
How much John Lewis paid Elton John to appear in the advert, although a spokesperson said that some of his fee had been donated to the Elton John Charitable Trust. Previous adverts have cost between £1 million and £7 million to produce. The Express speculates that John was paid around £5 million this year, while The Guardian calls it a “six-figure fee”.

Word Watch

John Lewis
A popular UK department store, known for high quality goods. It is very popular with the country’s upper middle classes.
Story
Recent John Lewis Christmas adverts have told stories about Monty the Penguin’s search for love, the loneliness of an old man on the Moon, and how a young boy learns that the monster under his bed is named Moz.
Brand
The ideas and associations that gather around a company name, making that corporation worth much more than just the products it sells. Popular brands might include Coca-Cola, Gap or Nike, and all of them work hard to develop a strong image that is appealing to consumers.
High street
According to the British Retail Consortium, about 85,000 retail jobs have been lost this year, as a squeeze on disposable incomes and a boom in online shopping has kept people off the high street. Major chains to have collapsed include Maplin and Poundworld.