Nation split over ‘man on the moon’ TV advert

Half the world away: The ad was directed by Kim Gehrig, of the This Girl Can ads. © John Lewis

Since Friday the controversy has raged. The annual John Lewis Christmas TV advert has been released. Is it an honest attempt to make a better society? Or bigger profits? Or might it do both?

Lily is a young girl with a telescope. As she gazes up at the moon, she spots an elderly man living by himself on its lonely surface. She tries to contact him, but fails. Finally, on Christmas Day, a parcel carried by balloons lands at his feet. With a new telescope of his own, he sheds a tear as he waves down to Lily. ‘Show someone they’re loved this Christmas,’ reads the parting message.

So goes John Lewis’s long-awaited 2015 Christmas TV advert. It cost £1m to make and received six million views in the first 24 hours after its release.

The film was made in partnership with the charity Age UK, and is intended to raise awareness of the one million older people who ‘can go for a month without speaking to anyone’. Loneliness is a serious problem among older generations: more than half of those over 75 live alone, and feelings of isolation are a worrying health risk — it can be as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

John Lewis’s head of marketing, Rachel Swift, argues that the advert ‘lends itself to thinking about someone who lives on your street that might not see anybody.’ So far it seems to have worked: since the launch, the charity Independent Age has seen a 600% increase in inquiries from people offering support.

John Lewis, which earned £96m in profits in the six months leading up to August this year, has a reputation for ethical business practices. In 1929, the founder John Spedan Lewis gave the company away to his staff; each of its 88,700 employees is a partner in the business, enjoying generous benefits and a share in the profits. It is a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative, and the John Lewis Partnership’s constitution states ‘the happiness of its members’ as its ultimate purpose.

It also aims to create a strong connection with its customers. The Christmas adverts are ‘not looking for someone to come into the store the following day,’ explain marketing experts. They are about emotional connections ‘to reinforce the brand’ and produce a ‘halo effect’ in the future.

Bah humbug?

John Lewis ads may be clever, say critics, but make no mistake, they manipulate emotions and sell more products. The campaign may be taking a slower, less direct approach than most — but in the end it is still about making huge earnings, and we shouldn’t forget that.

But others argue John Lewis is setting a good example: the Christmas TV slot is making an important point about caring for vulnerable people. If this influences us to support John Lewis by shopping there, there’s nothing wrong with that. In truth, in order to be profitable in the long term, each business must ultimately be good for employees, customers and the wider world. If not, it will die.

You Decide

  1. Do you look forward to new Christmas adverts?
  2. Can advertising ever be ethical?

Activities

  1. As a class, brainstorm ways you could help improve the lives of older people in your family or community.
  2. Imagine you are the owner of your own supermarket or department store. Draw a storyboard for a two-minute Christmas advert, thinking carefully about how you want viewers to react.

Some People Say...

“Never trust a business when it claims to be doing good”

What do you think?

Q & A

I love Christmas ads!
You’re not alone! For many they have come to symbolise the beginning of the festive season, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. But it’s still worth remembering that advertising is designed to manipulate desires and persuade people to spend money they might not have. Learning to interpret these messages is an important way of taking back some control, and ensuring that you buy the things you really want — not just the things you’re told you want.
Can I volunteer to help older people this Christmas?
There is much you can do to help Age UK, from visiting a charity shop to befriending a lonely older person in your community. We have included a link to their website under Become An Expert so you can find more information.

Word Watch

Moon
John Lewis also released an app offering facts and animations during the countdown to 25 December — which will be a full moon.
Age UK
Profits from a mug, gift tag and card will be donated to the charity, whose ‘no one should have no one’ campaign encourages volunteers to spend time with vulnerable older people.
More than half
51%. Figure from NHS Live Well.
15 cigarettes
From a study on social relationships and mortality by J. Holt-Lunstad in 2010.
600% increase
The charity said it had 370 inquiries about volunteering on Friday, compared to a daily average of 60.
£96m
As reported by John Lewis Partnership on 10 September 2015.
88,700
Permanent staff across the John Lewis stores and sister company, Waitrose. Figure from the John Lewis Partnership website.
Ethical Trading Initiative
A coalition of companies, trade unions and non-governmental organisations which works to create fair conditions for all workers in a supply chain.
Constitution
This 12,000-word document was written by John Spedan Lewis to outline the principles, aims and responsibilities of a ‘better form of business’.

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