A campaign that can’t just be for Christmas

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Imagine the job: you’re part of the agency representing a retailer that has developed some of the most memorable and loved Christmas ad campaigns in nearly two decades.

Their client, UK-based John Lewis Partnership plc (JLP), has had a hot year so far. Losses for the first half of the year totaled £99m and the company said the outlook for the rest of this year was “highly uncertain due to the cost of living crisis”.

Here’s the rub: The retailer still depends on a successful Christmas season, it is a critical time of year for this business. Company Chairwoman Dame Sharon White recently reminded BBC Radio 4 audiences on the Woman’s Hour that “two-thirds of our profits are made in those crucial last eight weeks of the year”.

The pressure is on, compounded by the success of some of John Lewis’ previous Christmas campaigns. These have helped create number one hits and jumpstarted the careers of relatively lesser known artists.

There are certain elements that are critical to the JLP Christmas ad format. To pull the nostalgic heartstrings, there’s usually a popular song from the archives wistfully re-recorded by another artist.

These included The Beatles’ Golden Slumbers performed by Elbow; Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s number one, The Power of Love, with a new version by Gabrielle Alpin, and last year Oakey & Moroder’s ’80s anthem, Together in Electric Dreams, was recreated by 19-year-old Lola Young.

There’s also a tradition of focusing on storytelling rather than product push. However, a hero product was recently developed to complement the ad’s theme, with everything from heart-shaped umbrellas to Christmas jumpers selling out in hours.

The landscape of 2022 is rocky… so that’s all where exactly to place this ad.

Consumers are short on time and money; They’re weary of the constant promise of a “better Christmas.” Since 2020, the holiday season has been hijacked by a pandemic, a cost of living crisis and now the war in Ukraine. The political backdrop of the past 12 months has created uncertainty and a loss of confidence, with three different prime ministers and an ever-evolving cabinet office. Add to that the nation’s memorial to the death of Queen Elizabeth II after seventy years of service and the accession of King Charles III to the throne. witnessed.

Yes, indeed… presenting this year’s much-anticipated JLP Christmas extravaganza would be no easy feat for Adam & Eve, the London-based ad agency that has been creating the brand’s ads since 2009.

Other retailers have already published their Christmas promotional candidates. ASDA has brought joy with a comedic attempt using scenes from the popular film Elf. Supermarket giant Tesco has taken into account the turbulent political turmoil across the country by creating a show for ‘The Christmas Party’ that includes a manifesto of price cuts and ‘rising for joy’.

“We have decided to officially rise for joy this Christmas. With our campaign, we take a look at those moments during the festive season that unite us all – including the joy of eating delicious desserts, sitting around the table with loved ones, movie nights in your pajamas, and even the inevitable confusion surrounding the day the dustbin – to put a smile on people’s faces as we prepare for a season of meaningful celebrations,” commented Alessandra Bellini, Chief Customer Officer at Tesco.

Marks & Spencer is possibly the JLP Group’s closest competitor. At Christmas, the UK traditionally reminds them of their corporate social responsibility stance by celebrating and supporting local charities with a ‘Gifts that Give’ campaign.

The brand has unveiled its holiday clothing and home campaign, which highlights its partnership with Neighborly, a platform that enables businesses to support local causes. The retailer will help raise £1million for a thousand local community groups and stresses that this is particularly important this Christmas as 69% of local community groups are reporting both an increase in pressure on their services and a fall in their overall funding.

Set to the anthemic song “Treat People with Kindness” by Harry Styles, the ad features volunteers from some of the retailer’s supported charities. While a nod to her customers, who make purchases to help fund the fundraisers, wouldn’t have gone amiss, the ad strikes a balance in a year where tone matters.

It makes sense, then, that the creative for JLP’s 2022 Christmas ad, The Beginner, should be at the heart of the company’s corporate social responsibility program. It is accompanied by a cover of the Blink 182 song – All The Small Things by entertainer Mike Geier.

Beginning November 10, consumers can catch a glimpse of the ad, which JLP hopes will wow the festive consumer.

Setup is easy. A gentleman spends time learning how to use a skateboard. Clearly a novice, he experiences more than his fair share of scrapes and falls while trying to master the art. His partner patiently supports his efforts as he prepares for Christmas and what appears to be a new arrival or special guest.

The guest is a very special one indeed: a young girl, Ellie, who appears to be with her social worker and is a child in the UK childcare system. She carries a valuable skateboard with her. The ad was created with expert advice from Action for Children and Who Cares? Scotland.

The advert highlights the retailer’s corporate commitment to social responsibility and supports local authorities and charities in supporting graduates of the care system.

Government statistics released this summer show that of the 12 million children living in England, just under 400,000 (3%) are at one time known to the welfare system.

As part of a corporate mission established by White in January 2022, the company has recognized the “cliff” that many graduates from the nursing system experience in terms of education, training and employment. In a Jan. 17 statement, White highlighted a “social mobility scandal” in which “a staggering 40% of care-skilled people … are not in education, employment or training.”

The retailer has put in place a focused plan that is careful not only to provide employment opportunities, but also to support safe housing with financial and emotional support “for people who have been through so much at such a young age”.

The care system and the generations of young people who pass through it need support, and the work to be done is beyond JLP’s remit. In fact, the brand must continue to find partners, experts and alliances to support it in this very bold goal.

The retailer has indicated that it clearly understands the path ahead; A promise made to young people who have been disappointed time and time again is one that simply cannot be broken.

Is it right for the retailer to draw attention to its ambitions in a Christmas commercial just one year after the initiative started? Is this ad a worthy talking point, or is a 30, 60, or even 90 second Christmas spot – mostly for skateboarding newbies – the right channel for such an important but often misunderstood social challenge?

The public will decide soon.

We need business heroes to change the world we live in – economically, ecologically and socially.

A promotion of this nature can’t just be for Christmas, it has to be for life and I know many will hope that this is a promise the retailer keeps.

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