How ‘Boy and the Piano’ Broke All the Rules for a John Lewis Ad and Became a Classic

Video: Adam&eveDDB's CCO shares the internal debate around centering on Elton John

Video: Chris Ariens and Nick Gardner; Editor: Josh Rios

CANNES, France—John Lewis holiday ads are known for their powerful, emotionally resonant storytelling. And while the most recent Christmas spot—“The Boy and the Piano,” a retrospective of Elton John’s life—certainly fits the bill, the concept wasn’t an immediate hit with the team behind it.

In an interview with Adweek at the Cannes Lions, where “Boy and the Piano” won gold in Film for John Lewis & Partners, CCO Richard Brim at agency adam&eveDDB says the ad went against all of the creative team’s typical guidelines that have generated previous ads like “Monty the Penguin” and “The Man on the Moon.” 

“We broke all our rules,” Brim says of the 2018 spot. “We had all these rules: It shouldn’t be celebrity. We should tell our own story. And ‘The Boy and the Piano’ is a celebrity telling his story.”

Originally opposed to the idea because of this disconnect from John Lewis ad traditions, Brim says the concept stuck with him, and he came around on it. But when his team put out a brief for potential directors, describing it as an ad built on original footage of John, one director disagreed: Seb Edwards of Academy Films and Park Pictures, who ended up getting the assignment.

“He said, ‘No, what I want to do is cast throughout the year and really replicate it,'” Brim recalls. “So CG played a massive part. Prosthetics played a massive part. And I look at the film and think, ‘We nailed it there.'”

You can watch the interview with Brim above and revisit the full spot below.