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In the U.K., watching retailer John Lewis’ Christmas ad is as much of a festive ritual as decorating the tree or exchanging gifts. This year, with a different agency and marketing strategy, the brand is hoping to cement its role in both old and new holiday traditions.
This latest campaign from John Lewis will be more closely scrutinized after the business changed agencies earlier this year, ending its 14-year relationship with adam&eveDDB and appointing Publicis Groupe-owned Saatchi & Saatchi. It was one of the biggest recent account shakeups in the British ad industry, and came amid ongoing struggles at the retail group, which also owns supermarket Waitrose.
The new ad, titled “Snapper,” follows the unusual tale of a Venus flytrap. While at a flea market with his family, a boy discovers a seed packet promising to grow into the “perfect Christmas tree.”
Instead, a carnivorous plant emerges from the soil. Though the boy loves Snapper, the mischievous plant causes disruption and is eventually banished outside after it grows too big for the house.
On Christmas morning, the boy leaves his family’s normal tree to bring a gift to the Venus flytrap. Snapper spits out confetti and gifts in return, inspiring the family to embrace an unconventional addition to the festivities.
The ad ends with the tagline “Let your traditions grow,” and shares a message about “making space for others and adapting new traditions,” according to John Lewis marketing director Rosie Hanley.
Building on a franchise
The brand’s focus on traditions—which Saatchi & Saatchi presented in the pitch—is a shift away from its previous positioning about thoughtful gifting. The new platform “gives [John Lewis] more breadth and a bigger role” to play in people’s full holiday experience beyond just gifting, Hanley explained.
“As people change and grow, their traditions change and grow. John Lewis as a modern retailer wants to change and grow what we offer our customers,” she said. “Traditions allow us all to have common ground in a divided country and across generations.”
Along with the strategy, Saatchi & Saatchi refreshed the creative while relying on some of the familiar cornerstones in John Lewis’ Christmas ads.
“It felt like taking the reins of a movie franchise,” said Saatchi & Saatchi chief creative officer Franki Goodwin. “We wanted to give as much reverence to what’s come before, plus add something different.”
As in many of its previous ads, there’s an emotional narrative, an anthropomorphic character, and an accompanying suite of merchandise (Snapper will adorn products including plush toys, pajamas, a children’s book and slippers.)
The ad was directed by French collective Megaforce, known for their edgier work on Burberry’s recent trio of holiday ads and Nike’s “Nothing Beats a Londoner” in 2018. Megaforce “can come into a category and blow it up,” Goodwin said. “Their treatment brought thoughtful storytelling and nuance—that magical, ‘80s Spielberg-ian feel.”
The soundtrack—normally a slow, wispy cover of a popular tune—is more upbeat this year. Legendary tenor Andrea Bocelli performs the song, titled “Festa” (meaning “celebration”), a rock opera written and produced by Italian duo Le Feste Antonacci.
The cast is again deliberately inclusive of different family makeups, this time featuring a grandmother, a single mom and her children. Hanley pointed to the fact that 15% of U.K. households are single-parent families, a group whom the brand had not yet represented in a Christmas ad.
High holiday stakes
An emotional story may still be the campaign’s centerpiece, but this year’s effort is the “most interactive and shoppable ever,” according to the brand.
Along with digital activations, press, out-of-home and window displays, Snapper will appear as a 15-foot installation on the side of John Lewis’ Oxford Street store and on Kew Gardens’ Christmas light trail in London. Every product that appears in the film will be on sale, with shoppable formats through YouTube, Channel 4 and Google.
In another first for the campaign, the character’s adventures will continue in a series of episodic product films showcasing other brands sold at John Lewis, such as Nespresso coffee machines and Estée Lauder skincare.
The interactive and shoppable elements emphasize a wider array of offerings at the retailer, which has been trying to turn around its business. The company reported a pre-tax loss of $72.4 million (£59 million) in the first half of 2023, and continues to face pressures from inflation and cautious shoppers during the cost of living crisis. In October, it ousted its chair, Sharon White, who will step down at the end of her term in 2025.
These business troubles mean the stakes are higher for John Lewis’ Christmas campaign, one of the rare ads that the general public anticipates. As the brand evolves its marketing, it wants to ensure that it will be a key part of people’s holiday traditions no matter how they evolve.
“The unexpectedness and strength of the creative means audiences seek out our content,” Hanley said. “This year, we were deliberate about bringing a bit more joy. It’s an emotional story, but it ends with something uplifting and celebratory and inclusive.”