John Lewis Christmas long running narratives

First published in New Zealand Herald  11 November 2015 

The John Lewis Christmas television ad has just come out in the UK.

Every year, the English department store creates a much-talked about advertisement and rings in the upcoming retail season with its iconic commercial.

Last year the ad starred Monty the Penguin and the penguin featured throughout the store and throughout the brand’s marketing. This year the ad, Man on the Moon, tells the story of a lonely, elderly man stuck on the moon and a little girl who spots him through her telescope. The connection to John Lewis’ product might be miniscule, but the sentiment is timely and topical.

Not many companies can keep a narrative going over a number of years and turn it into something people look forward to.

Staff come and go, new staff feel they have something to prove by starting from scratch, different agencies pitch for the creative business – temptation to dump one positioning for another is always strong.

While there are many reasons marketing narratives, iconic straplines and recognisable codes get dumped, something rather special happens when a brand sticks to its unique “thing” and builds on it.
In Australia, the Myer Christmas windows are one of the redeeming features of an otherwise lackluster retail experience. Cadbury limits the release of its Creme Eggs to a few short months, and has its annual Easter egg hunt. Gorman has found its magical formula in limited edition collaborations with artists. However, the list of great Australian brands that create an experience people look forward to is not one that rolls off the tongue.

It’s unfortunate that more brands don’t create unique experiences for themselves, because so much marketing right now is formulaic and far from unique.

It’s challenging and requires guts to do something different (and often counter intuitive). For example, when – on the back of the success of those Creme Eggs – Cadbury decided to sell them all year round, sales dropped.

We’re all vying for the same customers, in the same industries and pretty much selling the same products or services as our competitors, then we’re using the same channels to reach them. Now, in such a global marketplace, we’re likely sourcing from the same suppliers too.

If you look into a product category or industry and review what others in that brand are doing; if you remove a logo or company name from an ad or a catalogue; a sign from a storefront – you’d be hard pressed to distinguish the company it belongs to.

Seemingly risky though it may feel, creating product scarcity, limiting sales activity or putting money into a handful (or even a single) owned activity just feels like the right thing to do now.

That’s not to say kill everything and focus on one thing only. It just means identify what that magical something is for your brand and put some effort and budget into bringing it to life. Find it, own it – and don’t overdo it.

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