Our verdict on The Boy and the Piano

White circle rimmed glasses with a pink gradient lens

It’s finally happened. The iconic day that marks the official countdown to Christmas – the release of the John Lewis Christmas advert.

This year John Lewis have taken a new direction with their Festive offering – swapping snoring monsters under the bed for heartwarming memories from Elton John’s career… I for one haven’t been able to get Your Song out of my head for the last few days.

A little blonde smiling boy in pink, blue and white striped pyjamas
Little Elton excited to get his new piano

And, as tradition would have it, year on year, the entire country is poised and ready to comment on how heartwarming, how emotional it was. And this year was no different. Our studio has been alive with discussion – so we’ve captured some of our initial reactions to share with you:

Sally Gillo – Account Director

“I’m a big Elton fan – it was the soundtrack of my childhood. And if I am honest, watching for the first time did hit the mark on the feel-good factor. But the payoff is obvious and cheesy. On reflection, the clip that stood out the most amongst all the dazzle and story of Elton was actually the moment when the mother looks at her son with tears of pride in her eyes – and I guess they didn’t really need Elton for that…”

Charlie Thorogood – Creative Copywriter

“I think there’s a nice binary way to judge the quality of John Lewis Christmas ads. Does it make your hairs stand up on end? Yes or no? For me, this one did. But I love the song. And I play music (terribly). Although I have a sneaking suspicion this is true of many John Lewis customers…”

Ruth Clarke – Deputy Managing Director

“Personally, I’m not keen as it’s all about Elton and the cyncial will see that as a plug for his tour.  Be nice to see something a bit more ethical at Christmas. However, for the target audience it will probably be very effective and look we’re all talking about it again. On the plus side – quite like the change of name!”

Rosie Belsten – Account Manager

“£7m for Elton alone – can think of 7 million better uses of that money…”

Ed Welsby – Lead Developer

“I thought it was a touching advert, but if my kids think they are getting a grand piano for Christmas they need to lower their expectations.”

Emily Richards – Middleweight designer

“I have to admit, I do like the advert. Although it makes me wonder if the makers of the ad had been inspired by this Gumtree advert from 2016, which tells the same story, just backwards. For me, the John Lewis ad still has a core selling message – but one of inspiration and opportunity, rather than just gift giving. It makes the viewer think bigger (and spend more?) about gifting, thinking of potential and ‘what ifs’. 

But if you’ve been inspired by the advert and are thinking about getting your three-year-old a piano for Christmas this year, perhaps reconsider. My two little nephews have a keyboard and they like to sit on it whilst eating their lunch, bouncing up and down so it makes a racket whilst they dribble and drop crumbs down the sides of the keys. I’m not sure a real piano would take such abuse. No musical prodigies as of yet.”

Steve Sackett – Executive Creative Director

“Despite the naysayers, the ad works on a personal level for me as I grew up with Elton John’s music, listening and playing it for 45 years. The construction is smart with a Benjamin Button theme, and enough emotional hook to keep you watching. With Elton’s film coming out and his final retirement tour next year, it feels like an end of an era of music we will never see again – and it’s additionally poignant because of it. If it used another artist would it have meant so much? I don’t know, probably not, but it is sure to appeal to those who love his music, and our family of four does.”

As for me?

I enjoyed it. Despite my initial concern when I started watching that it was going to be a commercial plug for the new Elton movie, it took approximately 2 minutes 21 seconds for my mind to be changed. The storytelling is spot on – full of twists and turns (literally) that culminate by expressing the power of the perfect gift. The aspirational essence at the heart of this advert, to me, feels fitting and true to the John Lewis brand. And let’s not overlook how beautifully executed it is too, everything from the soundtrack to the production, costumes and sets. The details make this ad a real feast for the eyes. I’ve watched it three times now, and each time something new jumps out.

I also think that creatively, the new direction is smart. Call me a cynic, but with so many British retailers following the fuzzy footsteps of foregone John Lewis ads – think Loveable Carrots (Aldi) and Christmas Nativities (Sainsbury’s) – it’s time for a shake-up. This ad, in my opinion, stands out amongst the rest this year. It’s fresh, yet still captures all the magic and emotional qualities that only John Lewis seem to be able to execute so well.

Jenny Powell

November 19, 2018

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