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How did John Lewis influence a new advertising trend?

A quirky acoustic soundtrack, excellent production and an unexpected emotive storyline. I am of course describing the award-winning combination for John Lewis that makes their advertising campaigns so successful. Their festive TV commercials especially have become such an iconic occurrence, they have become synonymous with Christmas, just like Coca-Cola, whose iconic, red trucks spread the joy of Christmas with the help of Santa.

John Lewis has clearly set the benchmark for emotive advertising; their influence can be seen clearly as many other brands have since copied their strategy.  Lloyds Bank (By your side for 250 years), Microsoft 10 (The future starts now) and Amazon Prime (Nursery advert 2015) all share similarities with the John Lewis approach to advertising.

An obvious example has been the Nationwide campaign ‘On your side for generations’ which tells the story of the relationship between father and son who bond through a handmade scarf, which when lost is returned via Twitter by a Nationwide employee. That’s the unexpected storyline covered; furthermore the ad is strengthened by the choice of music – with a quirky rendition of “I’ll keep you safe” – and of course not forgetting that this is a well-produced film.

Nationwide Building Society – On your side for generations

Advertising Nationwide on your side

On the other hand, Freeview’s new CGI advert, ‘Set yourself free’ depicts a world where people are brainwashed and urged to “conform, upgrade and subscribe.” Okay so the theme is a little heavy, but the storyline is unexpected. The soundtrack by Sarah Kingsmill is very personal and dramatic and the great animation again just highlights the similarities between this advert and John Lewis’ previous adverts such as the ‘The Bear & The Hare’ commercial.

Freeview Play TV advert 2015 | Set yourself free

Advertising Freeview

As expected, many have received positive feedback and ultimately connected to the consumer. So why is emotive marketing so strong? And why does it benefit companies in the long run?

Stemming from the recession, a sea of change was brewing. Significant changes happened in society, which have undermined some of our beliefs about our lives, especially about wealth, causing many consumers to begin to reconnect with their passions, family and community.

Subsequently, advertising campaigns which had largely focused on the financial benefits of purchasing a product, started to focus more on loyalty building and expressing brand values to create an incentive to buy their products. Brands such as John Lewis and Google embraced this change and became pioneers of such emotive advertising.

Google Chrome: Dear Sophie

Advertising Google Chrome Dear Sophie

By refocusing this way, such brands are deemed more human-like by expressing the same values, morals and drivers as their consumers have. For instance, the Nationwide advert uses powerful storytelling to portray their care, love and support, demonstrating they are part of the consumer’s lifestyle, just like a family member thus providing benefits that go far beyond financial gain.

The proof is in the pudding. In their book Brand Immortality, authors Pringle and Field analysed effectiveness data from IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) research and found, “Campaigns with purely emotional content performed about twice as well (31% vs. 16%) than those with only rational content.” Furthermore Pringle and Field explain this split to our brain’s ability to process emotional input without cognitive processing (or even awareness), as well as our brain’s more powerful recording of emotional stimuli. Therefore including emotive marketing has a larger impact.

However, building brand loyalty by creating a friendly human façade is not on its own, a long-term strategy. As Pringle and Field suggest, if you’re going to commit to emotional branding, the brand has to be “hard-wired into the fabric of the brand” which requires a major commitment as well as good understanding of consumer motivation. The John Lewis approach works because the values and beliefs they show in their adverts are also conveyed within the business. However this is not true for all the brands that utilise emotive branding.

What made John Lewis’ communication territory ownable, was their long-term strategy to build on the emotional link that they created with their first emotive advert. By doing this they built brand loyalty and drove price elasticity, and therefore profit. No wonder brands have since mimicked their style.

In their latest Christmas advert, John Lewis have used their same emotive advertising formula, and created an advert featuring the man on the moon, playing on a major trend this year with all the events surrounding space exploration. But for John Lewis, it just doesn’t feel original enough.

John Lewis Christmas Advert 2015 – #ManOnTheMoon

Advertising Man on the Moon

Surprisingly, the big winner this Christmas appears to be Sainsbury’s. They produced a highly entertaining advert featuring a classic children’s book character ‘Mog‘, with a great, orchestrated music score. What they did differently was engaged the consumer through light-hearted action; the personality of the cat character captivates the viewer and keeps them engaged. It also plays on other emotions such as humour and ends with bringing everyone together. Sainsbury’s has won with the surprise factor; it’s totally unexpected for the brand.

Advertising Sainsburys Mog

Unfortunately for John Lewis, the surprise factor has gone, as the unexpected has now become the expected. Furthermore, I also wonder if those brands that have clearly been influenced by John Lewis, are gaining an added trust merely by the subconscious association through their similarities with their adverts.

Nevertheless, being the leaders of emotive advertising and the public’s rising expectations they may have to mix it up a bit as the trend has become diluted. Yes their adverts are accessible and have become classic, but as they’ve become predictable, their future campaigns may lack in the influence and strength as they previously did before. If they want to stay the leaders of emotive advertising John Lewis needs to come up with something new and exciting.

 Blog written by Poonam.