How John Lewis always gets the best Christmas presence

Costanza Scarpa | 09 December 2016

Every year at Realeyes, we collect the best festive offerings and create a top 10 ranking of the most emotional ads of the season. This is no poll or subjective ranking – it’s based on the real-time emotional reactions of customers.

We partnered with audience platform Lucid to measure the emotional response of 4450 people watching 65 ads from leading UK retailers. Emotions drive human behaviour, and the pervasive emotional advertising spearheaded by John Lewis at Christmas-time is no seasonal coincidence. John Lewis’ own heartstring-tugging ads, courtesy of Adam&Eve/DDB, are undoubtedly driving their Christmas revenue, which unlike many retailers, continues to grow year on year. 

But while it may seem straightforward to tap into that Christmas sentiment and get customers on board, you need more than a few Christmas trappings to raise a real smile.




Most shared ad to date

John Lewis may have edged the line last year with Man on the Moon, which some found more melancholy than celebratory, and it only came 7th in our rankings. This time however they’ve outdone themselves, producing not just this year’s most emotional Christmas ad – but the best performing John Lewis Christmas ad we’ve ever tested, which proved better than 94.8% of ads in our entire database and beat 2011’s The Long Wait. This result has been borne out on social media, with Buster also turning out to be John Lewis most shared ad to date.

Double the happiness

Competition was tough though, with the best 10 ads within a range of just over 10%, compared to nearly 20% last year. The Body Shop’s Jungle Bells was the runner up with 94.1%. And what all the best ads have in common is a steady build-up of happiness over time, culminating in a significant emotional high for their viewers – in Buster’s case, a peak of happiness that’s double the average usually elicited in any Christmas advertising.

Moving away from ‘sadvertising’

The ad seems to indicate a move away from the melancholy of last year. It is beautifully executed and retains the classic John Lewis soundtrack, but it’s much more straightforward and light-hearted than #ManOnTheMoon, hinging on a simple twist rather than a more complex narrative. This same strategy is reflected in the Top 10, where most entries play for laughs, with the exception perhaps of M&S and Waitrose, who hark back to the more dramatic big budget advertising we’ve seen in previous years.

Emotions drive appeal

The strength of the top three also relies on getting all demographics on board more or less equally. Disparities in the emotional responses of different demographics are often exactly where ads that ranked lower fall down. Interestingly, what we might deem more dramatic or sentimental Christmas advertising, like the aforementioned Waitrose, or the ads from Heathrow, Sainsbury’s and Apple, score very well with women, but often fail to engage men as thoroughly, hampering their overall rank. Whether this is a failing, or actually successful targeting, given women may be considered more likely to be the ones shopping for the family at Christmas, will probably be evident amongst those brands’ bottom lines. 

Feeling requires substance

A far cry from John Lewis, the lowest scoring ads of the season – from Grey Goose and House of Fraser – lag behind amongst the worst 15% of ads ever tested. For House of Fraser especially, this is the second appearance in a row at the bottom of the table, though this year’s offering – very similar in style to last year’s – does score marginally better with an EmotionAll 3. Though it looks glitzy and nods to the festivities with flaming Christmas puddings and a lot of glitter, it fails to evoke true emotion. 

It takes more than tinsel and a Slade soundtrack to evoke real Christmas cheer – John Lewis, aided by Adam&Eve/DDB, remain leaders in the field. The rest of the retail sector are undoubtedly keen to follow in their wake, likely leaving the ‘sadvertising’ of yesteryear ever further behind.