'The Boy And The Piano' - What did the Nation make of this year's John Lewis Christmas Ad?

*All images by John Lewis, via the Independent*


Whether you’re one of the many that insist Christmas festivities mustn't begin until the month of December, or you’ve had your Christmas PJ’s laid out since August - nothing makes the nearing of the festive season harder to deny than the arrival of the ever anticipated, John Lewis Christmas advert. The annual premiere gets the United Kingdom talking year after year and the 2018 edition was no exception. John Lewis teased the arrival of this year’s advert on twitter this Wednesday before releasing the full edition on Thursday morning. Over the years the ads have captured a variety of festive scenarios that often succeed in tugging at the nation’s heartstrings. This year the store took a slightly different approach with the advert featuring music icon, Elton John.



The advert begins with a festive scene within which Elton sits in a decorated home playing piano and singing ‘your song’, one of his greatest hits. As the song continues, the varying clips that follow seem to replicate different chapters of Elton’s career, while the song remains throughout the visuals switch between that of the musician playing concerts in arenas and stadiums, traveling in a tour bus, performing at club venues, before ultimately showing him stood alone recording music in a studio. At this point the attention shifts to a young boy playing piano at a lively party and then at formal school performance. The scene then changes to the same child running down the stairs on Christmas day some years earlier, only to be greeted by his parents baring the gift of, a new piano. The young boy, elated by his new gift opens the key lid and plays two simple notes, the initial image of Elton playing returns as he provides final note that completes the child’s sequence. The final shot features overlaid text displaying the message ‘some gifts are more than just a gift’ as the advert comes to an end.



Reviews of the ad have been mixed, with comments on the store’s social media platforms reflecting this. Some interpreting the ad to be a mere advertisement of Elton’s upcoming Biopic film, others suggesting that the ad simply isn’t ‘Christmassy’ enough. One commenter even expressed her displeasure at the ad not offering her an animated character of which she can buy the corresponding soft toy for her child. In response to some of the more generic criticism the John Lewis Facebook page offered the reply ‘Some gifts are more than just a gift, they make a difference to your life!’. Suggesting this to be one of the main messages the team wished to convey through this year’s ad. Supermarket retailer Lidl jumped onto the scene with some swift and savvy social media marketing the following day, posting an image of a keyboard with the caption ‘Just because you don’t have £872 to spend on a piano, doesn’t mean you can be the next Elton John’. Credit where credit is due, this certainly made me chuckle. 


One critiquing comment I found particularly interesting expressed an issue with Elton John himself, suggesting that his wealth and success meant he didn’t adhere to the relatable and heart-warming prototype upon which previous characters have been based. The Guardian also commented on the specific choice of Elton as a focal point, suggesting that the persona represented by the ad missed out much of what the star is so well known for, in particular the more ‘gritty’ elements both his story and character, even going as far as to point out that in reality the star is known by some as being ‘a bit of a dick’. 


On the contrary, many comments were positive and praising of the marketing team at John Lewis for steering the advert in a more unique direction. Many positive reviews suggested that others were simply ‘missing the sentiment’, while others reported the advert having ‘reduced them to tears’. Some famous faces even took to their own social media platforms to offer praising reviews of the advert, Giovanna Fletcher in particular published a full reaction video of herself and husband Tom Fletcher watching the advert for the first time, before concluding that the ad was ‘simply beautiful’.


Personal opinions aside, one undoubtedly fantastic dimension of this year’s ad is that a portion of the fee paid to Elton for his appearance has been donated to the “Elton John Charitable trust’. Elton John is well regarded for his involvement is a whole host of charitable projects, one main example being his founding position within the ‘Elton John AIDS foundation’. Along with his partner David Furnish, Elton launched this initiative, devoted to providing support for those stigmatised by society as a result of Living with HIV in the USA in 1992 and the United Kingdom in 1993.



For me, this year John Lewis outdid themselves. The ad was original and steered away from the cutesy animated ads that while being rather sweet, dominate our TV screens each and every festive season. The incorporation of a face as iconic as that of Elton John was engaging, unique and unlike any Christmas advertising I’ve seen for years. Above all, I adored the sentiment. For me the ad evoked the message that regardless of the point of life at which you find yourself, or the identity you assume from one year to the next, a true love and talent will never fade and will remain a driving force and an inspiration. In addition, we see the family of the young child recognising his potential and offering him the tools that will help him succeed, reinforcing the importance of family and the ones we love that is central to many a festive advertising campaign. In my eyes, this year was a definite win for the John Lewis team, I look forward to seeing the ad appear on my screen, as a I recline on my sofa surrounded by the people I love on Christmas day!