How Useful is a Story?
The 2014 John Lewis ad was one of the most successful marketing campaigns in history. In a single week, sales hit £179 million, higher than any other week since the company began trading in 1864. The brand’s return on investment was 8:1, generating an astonishing £141 million in incremental revenue.
John Lewis’ 2013 operating profit totalled £216.7 million, so it’s fair to assume they had a pretty generous budget for their 2014 Christmas marketing campaign. The same can be said for Sainsbury’s, M&S and Boots, though their ads didn’t bring the same financial success.
The John Lewis advert was unique in its ability to tell a story, something that’s been replicated in its subsequent Christmas ads. The story was of Sam, a young boy, and his friend Monty, a penguin. The two play together until Sam realises that his penguin friend is lonely, and wants a penguin partner to spend his time with. For Christmas, Sam gets the greatest (John Lewis bought, of course) gift that money can buy – a toy penguin called Mabel. Both Monty and his new friend Mabel are then shown as toys, and the viewer realises the real-life Monty was a figment of the child’s imagination.
The ad captured the emotions of viewers, drawing on its tried and tested themes of family, animals, childhood imagination and sharing. It gave viewers something they could relate to. Children wanted a Monty of their own and adults were prompted to take a nostalgic glance back to their own childhood toys.
The advert had no blatant product advertisement, just a simple, emotive story, and yet their sales soared. Debuting during C4’s Gogglebox, and broadcasting shortly after in ITV’s X Factor commercial breaks, the campaign was always bound for massive exposure. Brands advertising to us is nothing new. We are familiar with having products, deals and brand names pushed onto us – but when something moves us, that stands out.
What John Lewis did was not to overtly ask us to shop in their stores, but to provide something memorable. People chatted about the advert to friends, it was shared online and received over 11 thousand mentions in the media. It entered the public consciousness so effectively that when people pondered where to buy their Christmas gifts, John Lewis would come to mind.
John Lewis’ salient approach of being the flagship shopping centre store, along with its huge profits, might seem a little foreign to SMEs. Ultimately though, the success of John Lewis’ Christmas campaign wasn’t due to big budgets or brand awareness, it was down to its ability to connect, and that’s something that everyone can do.
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