Behind This Year’s Tearjerker From John Lewis, “The Bear And The Hare”

Creatives explain how the holiday epic came to life.

Behind This Year’s Tearjerker From John Lewis, “The Bear And The Hare”

For the past several years, John Lewis has been gaining profile for its annual holiday mini-movie, a heart-melting story that ushers in the festive season. Getting the story right both presented the greatest challenge and the widest opportunity to the creators of this year’s £7m holiday campaign from the U.K. retailer.


This year, the brand and agency adam&eveDDB looked to the animal kingdom and produced a tale of an unlikely woodland friendship, “The Bear and the Hare” (we posted the spot last week). Here, the creatives behind the campaign talk about the making of the 2-D/3-D tale.

The brief is pretty much the same each year: to convey the idea of “thoughtful giving,” adam&eveDDB creative directors Aidan McClure and Laurent Simon explain. And a key challenge, as ever, was to out-do the previous year’s campaign.

“The starting point was considering what would be the perfect gift and that nothing beats the gift of Christmas,” says Simon.

“The idea was to show this through a story with woodland animals. But honing the storyline, hitting the right tone and agreeing the landscape and geography of the setting, its characters, time frame and precisely what should wake the bear was almost the greatest challenge,” adds McClure. With the story locked down, a number of production houses were invited to propose ideas for bringing the tale to life.

“Classic hand-crafted Disney-style animation was an obvious inspiration to convey the integrity we wanted, but we were also keen to ensure how it was executed was both distinctively British and 21st century in feel,” says McClure.

The 120 second ad that resulted–a distinctive mix of traditional hand-drawn 2-D animation and 3-D sets–was directed by Elliot Dear and Yves Geleyn and made by London-based Blinkink with New York/LA-based Hornet Inc. Traditional animation was led by Aaron Blaise (whose credits include The Lion King) and a team of Disney animators at Premise Entertainment in Orlando, Florida. And 3-D sets created by a team at Shepperton Studios led by production designer John Lee (whose credits include Aliens and Frankenweenie).


The suggestion to combine 2-D and 3-D came from Blinkinc, Simon continues: “It was both an original approach and a great way to bring the traditional feel of the animation right up to date.”

Close attention was paid to character design with the result that the creatures’ faces sport modest features and subtle expressions that make the animation more Watership Down in tone and style than Disney-esque.

The animated tale of what happens to two friends when the first snowflake falls was shot then put together throughout the summer–during which time the agency worked closely with John Lewis on a number of other campaign elements, all Bear and Hare-themed.

“As soon as we finished the script we knew we wanted to do an ebook–it was clear you could extend Bear and Hare in a number of directions,” McClure explains.

Adds Simon: “Last year’s Christmas campaign (“The Journey,” which featured a love-lorn snowman) showed the public has a clear appetite not just to watch an ad but take part in it, too, and we were determined to make the most of this opportunity.”

So, as well as an ebook and soon-to-launch paper version, there is also interactive app with games and other activities, merchandise, a make-your-own Christmas card app and opportunities to visit Bear’s cave in 11 John Lewis stores.


Meanwhile Bear and Hare each have their own Twitter feeds (after some confusion, the feeds ended up as @JohnLewisBear and @JohnLewisHare) through which they will continue the story, and fans can share thoughts and pictures via a dedicated Facebook page. Within hours of the campaign’s launch, the sound track–a Lily Allen cover of Keane song “Somewhere Only We Know”–entered the Top 5 of the iTunes chart.

In the four days since the “The Bear and the Hare” went live in the U.K. on John Lewis’s web site and YouTube on November 8, the ad has notched up just shy of 4.75m YouTube views.

About the author

Meg Carter is a UK-based freelance journalist who has written widely on all aspects of branding, media, marketing & creativity for a wide range of outlets including The Independent, Financial Times and Guardian newspapers, New Media Age and Wired.