Over the last decade, the British department store chain John Lewis has become synonymous with Christmas. The brand, and its longtime agency adam&eveDDB, are credited with starting what has become the U.K.’s advertising equivalent to the Super Bowl in the U.S. This year’s spot, released today, keeps up with that blockbuster reputation.
The similarity with the Super Bowl ends with size and scale. If there were a John Lewis Christmas ad formula, it would look something like this: (Cute kid + adorable animal) x (many feels + nostalgia) ÷ retail experience. In “The Boy and the Piano,” instead of using the tried-and-true approach of creating a celebrity all its own–remember Monty the Penguin?–John Lewis has gone Full Superstar and enlisted Sir Elton John, crafting a version of the pop legend’s life story that fits its Christmas narrative like a sequined glove.
As with previous years, the retailer has a whole line of merchandise tied to the new spot, but this year, it has added an expanded experiential element at its Oxford Street London flagship: a 2,000-square-foot space where people can explore the dressing room, recording studio, and living room sets from the ad, interact with props, listen to Elton John’s 17-11-70 album, and have photos taken at a piano (no, it’s not Sir Elton’s).
John Lewis and adam&eveDDB have created an entire cultural moment out of the Christmas ad bonanza, with breathless news coverage anticipating what the brand will do, when the campaign will launch, and how the public might react. Within hours of its release, the spot had more than 2 million views across the company’s social channels and replaced today’s Brexit crisis in Twitter trending popularity.
It’s the perfect mix of story and celebrity, and while not official, also a pretty damned good promo for Rocketman, the upcoming Elton John biopic hitting theaters next summer.