John Lewis and Elton John entertain viewers at Christmas


Key Points

  • John Lewis wanted to win the hearts and minds of viewers during the key Christmas period
  • To build anticipation before launch, they partnered with ITV to re-record some iconic theme tunes in homage to ‘The Boy & The Piano’
  • Following the launch, John Lewis & Partners had their biggest sales week in the company’s history

The Challenge

UK retail is fiercely competitive and the festive season only heightens the stakes. In the seven weeks leading up to Christmas, John Lewis & Partners make 20% of total sales and 40% of total profits. John Lewis are famous for their Christmas campaigns - from Monty the Penguin to Buster the Boxer, their creative formula has led to some of the most successful advertising of all time and the John Lewis Christmas ad is an eagerly anticipated event. However, their great success has meant that competitors have now begun mirroring this effective formula. To remain at the forefront of festive advertising, John Lewis needed to challenge their own formula and create new ways to build anticipation.

For the first time ever, John Lewis was going to feature a well-known face in their campaign. Everyone involved in the campaign was sworn to secrecy, as building anticipation and intrigue had been a key factor in the success of previous campaigns. Featuring an artist as well-known as Elton John had the potential to divert attention away from the brand and from the core message of thoughtful giving that John Lewis wanted to convey. The key objectives of the 2018 activity were:

  • Win the battle of the Christmas ads and make the John Lewis ad the most watched, most loved and most talked about campaign
  • Deliver growth in sales and profit to ensure a positive year for the business and its partners

Despite all the secrecy, the campaign leaked in late summer of 2018. John Lewis’ media agency, Manning Gottlieb OMD, needed to create a solution that would prevent the campaign from being an underwhelming confirmation of rumours. Historically, success had been fuelled by guessing games before release, so MG OMD needed to act quickly to ensure the campaign was a roaring success.

The TV Solution

Adam&EveDDB created a TV ad that centred around the gift of a piano to Elton as a young boy, kickstarting his outstanding career. To tease the campaign at scale, MG OMD knew TV was the best channel to deliver an immediate emotional response across the nation simultaneously.  Usually, John Lewis campaigns are teased with visual elements, but following the leak this method was considered too obvious. The campaign could be endangered by not developing enough anticipation before the launch day as the public knew what was coming.

To overcome the potentially low anticipation, MG OMD changed the approach and teased the campaign with sound rather than sight. By offering the audience very little, it would build intrigue and most importantly spark conversation around the campaign. Using zero visual branding, John Lewis & Partners partnered with ITV, re-recording iconic theme tunes in homage to ‘The Boy and the Piano’.

The Plan

Five of ITV’s biggest shows had their theme tunes re-recorded into soft, acoustic piano versions. The alternative theme tunes ran 24 hours before the launch of the official campaign, hijacking the nations favourite shows such as Emmerdale and This Morning. This was an innovative and brave approach as some of these theme tunes had never been changed - Coronation Street hasn’t changed its theme tune in 58 years!

Taking over these iconic programmes created an immediate impact, with viewers instantly expressing their confusion across social media. Mass intrigue was sparked across the nation from talk show hosts to social commentators; debate over what instigated the switch was widespread. Due to using zero visual branding, the mystery was amplified and drove further discussion. This approach allowed MG OMD to take focus away from Elton John and put the core message of the thoughtful gift, the piano, at the forefront of the campaign.

The campaign launched in Dark Hearts at 9.15pm on ITV with a 150 second spot. There was also a 140 second, 90, 30, 20 and 10 second cut downs. TV was placed at the heart of the campaign; other channels were then used to give the campaign a strong presence across all media. John Lewis & Partners booked their first-ever Twitter first-view which ensured those opening the platform on launch day would be instantly exposed. In addition to this, they organically spread the ad across social channels before any official release. As well as this BVOD was used via ITV Hub and the ad became the 5th most downloaded show on launch day.


  • Following the launch, John Lewis & Partners had their biggest sales week in the company’s history with sales up by 7.7% year-on-year
  • Overall Christmas performance up 1.1% year on year
  • Brand sentiment was the highest on record with a net sentiment of 98.9%
  • Total views for the campaign reached 50m (+42% YOY)
  • 27% of the population engaged with the TV tease
  • Social mentions increased by 44% in 2018 compared to 2017
  • The overall campaign delivered a 1+ reach of 85% and OTS of 6.6

Every year, we look to Manning Gottlieb OMD to help create a progressive media approach to our highly anticipated Christmas launch. In 2018, our partnership with ITV delivered one of the most progressive campaign launch platforms and again stretched the boundaries of how we innovate and work with media brands such as ITV.

Becky Brock Partner & Director, Marketing, John Lewis & Partners


Sector: Retail

Brand: John Lewis & Partners

Campaign objectives: To drive sales for John Lewis and be the most anticipated and enjoyed ad of the Christmas season

Target Audience:  ABC1 adults

Budget: Approx. £6.8m (source: Nielsen)

Campaign Dates: The campaign ran from 14th November to 29th December 2018

TV Usage: 150”, 140”, 90”, 30”, 20” and 10” spots

Creative Agency: Adam & Eve DDB

Media Agency:  Manning Gottlieb OMD


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