John Lewis used TV to build an emotional connection

  • John Lewis needed to achieve standout in a competitive market
  • They consistently invested in TV over 4 years, building an emotional connection with upmarket consumers
  • Christmas sales have smashed records consistently every year both in store and online


John Lewis is an unusual business in that it is owned equally by its 70,000 partners. Its retail philosophy is to deliver the best possible service quality and prices to its customers and as a result, it has some of the most loyal and passionate customers in the UK. 

And yet, it operates in an increasingly challenging, changeable and highly competitive market, meaning that everything the brand does needs to work to ensure the success of the business.  

This case study spans 4 years and demonstrates how the brand used the emotional connection delivered by TV to drive the brand forward and produce a remarkable success story. 

Year One 

At Christmas time 2007, the challenge for John Lewis was to achieve stand out, rise above the clutter and deliver a message which resonated with the UK public sufficiently enough to drive them in store.  

They wanted to maximise awareness and reach as many consumers as possible. In addition, they needed to deliver emotion as Christmas is one the most emotive times of year. They wanted to tap into this sentiment and provide gift inspiration for potential customers.

Year Two 

The challenge in 2008 was made more difficult by the fact that the UK was now in the grips of a recession. The high street was suffering, consumer confidence was low and retailers were increasingly cautious (total retail spend was down 18% year on year. Source: NMR)

Value messages dominated the high street and many retailers were shouting about pre-Christmas sales to entice shoppers in. Therefore, it was more important than ever to deliver cut through and ensure that the message that John Lewis has gifts for everyone was communicated loud and clear.

Year Three 

By 2009, the recession was in full swing. Consumer confidence was rock bottom and consumers were looking for brands they could trust.

An additional challenge was that the budget had been cut putting increased pressure on the planning strategy

Year Four

In 2010, John Lewis wanted to remind consumers of its enduring ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ promise. This was particularly key on the back of two years or recession.

Against a backdrop of deep discounts and shouty sales messages, they wanted to communicate their lifelong commitment to its customers in a premium, high impact and emotional environment.

Christmas was again the key time of year although it’s a highly competitive time of year for retailers

The additional challenge for this year was to support the key regions of London and the South East and to achieve better standout in the big Saturday night programming.

The Solution

Year One

TV offered the perfect platform to be both front of mind and inspire customers with great gift ideas. The core upmarket audience tends to be lighter viewers of TV so the buying strategy needed to optimise reach against this group. The agency used planning tools to determine the optimum frequency, ratings levels and phasing to determine the most efficient investment.

Year Two

Despite the caution, John Lewis continued to invest through the recession and decided TV was the best medium to support their ongoing strategy.

Learnings from 2007 led to three adjustments

  • Boost visibility and increase TVRs
  • Be creative with planning in order to stand out
  • Phasing needed to complement the sales patterns

This led to the timelengths moving from 90s and 60s to 40s and 10s. In this way, they were able to deliver higher levels of TVRs but still maintain the quality environments needed to engage the audience. Also, top and tail buying was introduced.

In addition, the campaign was designed to build coverage more quickly and this helped John Lewis capitalise on early sales

Year Three

Once again, TV was crucial to delivering the emotion and scale campaign needed to cut through. Likeability is key in driving purchase intent and positive brand perception and viewers seemed to like the TV ad so this helped. Likeability was enhanced by the use of an iconic soundtrack which went straight into the charts.

Year Four

In 2010, John Lewis took the bold decision to invest 100% of their budget into TV and forego any support from additional media channels. For a brand that had historically spent the majority of their budget in press, this was a brave move but having seen the impact that TV can deliver at Christmas, they felt it was the right decision.

They developed a 90” hero ad which would be supported by cut downs of 60s and 10s. To support the great creative and to maximise engagement, the agency worked hard to buy the best possible airtime giving the campaign the platform it needed to win the hearts of the nation.

The impact of the creative can be seen from two comments on Twitter after the ad had been shown in Britain’s Got Talent on ITV1

  • “My favourite Britain’s Got Talent act so far is the John Lewis ad”
  • “The first time I’ve cried in Britain’s Got Talent and it was the bloody John Lewis ad”

In addition, the buying strategy focused on weekends to tie in with the key retail days


Year One

  • Sales soared past the £100m for one single week for the very first time, up 7.7% on the previous year
  • Online sales experienced their highest ever single day of trading posting £2.8m in just one day

Year Two

  • Econometric modelling showed that the TV campaign delivered a profit ROI of £3.10
  • Sales rocketed. beat its previous year’s record by £500k and the department store posted numbers up 20%

Year Three

  • Despite a tough market, once again John Lewis defied the market and posted 3 consecutive record weeks with sales of over £112m. This represented an uplift of 15.5% year on year

Year Four

  • The campaign received record levels of awareness for a John Lewis campaign.
  • Once again, John Lewis managed to beat its previous record breaking sales and exceeded £120m for 2 consecutive weeks
  • For the 5 weeks to 1st January, total sales were £545m, up 8.9% year on year

Over the past 4 years, our continual and increased investment into TV has undoubtedly helped drive our marketing success. Our agencies have been instrumental in this – from a planning perspective and also in the effective and efficient deployment of our budgets

Craig Inglis, Marketing Director, John Lewis

It has never been so important for us to emotionally connect with our customers and through television we are able to do so in such a way that has resulted in our advertising being amplified beyond all expectation.

Lloyd Page, Head of Brand Communications, John Lewis


Sector: Retail

Brand: John Lewis 

Campaign objectives: To achieve stand out in a competitive market and deliver a message that resonated with the UK public

Target Audience: ABC1 adults

Budget: Final year spend in excess of £5m

Campaign Dates: In year one, 2007, the campaign ran from 5th November to 16th December. In year two, 2008, the campaign ran for the month of April and again from 10th November to 14th December. In year three, 2009, the campaign ran from 15th November to 21st December. In year four, 2010, the campaign ran from 24th April to 30th May and again from 13th November to 30th December. 

TV Usage: 90s, 70s, 60s, 40s, 30s and 10s

Creative Agency: Adam and Eve DDB

Media Agency:  Manning Gottlieb OMD


Karcher’s DRTV business – success upon success

How Kärcher used long form advertising to drive their direct-to-consumer business


Zizzi: bringing different to the table

Learn how Zizzi’s first TV campaign brought 16-34s back to the table


The Coconut Collab – free from dairy, not temptation

How new-to-TV advertiser, The Coconut Collab, used (all forms of) TV to start building the brand in an increasingly competitive category