John (and Janet) Lewis

I was struck when reviewing this month’s Thinkboxes’ shortlist firstly by what an incredibly powerful set of ads they are, and secondly by the fact that, as a group, they seem to share a particular vibe which is distinctive but which I found hard to define.

I eventually realised that the word I was grasping for was ‘feminine’, without wishing to be too reductive. It seems to me that they all share a certain identifiably feminine aesthetic and that it is unusual to see this as the common thread among a set of award-shortlisted ads.

How might ‘feminine’ advertising be characterised? Well, therein lies a 5000-word dissertation, but in the interests of brevity I’d say that it’s about a particular set of words or associations: a focus on relationships and communication, a human story, a warm, romantic and compassionate tone, and an unashamedly emotional appeal. These of course are not qualities that only women display but are generally characteristic of women, especially when present together. All this is particularly true of the recent John Lewis ad, about which much has already been written.

Emotion is key here – one of TV’s great strengths. But the word ‘emotional’ in business is more often than not used pejoratively. It’s the great ‘feminine’ weakness and a criticism levelled at female leaders – and possibly some male ones too. The thinking goes that a logical and rational approach is the key to business success. In advertising creative terms, this can lead to more message-driven communication and at times some stridency (again, not exclusively masculine traits but characteristic).

I’d like to reclaim the word ‘emotional’ from any negative use; it’s one of the most positive words you can use, especially in advertising. Study after study shows the superiority of the emotional over the rational in advertising, and the advertisers who recognise this reap great rewards. But a more rational approach – which obviously has its place – often dominates our advertising value system.

Whilst musing on this, I read that John Lewis’ sales increased by 40% in the week following the launch of its new ad, showing the power of emotion in action. Maybe some advertisers are missing an opportunity if they focus too much and too often on the ‘message’ without creating the feeling.

  • Lindsey Clay
    Lindsey Clay
    CEO, Thinkbox
  • Posted under
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