Ad Breakdown: John Lewis tries a penguin

Boy with his penguin friend Image copyright John Lewis

The John Lewis Christmas advert has become a cultural institution of sorts. Can the retailer keep it up, asks Tom Heyden.

This year's ad is penguin-focused. There are a few things you can expect from any John Lewis Christmas ad. Emotive narrative. Check. Saccharine-rich cover of an old song (this year it's Tom Odell doing John Lennon's Real Love). Vague moral to the story. Check. Check. Animals or kids as main characters. Check and check.

Most of all, no overt references to John Lewis or its products. "John Lewis has hit on this very seductive formula," says Patrick Burgoyne, editor of Creative Review, an advertising and visual culture magazine. And yet they're not even particularly original, he says. But now in its eighth year, the John Lewis ad has become a Christmas institution, a signal that Christmas is on the horizon. The ads have become a Christmas event in their own right, says Burgoyne.

A trailer. A premiere. A "making of" documentary. You'd be forgiven for thinking this was the release of a major film. The teaser, which aired on Channel 4 last Sunday, was already beginning to melt Twitter with excited speculation. But each year's success raises the stakes. After last year's departure into animation, this year it's back to the real world. Sort of.

Image copyright John Lewis

A young boy is with his best friend - a real-life penguin. Off they go, gallivanting about, pursuing the activities that best friends do - football, sharing fish fingers, trampolining - even if the latter seems a bit harsh for a penguin in summer. But then the kid notices that Monty the penguin is lonely. While watching It's a Wonderful Life. Several times more the boy spots Monty longing for a female companion. Then - *SPOILER ALERT* - he buys him one called Mabel for Christmas.

As the ad reaches its climax, the twist is that all along the penguin was a stuffed toy, with the tagline - "Give someone the Christmas they've been dreaming of."

So has it matched the hype and hysteria? The early signs are positive. Twitter tears are flowing everywhere. "LOVE. John Lewis did it again! Not sure what it says about my state of mind but I shed tears on the bus watching it!," gushes Elaine Hallam in one tweet. "Literally crying at the Advert! It is amazing as always!!," tweets Ellie May Baxter.

The ingenuity of John Lewis adverts is that they're not really about John Lewis at all, says Burgoyne.

Not everyone is so enamoured.

"Proof that my heart is made of ice: watched the John Lewis' advertisement. Response = meh," tweeted Naomi Frisby.

"Baffled by the hysteria over the new John Lewis ad. Apparently I'm dead inside," Dan Bryant tweeted.

So the moral of this particular Christmas fable appears to be: Cry, or there's something seriously wrong with you.

Image copyright John Lewis

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