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Hey, sugar. Is John Lewis' Christmas ad too treacly?

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Could they have been the most expensive two minutes in advertising history? Well, if they weren’t, they certainly weren’t far off. Last Saturday during X Factor – and therefore requiring the sign-off from pop mogul Simon Cowell himself – John Lewis booked an entire commercial break for the first showing of their new Christmas ad.

Traditionally, the arrival of John Lewis’ Christmas ad always signifies the start of the festive shopping season. Yes, there are other high-budget campaigns, but none really compares to that of this most highly respected retailer. (Ant and Dec cheeky-chappying away with dancing gingerbread men for Morrisons anyone?)

You would think that spending £7 million on an ad campaign was a ludicrous amount of money; and you’d be right on one level. But when you consider that last year’s campaign contributed to an overall year-on-year sales increase for John Lewis of 44.3 per cent in the five weeks leading up to Christmas Day, it quickly becomes clear that it is money very shrewdly spent.

With the animation designed by a team that includes Aaron Blaise, supervising animator on Disney classics including The Lion King and Pocahontas, this year’s offering – The Bear and The Hare – is a heart-warming animated festive tale which pushes all the right sentimental buttons. With a long tradition of verging-on-schmaltzy ads in the back catalogue (topped by last year’s Snowman, where the coal-eyed adventurer goes in search of a hat and gloves for Mrs Snowman), it is just what the British present-giving public enjoys: a glassy-eyed reminder of all those happy Christmases in the days of yore.

John Lewis’ Chief Executive, Andy Street, explains that the campaign, "pays tribute to all of our most memorable childhood Christmases". And, on a more commercial level, the retailer moved to "position itself as owning Christmas in the UK".

Short story long, the ad features an unlikely set of best friends: a bear and a hare. Said bear does not eat said hare (at least, not till Boxing Day), but instead seems quite happy to act like a large and ungainly taxi service for his long-eared friend. But oh, no! It’s only gone and started snowing! The previously perky-eared hare goes all wistful and floppy-eared, knowing that yet again everyone will be having a lovely happy Christmas with friends while his own best friend hibernates throughout the whole joyous occasion. Selfish lump.

Aha! Good old John Lewis! The floppy-eared one races along to his nearest branch and apparently gets some kindly “partner” (that’s “shop assistant” to you and me, but this is John Lewis and they all own shares in the company – hence “partner”) to wrap up an alarm clock for him. So, leaving the present at the entrance to Bear’s cave, Hare sets it for sunrise on Christmas morning. 7:47am, apparently.

Not in the least angry about who or what woke him up a couple of months too early just to enjoy a slice of cake and a carol or two, Bear stumbles his way to the lovely big Christmas tree in the forest. Bear and Hare are reunited, much to everyone’s tear-jerking joy, and we’re left with the message: “Give someone a Christmas they'll never forget.”

And then Bear eats Hare on Boxing Day.

(Kidding)

OK, OK, I admit it: I actually did like the ad. I’m just pretending to be all cool, edgy and snooty about it. But reading the various articles, blogs and comments, a lot of people have slammed the ad for the choice of soundtrack alone: a version of Keane’s 2004 hit, Somewhere Only We Know. It’s very fashionable to hate Coldplay, as any watcher of Never Mind The Buzzcocks will testify, and Keane are certainly cut from the same cloth with a bit of Travis added for good measure. This version, however, is a cover of Keane’s hit, by mockney queen Lily Allen.

And therein lies what some might say is the fatal error.

See, the thing is, it’s just a bit limp. It’s like that dreadful Ellie Goulding version of one of the most memorable songs of all time: Elton John’s Your Song. In both cases, they turned a great song with a very decent singer into a stripped-down plinkety-plonkety piano version with a breathy and over-emotional half-singy, half-whiney vocal line. Lily Allen is better than that, so a lot of people are wondering what on earth she’s playing at.

I haven’t necessarily jumped onto the rage-fuelled bandwagon, and there’s no doubt that there are some very apposite shots of fallen logs when she sings, “I came across a fallen tree, I felt the branches of it looking at me”, but I just wonder whether they’ve overdone it on the slushometer a bit – because I think the animation stands up on its own without it being hammered home.

So ultimately, this isn’t just a “love it or hate it” ad; it’s a “would have loved it had it not been for the dodgy song?” ad. Agree? Take a look and let me know:

by Ashley Morrison

Ashley is a copywriter, editor and blogger

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