EMBARGOED TO 0001 THURSDAY NOVEMBER 10 Undated handout image issued by John Lewis and Partners of their 2022 Christmas advert "The Beginner", which launches qat 8,00am on Thursday. The campaign is set to a soundtrack of All The Small Things, a cover of the Blink 182 song by Mike Gier, and raises awareness of children in care. Issue date: Thursday November 10, 2022.

John Lewis Christmas advert: How the cost of living crisis changed the battle for best festive advert

It may barely be November, but the battle for the best Christmas advert is already in full swing, with John Lewis launching its festive offer today.

And while they may be a staple of our Christmas diet now – as much a tradition as pigs in blankets or carolers – the hype surrounding festive adverts wasn’t always such a big part of the calendar.

Today’s clip from John Lewis comes a week after Asda revealed its Christmas advert, which used classic footage from the 2003 film Elfand hot on the heels of festive clips from Tesco, Argos, Morrisons and Aldi.

But with rising food bills, rising energy bills, mortgage increases and reports of Britons cutting back ahead of the festive season, retailers have a tough selling point to make this year.

A subject that is “so much bigger than Christmas”

John Lewis used his 90 seconds to highlight an “often overlooked issue” – children in care.

The Beginner – set to a cover of Blink 182’s All the Small Things by American artist Mike Geier – shows a man painfully struggling to master skateboarding before Christmas.

Viewers question the motive behind his persistence until the final scene, when a social worker arrives with the young teenager Ellie, who has arrived at her new foster home on her skateboard.

Kate Hardcastle, consumer expert and chief executive of Insight with Passion, told Sky News: “Getting the tone was really important for this year and it was probably quite predictable that it would be about corporate social responsibility because how can you do anything else at the moment ?

“But this is an incredibly fragile subject and needs to be handled with care.”

The ad was created with input from partner organizations Action for Children and Who Cares? Scotland.

Alongside its long-term work to provide apprenticeship opportunities within the John Lewis Partnership for people leaving care, the retailer said it would provide donations of Christmas decorations, food and gifts.

BANNED UNTIL 0001 THURSDAY 10 NOVEMBER Undated image released by John Lewis and Partners of their 2022 Christmas advert

Ms Hardcastle said: “I would never say it missed the mark because the subject means so much to me and I think any awareness is important.

“But I think the topic is much bigger than a Christmas advert and that’s because our care system support is needed 365 days a year, not just at Christmas.”

The ad is almost entirely devoid of product placement except for two brief glimpses of the retailer’s Lewis Bear toy.

However, consumers can still purchase a number of products linked to the story, including the £30 bear, the £19 Lewis Bear pyjamas, a £5 Lewis Bear bag and a £34.99 Rampage Skateboard, with 25% of sales going to the two affiliated charities.

The retail giant declined to disclose its budget for the ad.

How John Lewis changed the Christmas game

In the early 2000s, ads were filled with as “as much product as you could find” because “each frame costs money, so you want to show as much product as possible,” Hardcastle said

This was seen with Marks and Spencer, who ruled the roost for years with their product-heavy offerings.

But in 2011, John Lewis changed the game with The Long Wait, a story about a young boy desperately waiting to give his mother a Christmas present.

Dr Hanlon told Sky News: “John Lewis did it differently. They told a story, rather than saying ‘here are the products, please buy these’.”

“It’s a classic marketing technique, it’s telling a story, and it takes us back to the childhood notion of storytelling and it’s a comfortable place to be.”

And from there began the battle for the best Christmas ad, as it is known today.

How to sell during a cost of living crisis

But as Christmas approaches this year, almost half (48%) of Britons have said they plan to cut back on purchases – including festive activities and gifts – to save money, according to a report from Barclaycard.

Of these consumers, six in ten will spend less on gifts for family and friends, 44% will cut back on festive food and drink, including turkey and mulled wine, and two-fifths will reduce their spending on Christmas parties and socializing.

Ms Hardcastle said John Lewis made the right choice in choosing a cheaper toy as its feature product – the £35 skateboard.

She said: “This understands where people are at the moment. If they had put a £200 product on there, there would have been an immediate backlash of ‘how are people supposed to afford this?’

BANNED UNTIL 0001 THURSDAY 10 NOVEMBER Undated image released by John Lewis and Partners of their 2022 Christmas advert

Brands “played it safe”

Matt Bourn, of the Advertising Association, said: “It is clear that advertisers and their agencies and media partners are sensitive to the mood of the nation, the importance of coming together, giving gifts and helping people celebrate despite the geopolitical issues that affect us all.”

But Dr Hanlon said most of this year’s ads “fell flat”, indicating brands “don’t want to show they’re spending millions on an ad when people are wearing extra braces and not turning on the heat”.

“I don’t think this year was meant to be an iconic advertising year,” Ms Hardcastle added.

But she said she understands why brands have played it safe: “Getting it wrong this year would have been as villainous as the queue-jumping scandal.

“I think everyone just wants to say, let this Christmas be kind, let this Christmas be safe.

BANNED UNTIL 0001 THURSDAY 10 NOVEMBER Undated image released by John Lewis and Partners of their 2022 Christmas advert

“And that’s how we feel about Christmas this year ourselves. Nobody’s telling you, they’re going to do some big flash thing.

“Everybody says we should just keep it simple. We should just go back to the basics, get the family together, with fewer gifts, maybe a little less food, and the currency of the ads fits into that.”

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