John Lewis’ Christmas ad goes back to basics with foster dad’s story

John Lewis has swept aside the fake snow, the celebrities and even the cute pets for a back to basics Christmas ad which raises awareness of young people in care.

The department store’s annual campaign, a TV moment that has kickstarted the festive season in the UK for more than a decade, focuses this year on a middle-aged man’s efforts to prepare for the arrival of a new foster daughter – Ellie – by trying to share her passion for skateboarding.

Thought to have cost about £7m including payment for TV and online slots, the ad is in complete contrast to last year’s big-budget production which featured a crash-landing alien girl, following a similar formula to a string of John Lewis ads from the Hare and the Bear in 2013 to Monty the Penguin in 2014 and 2019’s Excitable Edgar the dragon – relying on cute characters that draw millions of viewers online.

Claire Pointon, customer director at John Lewis, said the ad was a “very different story to what we have done before” which was intended to “make you stop and think and say ‘how can I help’.”

John Lewis’s caring and charitable angle for its latest ad follows a similar tactic adopted by Marks & Spencer which highlighted beneficiaries of the retailer’s £1m donation to 1,000 community groups and good causes through the Neighbourly platform. However, other retailers, such as Tesco, Argos and Boots have focused on a return to family gatherings.

Unlike several other large companies, John Lewis has launched its ad slightly later than last year and has chosen shorter ads and slightly less primetime slots, in a tough market where the cost of spots is up by as much as a quarter at some moments as the World Cup and Black Friday coincide with the festive buildup.

Holly Kicul, the senior advertising manager at John Lewis, said “We could have heavily gone for Christmas magic and fun but that didn’t feel the right thing to do this year with everything going on. It felt the right thing to use this platform we have to get this message [on carers] out. We wanted to have laughter but in a different way to what we do normally.”

Set to a reworked version of skater pop punk outfit Blink 182’s 1990s hit All the Small Things by US singer Mike Geier, “the beginner” ad features the dad-to-be apparently in the throes of a midlife crisis, practising skate tricks night and day – even using a board as a footrest in the office.

The reason for his efforts, which result in him nearly mowing down a neighbour and lots of bumps and falls, only becomes clear at the tearjerker end of the ad when a nervous tweenager arrives at the door with a skateboard under her arm.

The ad was put together with specialist advice from Action for Children and Who Cares? Scotland and is intended to raise awareness of those living in and leaving care over Christmas.

It follows on from John Lewis’s parent company’s £1.5m “building happier futures” effort to help care experienced young people with training and employment. The company has said it wants to be the “employer of choice” for those leaving care.

The ad, which will launch to John Lewis loyalty cardholders at 6am on Thursday, two hours before it hits wider social media and then screens alongside ITV’s I’m a Celebrity in the evening, doesn’t call for donations to charity. However, a quarter of the value of sales of a special toy bear and other products, including a skateboard as shown in the ad, will go to charities Action for Children and Who Cares? Scotland.

John Lewis stores will also have “giving trees” where shoppers can pick up a bauble which enables them to donate £5 to £15 to the causes at the till.

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