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Mock John Lewis-Inspired Ad Featuring Lonely Grandmother at Xmas Sadder Than Any of UK Retailer’s Festive Campaigns

  • UK’s man homage to John Lewis’ tearjerker campaigns tackles loneliness during festive period amid COVID-19 restrictions 
  • Homemade TikTok 14X sadder than average UK ad, according to video ad platform Unruly; more than half of viewers think it’s a John Lewis campaign   

LONDON — October 19, 2020 — John Lewis’ title as the kings of ‘sadvertising’ is under threat – from a UK TikTok user who was so inspired by the retailer’s famous tearjerker ads he made a mock Christmas video of his own about his lonely granny. 

That’s according to new research from video advertising platform Unruly, which used its content testing and targeting tool UnrulyEQ to see how the video — titled John Lewis: TikTok” compares with John Lewis’s famous festive back catalogue. 

Zach Margolin created a homemade advert to show just how gloomy the festive period could be for many elderly people in the UK this year if they are forced to spend Xmas alone because of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. He cast his own widowed grandmother, Josie Singer, in the starring role after becoming worried about her wellbeing following the death of her husband, Gerry, last year.   

Created as a homage to John Lewis’ famous emotional campaigns, the video is 14 times sadder than the average UK ad and far sadder than any Christmas ad ever created by John Lewis, according to Unruly.  

Fourteen percent of consumers who watched the ad were moved to tears, which makes it almost 5X sadder than the average John Lewis festive ad. It also puts it ahead of the retailer’s saddest campaign Man on the Moon”a 2015 campaign that is also about senior citizens’ loneliness during the Xmas period. 

However, despite having more consumers reaching for tissues than any previous John Lewis campaign, the video finished well down the list when ranked on overall emotional engagement.  

Most emotionally engaging John Lewis festive ads

John Lewis’ 2013 festive campaign, “The Bear and the Hare”, was by far the most moving overall after generating intense levels of happiness, sadness and warmth, with Zach’s TikTok homage finishing 8th overall, just below last year’s entry, “Excitable Edgar”, but ahead of 2018’s “Boy and The Piano” and “2017’s “Moz The Monster”. 

This year’s eagerly anticipated John Lewis Christmas ad is not due to be released until next month, but there are signs that the success of Zach’s video homage, which has racked up almost 400,000 likes from impressed TikTok users, could have already benefited the UK retailer.  

When asked which brand was behind the homemade video after watching, more than half (51%) of consumers quizzed by Unruly named John Lewis as the company behind the content. Purchase intent (36%), brand favourability (32%) and find out more (44%) were all above the UK average.  

One consumer, referring to the gift at the end of the video, said: “It showed that John Lewis have a lot of great products this Christmas that will bring the family together – even if they can’t physically be together.” 

Rebecca Waring, Unruly’s Global VP, Insight & Solutions, said:Although John Lewis is known for tear-jerking Christmas ads, it’s worth nothing that, except for ‘The Man on the Moon’, their ads only evoke intense sadness among a relatively small proportion of the audience (3% on average).  

The key emotions are, in fact, happiness (23% on average) and warmth (24%). The same is true for this TikTok video, where warmth is the number one response (17%), although sadness does play a much larger part than in a typical Christmas ad. We predict that despite the unusual circumstances this year, happiness, warmth, nostalgia and inspiration will still be the key emotions in 2020 Christmas ads. 


Unruly’s John Lewis Xmas chart was compiled using its content measurement tool UnrulyEQ, which uses a combination of audience panels, facial coding and machine learning to measure viewers’ emotional responses to advertising. The results were then compared to Unruly’s database of thousands of ads to see which ads generated the highest levels of shock among viewers. Altogether, 7,254 UK consumers took part in the study.  

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