Emotions run high in the new Elton John Lewis ad

They kept us waiting for what seemed like forever but the John Lewis & Partners’ Christmas ad is finally here!

The UK department store released their Christmas ad entitled Elton John Lewis this morning (Thursday 15). The UK chain kept the public waiting for longer than usual and changed a number of their storefront names from John Lewis to John in the lead up which built up the excitement even more.

This morning their ad was released to the world with mixed opinions. This year’s ad feels very different to anything they’ve done before. Years gone by have featured woodland creatures, penguins, and monsters, often with playful and youthful tones. This year was a step away from that, with the brand using the life of global pop star Elton John to tell their Christmas story.

The chain changed their name to John Lewis & Partners earlier this year so perhaps Elton John Lewis is a statement to the world that they are moving in a new direction, or maybe they just fancied a shake up of the traditional model they have stuck to for so long.

An emotional perspective

Our UnrulyEQ Insights team have given us their first impressions of the Elton John Lewis ad and what emotions they believe it evokes. They have also looked at how it compares on an emotional level to John Lewis & Partners Christmas ads from the past three years.

A clear trend across the past three years has been that of aiming for the relatable and the magic of Christmas; ‘Man On The Moon’ focused on loneliness around Christmas, ‘Buster The Boxer’ on the sheer joy of Christmas and ‘Moz The Monster’ on the experience of monsters under the bed, whilst bringing a loving Christmas attitude to the story.

Elton John Lewis on the other hand offers a complete change in focus and goes down the route of watching the life of a pop legend in rewind. The ad ends with him as a child getting his first piano for Christmas. It offers a clear depiction of the effect a gift can have on someone’s life. Receiving a piano  set the course of Elton John’s life and career, which turned out to be life-changing.

How does it compare?

Previous years’ focus on relatability has proved to drive a strong emotional response amongst viewers; tugging at the heartstrings by portraying the magic of Christmas through the innocent eyes of children. In contrast, even though Elton John Lewis is likely to be less applicable to the greater population, it is likely to drive strong pride evoked from depicting a national treasure such as Elton John. This is likely to be coupled with warmth from depicting not only Elton John’s extraordinary career, but also that he was once just a boy receiving a gift at Christmas.

John Lewis ad comparison

Even though many will find Elton John’s story emotional, there is likely to be a proportion of viewers who question the ad’s emphasis on Christmas. Furthermore, with the film ‘Rocket Man’ being released in the spring, which tells the story of Elton John’s life, some might query the promotional aspects of this ad.

Ultimately, with much anticipation, we are awaiting the true effects of Elton John Lewis which marks a new style of Christmas ad from the brand. We are expecting a strong but potentially polarising emotional response from the British people.

Check out our insights on some of the most popular Christmas ads from the past few years.

Find out more about our UnrulyEQ offering.

Earlier this month our Executive Director of Strategic Partnerships APAC Greg Fournier, and P&G’s Associate Brand Director Dominique Touchaud took to the stage at FUTR’s Asia Summit in Singapore. They delivered a brilliant presentation on the role of culture in advertising, and how it can define success or failure in marketing campaigns in Asia.

The presentation was delivered to a packed room, and the pair received great feedback from a number of audience members on their theories, insights and examples.

Over the next few paragraphs we’ve pulled out some of the key messages and takeaways from their presentation, with a number of ad examples, including one of our all time favourite ads from HSBC.

Why does culture matter?

Culture is informed by a society’s customs and traditions. It’s revealed through a society’s artistic and intellectual achievements, and is maintained by a series of behavioural codes passed down from generation to generation.

Paying attention to culture in advertising is extremely important for brands that work on a global scale, especially if your brand is working in markets that are culturally different to where they are based. Messages, symbols, rituals and even colours can have significantly different meanings and messages across cultures.

We’ll let HSBC break it down for you…

Head & Shoulders in Israel

P&G did a great job of leveraging culture in their 2015 campaign for Head & Shoulders that ran in Israel. In the Jewish tradition before Passover, Jews search their homes for any crumbs of bread which, according to tradition, must be eliminated. By leveraging this insight P&G made the search for flakes of dandruff a new addition to the tradition!

They did this by sponsoring Passover kits, which included Head & Shoulders samples, and made them available for free. P&G achieved a seamless brand association which fitted both the cultural moment and the brand truth. After this campaign market share for the shampoo grew 35% year-on-year. As a result, sales of Head & Shoulders in Israel have remained high as consumers recognise the purpose of the product and become familiar with using it as part of their daily routines!

Storks and peaches

The above is a great example of how P&G used cultural knowledge to grow sales. There have however been times when the company has got it wrong. One famous campaign which P&G ran for Pampers in the mid-1970s completely flopped in Japan as the nappy brand hadn’t paid attention to the country’s culture. The ad in question saw a stork fly through the air to deliver nappies to a mum.

While the image of a stork delivering newborn children is understood in the US and Europe, it’s not a universal idea. Unfortunately for P&G, the idea of storks delivering babies doesn’t exist in Japan.  Instead Japanese folklore tells of newborns arriving courtesy of a giant peach floating down the river, which seems a far safer method than stork-powered air travel. Peaches, not storks, bring the babies in Japan, and consumers responded by ignoring the ad. 

Seeing things differently

Assumptions about different cultures vary greatly depending on where in the world you’re from. In one study a group of people from Japan and Mexico were asked what they thought of Americans. The Japanese said they were relaxed, friendly, spontaneous, uninhibited, emotional and impulsive. The Mexicans said they were hurried, serious, reserved, restrained, composed and methodical. Researching your target market is extremely important before you run an ad campaign. Even if you think you know about the market you are targeting.

Another thing to remember when looking at different cultures is that their perceptions of the world and what they see can vary vastly. This can be seen through the Michigan Fish test (yes, this is an actual thing). Take a look at this image…

How would you describe it?

Americans referred to the attributes of the target fish saying they saw; ‘three big fish heading left’. The Japanese referred to the background and contextual information as well as the target fish attributes saying; ‘there is a pond where you see some seaweed, there are big and small bass swimming, and a small frog and snail are at the bottom. This test shows the broad spectrum of interpretations that are possible when they’re shaped by culture.

Culture connections

Unruly recently partnered with Mediacom to carry out research around culture connections to reveal insight into the national psyche that underpins consumer attitudes. We categorised the research into nine dimensions, split between how people feel and how people act. This research allows us to see the correlation between emotions and culture in advertising.

If we look at the ‘Identity’ dimension as an example, it measures the strength of a nation’s self-image. ‘Fixed’ societies have very clear identities rooted in tradition; they see no reason to change or evolve. Examples include Venezuela and Colombia. ‘Flexible’ countries, however, are always looking to adapt and improve. They might have traditional values, but they are interested in moving with the times. Examples include Japan and Taiwan.

1 Cannes Winner… 3 Territories

Our UnrulyEQ team recently analysed the following P&G Libresse Blood ad which was a winner at this year’s Cannes Lions festival, in order to discover how it resonated with audiences. Take a look at the ad and think about how it makes you feel.

By looking at the correlation between emotion and culture the team found that because the UK has an individualistic culture. One of the overriding emotions when people watched it was of confusion as the ad is based around a collective of women battling against their body. For many women in the UK this is not an issue, and not something that they would necessarily talk about or embrace with others.

However, in collective cultures like India and Singapore, the ad evokes emotions of inspiration and pride as the message and feeling of collectiveness resonates with women from these cultures. How did you feel when watching this ad? Do you think the emotions you felt reflect the culture you live in? It’s important to remember that even the best videos in the world don’t always perform well across borders. Although Libresse Blood was a Cannes Gold Lion winner, it had very different emotional responses in UK, India and Singapore.

Emotions are often informed by culture and as we know, emotions drive engagement, brand recall, and purchase intent. Understanding and quantifying culture in advertising helps to define the relevant emotional palette a brand can use with a particular audience.

What have we learnt?
  • The interplay of cultural dimensions in advertising is hugely complex!
  • Ads can perform very differently even in cultures which are perceived to be more or less similar.
  • Never assume – examine for cultural resonance on an ad-by-ad basis.

We’ll leave you with an ad from Vicks that was one of our favourites from last year, which really illustrates the emotional and cultural learnings on India.

Want to know more about the link between emotions and culture in advertising? Click here to get in touch.

Paul Gubbins, Unruly’s Programmatic Lead has made it into The Drum Digerati – an annual celebration of 100 outstanding individuals excelling in the UK digital industry.

The Drum’s Digerati showcases success and ingenuity from some of the most pioneering digital marketers working in the UK today. Based on nominations from The Drum readers and curated by their editorial team, the list celebrates talent from four categories: agencies, brands, adtech & martech and media & platforms.

Paul Gubbins has over 16 years’ experience in the advertising sector, with the last nine spent in programmatic. Shortlisted by The Drum in 2017 as one of the most influential people in the digital advertising sector, Gubbins sits on the Captify advisory board, is a mentor at The Programmatic Advisory and is regularly asked to moderate or participate on panels about how automation is changing and disrupting the advertising ecosystem.

Paul writes for The Drum as a programmatic columnist, discussing all things M&A, data & technology in the digital ad sector. Gubbins’ infectious passion and enthusiasm for all things adtech also saw him nominated by Exchange Wire in the adtech personality of the year awards.

Check out The Drum’s Digerati announcement.

This week the Unruly team are heading to Singapore for the Spikes Asia festival, where we are looking forward to celebrating the innovation, creativity, and hard work that has come out of the advertising industry in Asia over the past year.

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Unruly insights from Spikes Asia