John Lewis 2020 Christmas Ad Is A 100% Coronavirus-Free Zone

Soundtracked by Celeste, the ad encourages us all to "give a little love" this December.

Christmas isn’t cancelled. In fact, it’s only just getting started, with the timely arrival of the John Lewis and Waitrose Christmas advert, which – as industry experts predicted – delivers a simple message after a difficult year.

And without a single mention of the C-word.

Set to an original soundtrack by Brit award-winner, Celeste, the ad is part live action, part animation, encouraging the nation to “give a little love” to others before signing off with the line: “Together, we can make a difference.”

It’s been launched – by no coincidence – on World Kindness Day, as part of a pledge by the retailer to help at least 100,000 families in need over the festive period.

The storyline is based around the concept of “paying it forward”, opening with a little boy staring hopelessly at his football, which is stuck in the branches of a tree, far from reach.

John Lewis and Waitrose

When a girl helps him to retrieve it using her umbrella, she triggers a wave of kindness that ripples through the community.

Before long we see the boy helping a melting snowman, then the snowman helping change a flat tire. A pigeon even helps a hedgehog. The animals are all friends now.

But the moment that’s likely to make viewers really smile is the man cheering up his lonely neighbour by pulling a Christmas cracker through the window.

There’s also a subtle nod to our key workers, when a health worker is seen fixing a girl’s broken glasses on the bus.

Yet the retailer has avoided referencing the pandemic too overtly and there isn’t a face mask in sight.

John Lewis and Waitrose

The ad is released on social media on Friday morning, but will make its primetime television debut during ITV’s The Voice on Saturday evening.

It’s certainly a more socially charged take from John Lewis than we’ve seen in recent years, following 2019′s lovable dragon, Excitable Edgar, and 2018′s disappointing Elton John-fest.

The brand has described it as “a campaign like no other, for a year like no other”, but Waitrose’s brand manager, James Morrison, revealed to HuffPost UK that it almost didn’t happen at all.

“There was a very real option for us not to do an ad at all this year,” said Morrison, adding that the team had to adapt earlier ideas and practically go back to the drawing board in March during the first lockdown.

“We were also very aware of the power that our ad has in terms of bringing joy to people’s homes, after what has been the bleakest, most grim year.”

In the end, creatives “took inspiration from the British public,” he says – and the kindness shown among near strangers throughout the pandemic.

John Lewis and Waitrose

Visually, the ad feels a little jarring at first; it’s made up of nine different vignettes created by eight different artists, all stitched together, and shifts from real-life actors to different forms of moving art, ranging from animation and claymation to CGI and cinematography.

But it’s hard to argue with John Lewis’s justification for the format.

“The unique approach was chosen in a spirit of kindness towards the creative industry, which has been hard hit by the pandemic,” the retailer said in a press release. “Instead of a single production team, multiple artists were selected, giving employment to many people across the creative industry.”

And on second watch, it might well grow on you – the more details you spot, the more you can appreciate the creativity at work.

John Lewis and Waitrose

The song is also a slow burner, not instantly catchy, but full of heart that’ll gradually warm the soul thanks to Celeste’s gorgeous voice.

In a move away from the breathy, pop covers, the original song was written and recorded by Celeste especially for the ad.

It’ll also be released as a single and every time it’s downloaded, a 10p donation will be added to John Lewis’s charity campaign.

It’s been quite the year for the singer-songwriter, who was named BBC Music’s Sound of 2020 in January (an accolade given to those tipped for success) and has ended the year with the biggest commercial gig of the season.

John Lewis and Waitrose

The ad is an extension of a campaign announced by Waitrose and John Lewis in October, where the retailer pledged support to FareShare, the Marcus Rashford backed charity that helps those facing food poverty, and Home-Start which works with parents who are struggling.

Instead of the usual stuffed toy merchandise, the retailer has unveiled a series of ‘Give A Little Love’ products, including a slogan t-shirt and a heart-shaped umbrella. All profits will go towards the charity appeal.

A second shorter ad, created with artwork by four post-graduate students from Kingston University, details how customers can further support the campaign.

Christmas fans will be pleased John Lewis went back to the drawing board and teamed up with charities to create a tonally acceptable ad. The end result is undoubtably about helping those in need, but it isn’t a tear-jerker like 2015′s iconic Man on the Moon.

That’s probably for the best, after the year we’ve all had.