The Blog

John Lewis - Is Huge Spend on Festive Advertising a Waste of Money?

The Christmas commercials have landed, and with them the moral outrage and corporate cynicism of the masses, not ironically in the lazy, easy-activism format of internet meme.

The Christmas commercials have landed, and with them the moral outrage and corporate cynicism of the masses, not ironically in the lazy, easy-activism format of internet meme.

John Lewis - King of the Christmas advert, and UK stalwart's offering is one of the most anticipated of the festive season. This year's ad features a strong message supporting Age UK, aiming to combat festive loneliness in the over 65s, of whom there are currently estimated to be 11.5 million in the UK. The advert sees a young girl reaching out to a man on the moon, who she's been watching and trying to communicate with via her telescope. The touching advert sees young Lily whimsically getting a gift to the old man on the moon, through sheer determination and brightly coloured helium balloons, the advert closing with the message " "Show someone they're loved this Christmas," echoing Age UK's "No-one should have no one at Christmas" campaign.

A meme complaining about the advert has been shared online by over 20,000 Facebook users; specifically regarding the cost of the advert (production cost £1 million, advertising spend is £6 million), asking why the £7 million wasn't spent on direct aid for the country's elderly, completely missing the point and showing a real lack of commercial understanding.

Working for a social enterprise and more than profit financial organisation, I have a huge amount of respect for John Lewis's business and social responsibility model, and the work they do in local communities throughout the UK. Given the public interest and increased media coverage of their festive adverts, it's admirable that they've chosen to use their enhanced profile to create a meaningful message and support a vulnerable social group. Particularly when so many of their competitors' adverts are whimsy for whimsy's sake, or taking the magic out of Christmas - yes Paypal, I'm looking at you.

John Lewis is a UK business, operating in a highly competitive retail marketplace, yet their business model, and social and environmental impact is far more laudable than many of their competitors. Advertising for the coveted Christmas market is necessary to compete with the huge international players like Amazon, Walmart et al, whose business practices in terms of employee care, community activism and engagement, and payment of taxes raise more questions than answers.

Whilst consumerism for many is a dirty word, it is something we all participate in. I firmly believe that it's important that shoppers chose to buy as ethically as they can, and spend their money with organisations with a social conscious, who strive to make our country a better place. Businesses like John Lewis - as well as credit unions, third sector and social enterprises - are all UK businesses we should be proud of.

Esther Jackson, Marketing and Fundraising Director at Age UK said about the advert: "Coming together like this is a brilliant opportunity to raise awareness of the issue of loneliness at Christmas time in a powerful, heart-warming way. We hope it will really strike a chord with the Nation - driving not only awareness, but donations and actions to help some of the million older people who go for a month without speaking to anyone."

Christmas shopper Carol Gibson agrees: "I think the advert is so lovely, and raising awareness for age concern. All companies spend a significant amount on money producing Christmas adverts, keeping the magic alive for children! I love the John Lewis one, and how it's making us all think of the elderly this Christmas."

Now if I can just find it in my heart to forgive them for what they've done to Oasis's Half the World Away.

Leeanne Boulton is a financial marketer, freelance writer, and manages and edits an on-line magazine for women.