Monday 11 November 2013

The John Lewis Christmas Advert

Bah humbug! There's uneaten pumpkin pie sitting in the fridge, and at least another evening of fireworks to look forward to as bonfire month draws to a close. And yet, there it was. Like a nativity star fizzing in the sky John Lewis have unveiled the two minutes, ten seconds of their festive advert. Yeah, so choosing November 10th to launch your advent advertising campaign jumps the shark a little bit, but we live in a world where Tesco and Sainsbury's start flogging Christmas gear at the end of August. John Lewis is Johnny-come-lately. I also gather the advert has become something of a phenomenon. Up three days and it's crapped all over the two million or so views that Russell Brand interview could muster in the same time frame. Never underestimate the British public's love for schmaltz.

Friend-of-the-blog Antonio Gramsci once observed that everyone was a philosopher. He could equally have made the same point about sociology which, indeed, Anthony Giddens did. But chillax, I'm not about to double your hermeneutics. There is, however, an absence of any pop-sociology comment. Even this BBC piece fails to wheel on an "expert" for a ponder. If you need a rent-a-gob sociologist, you know where I am, Auntie. Enough! The multiple "interpretations" their article offers boils down to branding, product synergies, emotional connections, career relaunches, etc. There are ten all told - it ain't bloody Finnegan's Wake you know.

Fancy something more substantial than the fulsome flattery of brand managers? Here's a few sociological takes.

1. The advert is absolutely the sort of yarn our society loves to tell itself. It's a tale of friendship. The hare and the bear (what a lovely couplet!) can see past their unique backgrounds, their different life courses, their incompatible trajectories through social space, and their genetic programming to run-away-from-bear/eat-hare. It's a story of hope, of hands (or rather, paws) across the ecological divide. But it's not just them at it. The party under the tree has foxes, deer, weasels, squirrels, owls, rabbits, badgers all cavorting and disporting themselves in a fey festive manner. Some will think they're being really sharp to point out the impossibility of this set up, and yet fail to pass comment on animals decorating a Christmas tree. They miss the obvious message, that we as a multicultural family-nation can put aside seemingly irreconcilable and come together as one in the season of goodwill. Isn't that nice?

2. At first, it appears the hare is compelling the bear to take part in forced festive fun. "Can't you see he's tired??!?", I wanted to shout at the screen. We all know that feeling. Christmas can be such a drag, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who has had an occasional desire to sleep through it. It turns out all he wants to do is hibernate, so the hare gets him an alarm clock so he doesn't miss out on the big day. And aaaah, the twinkle in bear's eyes is so, so sweet. John Lewis position the audience as the bear. They know the lead up is a tiring, stressful time. John Lewis themselves are the hare - they want you to have a lovely Christmas. They want you to enjoy the down time without the tiresome prep. They've got it covered. Off you go to your cave to hibernate or whatever, the hare/JL will sort it out. Et voila. The happy ending the advert pulls off so well. Do you want to relax like bear? John Lewis will sort your fuss-free winterval no probs.

3. Beware hares bearing gifts! The notion of the gift is an act of exchange sociologists and anthropologists have returned to time and again. Unsurprising as gifts have so many meanings across so many cultures. You don't need sociology to tell you the score. The receiving of a gift is never an innocent act. Whatever the motives of the gift giver, even if they absolutely definitely do not wish to receive something in return, the unstated assumption is that the receiver has to return the honour in some way. Even if it's utterly pointless, like the mutual exchange of Argos vouchers of equal value. The standing and perception of ourselves by others, usually close friends or family, is at stake. Which begs the question. Was hare's gift of an alarm clock truly an altruistic act so bear could attend his first Chrimbo? Was bear's presence thanks enough for hare's thoughtful pressie? Or come the Boxing Day hangover, will bear be consumed with guilt because he didn't get hare anything? Could it be that a selfless, altruistic act marks bear's slow side into fretful despair and anxiety. "I didn't get hare a present, I didn't get hare a present." Each tick of his new clock is a reminder of his thoughtlessness. Whatever will the squirrels think? There's no need to end up like bear though. John Lewis has officially marked the start of Christmas in an advert that doesn't actually sell anything. So why not thank them for their "gift" by popping into your nearest outlet?

4. John Lewis have produced a lovely advert to cure the cynical winter blues. It's a story of friendship, of thoughtfulness. And while you're cooing at the cute, life-affirming proceedings, the warm ideology is grinding away to make you forget John Lewis is a BIG CAPITALIST EVIL. Or something.


3rd year student said...

Love the post. Number 3 is spot on that's me pretty much every 'Winterval' as i hurriedly try to find a gift for everyone so I don't appear selfish but undoubtedly due to being a poor student cannot afford to buy everyone something so have to miss people only to feel guilty because Christmas is the season of giving afterall.

Anonymous said...

i thought john lewis was a co-op so surely must be less evil than sainsbury eg?

Phil said...

This has annoyed me because I did post a comment a while back, which has disappeared into the ether.

Re: John Lewis, it is not a Co-Op but a trust owned by its employees. In its set up there's no democratic accountability, as fas as I'm aware. It could quiet easily pass as a conventional firm.