Mortality Sucks, but It sells – the John Lewis ad
The stodgy Daily Telegraph says its journalist was moved to tears. The Guardian says “This has to be the most believable example in advertising of someone ageing 70 years over the course of a minute and half.” Even my friend Ian Sohn who works at an ad agency in Chicago likes it.
Here is the commercial. For those who don’t know, John Lewis is a middle class department store chain in the UK with a “never undersold” price promise.
During this, the week of my 40th birthday, I’m a bit more conscious of my mortality than usual. But all this gushing from UK journalists is not something I’m used to. Here are a few observations from my brand brain:
1. This isn’t a commercial for people under 30. My first real mortality faceplant occurred while watching the Lion King with my first son when he was 2. “What’s wrong with Mufasa?” as the older lion lay still after the stampede and being betrayed by his brother. I didn’t know what to say and felt my first pang of this-just-isn’t forever, combined with a welling of tears. Before kids and my first face wrinkles, I was pretty sure nothing could touch me.
Similarly, most under 30’s won’t like thinking of the idea of life just passing by so quickly. Verdict: Well targeted given John Lewis’s core customers.
2. This type of life journey ad is not new, but John Lewis did it right: Here are just a few recent examples:
Banking – Lloyds TSB
Pharmacy: Apotek Hjartat
Lloyds TSB’s isn’t as good because it’s animated and the music is more “branded” than connected to the story. The Swedish pharmacy is a bit too pithy and doesn’t feel as real.
John Lewis combined a very relatable person (actually very relatable people) in its consumer’s eyes, doing very contemporary things, using John Lewis merchandise throughout, linked it with its core brand promise “never knowingly undersold”, and reminds people that life is short.
They picked the perfect type of song – Billy Joel’s “Always a Woman” because most people in their mid-30’s to mid-50’s have some kind of appreciation for the song; and they rerecorded it by someone who the “kids” will appreciate (the whole circle of life thing again).
Life is fleeting, so why buy crap just because the economy is in the dumps? Buy nice things that will last as long as possible, don’t get ripped off, and enjoy your time here. John Lewis launched a video, audio and emotional assault on people in the UK, but hopefully it won’t be too contagious with other advertisers. This type of life-stage montage is only suitable for broad-target product categories (like banks, pharmacies, department stores, etc.), and now that the bar has been set, more people will say “oh that’s just like the John Lewis ad, but not as good.”
Finally, if you have 6 minutes more, here is the final scene from the final episode of 6 Feet Under. In my opinion the finest montage of life to death fast forward of the past 20 years.