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    Creative directors respond to John Lewis Christmas ad ‘The Beginner’

    John Lewis’s Christmas ad is always the most-anticipated of the year, but with high anticipation comes high expectations – did ‘The Beginner’ meet them? We ask the industry’s best creative directors.

    The ad shows a dad-type learning to skateboard. Set to the tune of Blink-182‘s punk pop tune All The Small Things, what appears to be a midlife crisis turns out to be a perilous attempt to bond with a new foster child.

    Here‘s what the CDs think…

    Toby Allen, executive creative director, The&Partnership

    I am that dad. I felt every bump and bruise. Any parent who’s tried to learn to skateboard in middle age to keep up with their kids can relate to this. It’s a simple tale, charmingly told. But the real hero is the initiative – the care system is on its knees and needs all the support it can get.

    Hats off to John Lewis for using the platform it has built over the years to draw attention to the issue. Will it ‘win Christmas’? Maybe. Will it make a difference in people’s lives? Undoubtedly. For that, I applaud it – with two broken arms.

    Mike Watson, creative director, Wunderman Thompson

    I think it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the fact that the anticipation of this annual ad is ‘a thing.’ Since 2011 it’s been the Christmas ad everyone wants to beat, the Christmas ad some have emulated and the ad against which all other Christmas ads are judged. More importantly, it’s the one that gets punters talking. And that in itself is an achievement.

    It’s a good ad. One that’s designed to make you think about others at a time of giving. And that’s never a bad thing.

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    Nicola Wood, creative director, Ogilvy UK

    Expectations are always high, and it must be hard for the team behind it to be put on a pedestal and to always have to be ‘the one to beat.’ The trouble is so many incredible JL ads have come before it that it also has to beat itself. This year, while as charming and beautifully-crafted as ever, it doesn’t quite compare to festive triumphs such as ‘Monty the Penguin’ or ‘Hare and the Bear.’ It’s a mammoth task when you are literally standing on the shoulder of giants.

    It’s heartwarming and thought-provoking, and you certainly have to applaud the sentiment behind it – a shocking number of children are in the care system, especially older teens who are often overlooked, which as a mother of a preteen really pulls at my heartstrings. However, there is a side to me that is starting to think a brand aligning itself with a worthy cause at Christmas is beginning to feel just a little bit tokenistic. But then the other side of me tells me to stop being cynical and to sit back and enjoy it.

    Jamie MacCarthy-Morrogh, executive creative director, FCB Health Europe

    At a time when everyone is more concerned with our health and social care than ever, highlighting and supporting foster care is a great, timely cause. We all remember what it was like to be separated from family during Covid-19, so having a family coming together for the first time is a nice take. John Lewis has done a wonderful job of threading the needle of a challenging tone this year.

    Rick Dodds, creative partner, Don’t Panic 

    They’ve been responsible for the UK’s Super Bowl moment for the last 15 years – a time that sees the real ad-skipping people anticipate this one.

    Generally, the work is good, sometimes it’s fantastic; mostly because it’s not flogging a product but a brand’s promise or ethos. As the end messaging lands, so does the realization that the platform is being used to send a message of real substance and purpose.

    It’s a powerful moment, as one of the season’s biggest brands trades a commercial message for a charitable one. A moment that must be applauded. What’s fundamentally important now is that the brand’s ‘Building Happier Futures’ initiative walks the walk; especially with so many people watching.

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    Regan Warner, global creative director, Ogilvy UK

    In a Christmas advert landscape of ‘look at all you can buy here,’ John Lewis is using its power for good. For real good. Highlighting the plight of children currently residing in the care system, this Christmas ad shows it has so much heart. It takes you through so many emotions – curiosity, happiness, sadness. Of course, many tears were shed by me.

    While everyone else was showing their whole holiday hand, John Lewis held out and made us wait. The teaser was a genius strategy. Then dropping a purpose-led campaign not selling a thing made it a true leader this Christmas.

    Marcos Almirante, senior creative director, Rankin Creative

    It’s a shift from the usual… and a very welcome one. This time, the magic lies in the brilliant choice of music, the poignant acting and the true partnership with relevant charities. As a firm believer in ideas that generate positive impact, I’m hoping the results in this case study include how many young people in care spent a happier Christmas.

    Jack Nunn, creative director, Special Group London 

    A solid spot and a good initiative from the brand, with a good choice of music, good casting and performances, and a great decision to read the room and not present a version of Christmas opulence.

    It managed to navigate the usual Christmas ad cliches. I would have loved there to be one or two extra little cute, quirky or unexpected moments – a facial expression, funny quote or some other meme-worthy detail.

    Morten Grubak, global executive creative director of innovation, Virtue

    My son took up skateboarding at nine. At that age, you are still very concretely involved in playtime as a parent. Meaning I had to be the first one to drop the halfpipe and nail the ollie. That comes with a lot of bruises and bloody knees.

    So I have a very direct relationship with the tension between simultaneously being someone’s hero and a complete fool, but like all good spots that feeling is much more universally relatable.

    The timing is on point. 2022 was once again a year where decades happen in a week – with the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis and the cost of living. Making a JL ad is a creative process starting in January – huge kudos for reading the world’s future cues in a moving little narrative that will warm people in a cold time.

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    Curro Piqueras, executive creative director, Dude London

    It doesn’t shout ‘Christmas’ to your face. Thanks. It feels like it’s an honest and simple story with a great purpose at heart that, in my opinion, hits closer than in previous years. The only thing I felt was slightly flat is the predictability of the build-up of the story.

    Laura Muse, creative director, VCCP London

    Is that a little north-east accent I hear? But aside from me being an absolute sucker for hearing my own accent in a telly ad, this new Christmas spot is a simple story, brilliantly performed and beautifully shot. Even with it being a really great cause to support though, it’s not the most surprising of narratives. A solid middle table finish, with no spot in the top tier – like us Geordies have been used to.

    Tim Riley, head of copy, AMV BBDO

    I wouldn’t normally recommend reading comments on YouTube, but in this case they’re worth a look. Post after post from people who’ve been through the care system and find the film both resonant and sensitively done. I don’t think there’s any higher praise than that.

    Lynne Deason, head of creative excellence, Kantar UK 

    It is a huge departure from John Lewis’s previous Christmas ads, which were anchored on finding the perfect gift, but this one retains a storyline that will no doubt tug on a few heartstrings. Making viewers feel something is vital to creating effective advertising, although branding is equally important. The John Lewis brand isn’t central to the story, so the continued interest in the retailer’s festive ads – now part of our Christmas culture in Britain – will have to do a lot of the work in driving that link.

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    Grace Francis, chief creative and design officer, WongDoody

    I’m the kind of person who reads film spoilers before I go into the cinema. I need the information up front as fast as possible – I’m an idiot. I did the same with the Christmas ads, reading all the elements before pressing play. On paper, the John Lewis ad worried me. An out-of-shape dad learning to skateboard for the good of the family set to a crooning cover of Blink-182’s All The Small Things? Then I watched it and immediately knew my fragile little heart was in the palm of a department store once again.

    Kevin Chesters, strategy partner, Harbour

    I won’t be the first to say it, and I definitely won’t be the last, but this is lovely. Obviously, it’s well-written and expertly cast. Obviously, it’s brilliantly edited. Obviously, it’s a perfect piece of storytelling. That’s a given. That I expected.

    And this is John Lewis, so it automatically gets the column inches and free PR for the case study. But forget all that for a second. Genuinely. This is good. This is useful. This raises a real issue and helps people to solve it in the real world. This really is good in more ways than one. So, bravo. Yes, it’s a good ad. But this Christmas, it might just be an ad that does some good, too.

    Barnaby Girling, executive creative director, Supernova at The7stars

    Gone is the conspicuously expensive, award-hungry merch-fest of last year’s ‘Unexpected Guest’ – this year is a welcome return to the values of family and wintery homecomings. Gone, too, is the jaw-dropping distraction of Elton John’s fee. Instead, viewers facing tricky economic times can engage with a serious social issue, while still being dipped in the melancholy style of that famously muted Smiths ad that started all this off 11 Christmasses ago.

    Steven Hadden, executive creative director, MadeBrave

    The determination and drive to keep going through the hardship, failures and bumps along the way feels like what we are all living right now. But it is all worth it to make someone’s life a little better and give the most precious gift of all – compassion, caring and kindness. It shows the importance of looking out for others and just being a good person and dad. As a dad myself, I can relate to it as I have always believed it is the things you do that matter the most.

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