Early Christmas Presents for John Lewis & Littlewoods

Maybe it’s the economic climate, maybe it’s the fact it’s still more or less mid-November, maybe it’s because they’re completely impossible to avoid, but this year’s crop of big-budget, glitzy Christmas TV ads have been causing quite a stir of late. They do it every year of course; supermarkets, department stores and the like; creating feel-good mini-movies to lure us inside their stores for all our Christmas shopping needs. But for some reason this year’s efforts have lit the social media landscape ablaze with lively conversation.

Lewis and Littlewood

The two main culprits in question are the latest festive offerings from John Lewis and Littlewoods. I won’t go into the details of the ads here, as no doubt most people will have already seen them, but a potent combination of prime-time TV placement in amongst X-Factor’s many ad breaks, and a raging blog post from everyone’s favourite misanthropic newspaper columnist Charlie Brooker have set the Twitter masses/blogosphere into a commenting frenzy.

Leaving aside the subject of sentiment for a moment, let’s look at how coverage of these two brands has sky-rocketed as a result of the ads and the resulting kerfuffle.


The chart above shows the total social media mentions of both brands over the past 30 days.  There is a clear and definite increase in conversation for both brands, but particularly for John Lewis, whose mini-tear-jerker-movie has caught the attention particularly. The huge spike for John Lewis is Saturday the 12th November when their ad debuted to millions nationwide, followed by the Brooker article on the Monday after.


The fussing and debate that followed over the ad and its various ‘merits’ (or lack thereof) meant that the amount of conversation around John Lewis increased by 379% in the 2nd half of the month, not bad going. Littlewoods didn’t spark quite the same amount of noise, but their inclusion in the Brooker article and the subsequent wider awareness of their advert meant their own share of social media conversation increased by 91%, still a very impressive figure.

Ho, ho, ho or no, no, no?

That’s all well and good, but what are people saying about the ads/brands, and secondly, does it really matter?

John Lewis has been the most discussed, and somewhat surprisingly most of it has been positive. As Brooker rallied the nations cynics to his cause, the opposing view seemed to come out as an even greater festive force. Sentiment around John Lewis since the advert’s debut has been 86% positive.


Leaving aside my personal scrooge-like tendencies for a moment, it seems the Christmassy goodwill and cutesy charm of the little kid who can’t wait to give his parents a box on Christmas morning has won over the nation. A definite win for John Lewis and their sure-to-be mightily pleased advertising agency.

So what about Littlewoods? Well the story isn’t quite so rosy for them. This was indicated earlier this week when they started to delete negative Facebook comments on their Wall and disable commenting on the ad itself; a big social media no-no, which only serves to stoke the fires further.


Sentiment around their brand since the middle of the month has been 57% negative, which isn’t a huge majority, but one would suspect this figure may increase as the fallout from their social media faux pas spreads further. Sometimes it takes someone/a few thousand people to point out why something is bad/offensive before the rest realise it’s so, and it seems the Brooker article has raised further awareness of the Littlewoods disregard for all things Santa and endorsement of flagrant overspending in an era of economic gloom. All pretty bad for Littlewoods.

No publicity is bad publicity?

But this brings me onto the final point; what’s important here for these brands? Is it what people are saying, or the fact people are talking about them at all? Adverts are made to raise awareness, and in that sense both John Lewis and Littlewoods have succeeded more than they probably ever thought. Does it matter that sentiment is good/bad?

They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but in a sense, the age of social media has frequently put paid to that fact with an ever-growing list of examples of ‘social media fails’. However, as gleefully as these epic social media marketing disasters are reported, we rarely see the long-term effects reported months later. Littlewoods are indisputably concerned about the negativity surrounding their brand if they’re deleting comments, but it will be interesting to see how their Christmas sales figures are affected come January. Despite the current outcry, it’s unlikely anyone will be talking about their ad much beyond the next couple of weeks. It will most likely be quickly forgotten once the next #outrage has gripped social media. If you’re ever personally affected by a brand’s incompetence or bad practice on social media, the effects can be lasting and long-term, but general ambient dissatisfaction and negative public discourse is often only transient in the social media age.

The more cynical among us will point to examples of atrociously bad viral videos that have more than a whiff of self-conscious so-bad-its-good opportunism wafting around them, you wonder if they are made specifically to engender conversation and awareness, and fair play to them, they work. I don’t think the two Christmas ads in question are ‘controversial’ enough to have been made specifically to get people arguing, but one way or another they’ve got people talking and their names are cropping up wherever you look. I’ve seen and heard more about John Lewis and Littlewoods in the last few weeks than I have in the last 5 years, and that’s exposure you can’t really pay for.


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