How John Lewis get away with something 99.9% of brands should be wary of attempting

EaonSputnik’s Eaon Pritchard says the lack of branding in the 2013 John Lewis Christmas campaign, is best viewed as an exception rather than a rule.

It’s worth from time to time to have a quick refresh on the fundamental purpose of branding.


The purpose of branding is to identify the source of any given product or service. This is why branding was invented.

This requires the use of things and characteristics that distinguish one brand from other competitors.

First and foremost is, obviously, the brand name itself; along with the other distinctive elements of a brand identity.

Coke has the colour red, and the bottle shape, for example.

There are the great taglines – ‘Just Do It’, ‘Think Different’ etc.

All of these things help buyers to notice, recognise and remember the brand in buying situations, and are the most important parts of advertising.

A great creative idea is a great commercial creative idea when it acts as the vehicle to get the brand noticed and remembered.

The more distinctive and salient these ideas are then the more links are made in memory, therefore the easier it is for the brand to be identified and remembered at the right time.

One of the ideas from psychology literature that’s important to recognise and apply to this situation is the idea of the ‘availability’ heuristic.

Whereby we tend to estimate the likelyhood of events by how easy it is to think of similar examples.

For instance one is statistically far more likely to be killed by a refrigerator falling on top of you than in any act of terrorism, but because examples of terrorism attacks come most easily to mind we fear those more.

In the advertising industry bubble one has no problem in identifying the latest John Lewis Christmas ad, simply because of the availability of the discussion within the bubble around the ad this week.

It would, however, be an error to assume that anything approaching the same amount of discussion in the lives of ordinary people has happened.

For John Lewis, to get noticed and remembered by a mass of people in a buying situation would be the ultimate result, and with a huge PR and integrated push around this ‘ad-as-event’ it looks to have succeeded.

But it is interesting to watch the video below, and notice how little ‘branding’ ordinary people take away from the ad on first look, and how many other brands they speculate could be the providers of the content before it is finally revealed.

Also recognise how easily this could have been fixed by inserting distinctive branding throughout the spot.

Therein lies the lesson for the rest of us.

That’s not to say it’s not a great piece of creativity, and without doubt evokes an emotional response, but as commercial creativity it’s an exception rather than the rule.

For most brands, even the greatest creativity cannot act as a substitute for establishing the brand name, the source of the product or service, if it doesn’t prime the viewer to remember the brand name it fails.

Waiting until 1:57 to reveal is a risk for all but the most compelling content.

I’m being slightly harsh, John Lewis are big enough, popular enough and famous enough to get a pass (ha!) this time, but we should be mindful not to take this example as case in point or applicable to the majority of our clients.

Eaon Pritchard is the head of strategy at Sputnik.


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