With Elton John’s whirlwind farewell tour spanning the globe and his music seemingly more omnipresent than ever, one might be tempted toward disappointment upon hearing that U.K. retailer John Lewis’ highly anticipated Christmas ad is dedicated solely to the legendary singer-songwriter.
But it. Is. Worth it.
Agency adam&eveDDB, the longtime creative force behind such iconic John Lewis holiday ads as Monty the Penguin, this year spins a long-form tale of Elton John’s career told in reverse, beginning with a reflective 71-year-old John lightly tapping at a piano in a room dressed for the holidays. As “Your Song” begins to play in earnest, we begin moving back through his career, seeing phases both famous and formative.
“We’ve been doing John Lewis Christmas ads for some time now,” Craig Inglis, customer director at John Lewis and Partners tells The Guardian, “and what’s on my mind is how we move it on creatively but hold on to the heart of what makes them special.”
Unlike the CGI-driven “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” VR experience created by agency Spinifex earlier this year to relive the most memorable parts of John’s career while kicking off his final tour, John Lewis’ ad uses five different actors to portray the singer. The brand commendably avoided stunt casting celebrities and instead found largely unknown talent that fit the part seamlessly.
So where does it fall in the pantheon of John Lewis holiday ads?
Viewer response, as it is to anything so high profile, is mixed. Some saw it as a not-too-stealthy cross-promotion of John’s tour and the upcoming biopic Rocketman. As happens each year, some were quick to say the retailer has “lost its touch.”
But feedback on the YouTube version of the ad is overwhelmingly positive—and deservedly so. While most holiday ads manufacture a piece of fiction to hook your emotions, John Lewis made the bold narrative choice to feature a real person and find a believable thread that ties it all back to both the holidays and shopping. That’s a tall order, but adam&eveDDB delivers.
In short, it’s a nice upgrade from last year’s “Moz the Monster,” the admittedly adorable pandering of 2016’s Buster the Boxer and definitely 2015’s saccharine “Man on the Moon.” It’s one that, like 2015’s nearly flawless Monty the Penguin, viewers will likely remember well after the brand’s other holiday spots have blurred into memory alongside the growing crowd of Christmas ads trying to earn your views and shopping dollars.
Here’s a look back at John Lewis’ holiday ads from recent years: