Growing up in a non-western culture means that Christmas means nothing more than another chance to catch some sales and a long break from school (although I feel like this is true for most people now). So, personally, Christmas has never been anything special that I look forward to.
Until I saw a small little video called Monty the Penguin.
It’s an animated character from a John Lewis Christmas brand. If you don’t know John Lewis, it’s a British department store. It is posh, upscaled, and filled with all kinds of goodies. Perhaps it was because of all the annual Christmas ads that I’d seen, John Lewis became my favorite department store when I lived in London.
If you look at the advertisements, especially those from recent years, there is really nothing about the store itself. The advertisements are more like adorable short films that make you feel fuzzy and warm on the inside. They often feature animated characters like Monty the Penguin, a journeying snowman, and Moz the monster.
At the center of the advertisements are also children, who play with these animated characters. Sometimes these characters might be an old man on the moon, a piano, or more. The essence is that all these advertisements create a fantasy, like something from a children’s storybook.
But here’s the question. If it’s an advertisement for a department store, why does it seem like a kid’s movie? Shouldn’t it target adults who pay for things?
And I think here’s the trick.
At some point in the advertisement, you will find out that most often these fun, unrealistic characters are from the children’s imagination. It’s a common blow to the dreamy, imaginary environment that the story tries so hard to create, but that’s the case with John Lewis’. Somehow the advertisements return to reality without stripping away the sense of warmth. The emotion stays—emotions that can be transferred to objects, which you can buy at John Lewis.
At the end of the day, John Lewis is still selling the holiday spirit—family, friendship, imagination, childhood—just like many others. The noble thing that John Lewis does is that they don’t push products in their short films. Unlike other holiday season advertisements that are filled with sales information and product displays, John Lewis just tells a story.
The John Lewis Christmas advertisements, to me, are just like modern Disney movies. Yes, they are PG and kid-friendly, but they are also for adults. Kids will see cute characters, magic, prince and princess, and good guys fighting bad guys. Adults see love, betrayal, friendship, loneliness, and more. The advertisements create a world for adults who want to be kids again, looking at this world a little more simple and a little more warmly. Because when’s a better time in the year to treat yourself with a dreamy world than Christmas?
Although I still don’t celebrate Christmas and I fully understand that Christmas is just as commercial as it is traditional, I can’t help but expect it every year. And every holiday season, I go ahead and watch through all the Christmas Ads, and then buy something I don’t need just because I am in the holiday mood.