Emotional Advertising – The John Lewis Ad 2016

Emotional Engagement in advertising has become the holy grail of a marketing team’s toolbox. Advertising agencies, creatives and brand managers are searching for ever more creative ways to be emotionally competitive, and to connect brands with people.

The John Lewis Christmas Advert has become a hotly anticipated advertising event, where marketing professionals and the general public alike have become obsessed with the latest ad. This year, A Level Student Nick Jablonka managed to fool the public with a fake John Lewis Christmas ad, attracting hundreds of thousands of fans. https://www.theguardian.com/media/video/2016/nov/06/fake-john-lewis-christmas-advert-student-video

john lewis spoof-ad

The retailer has developed a formula – a nice narrative across the ad, a softly vocalled cover song, and a pull on the heart strings right at the point where the brand is revealed…


This year’s ad is no different. A headline character in Buster The Dog (who no doubt will be a hit sell out in the cuddly toy department this year), a loveable character, a narrative that develops over the course of the advert, soft cuddly animals, a cover of ‘One Day I’ll Fly Away’ by London group Vaults, accompanied by a 70 strong choir and a 66 piece orchestra.

There is a stark contrast to last year’s “Man on the Moon” campaign which pulled at our heartstrings highlighting that Christmas can be a very lonely time. “Show someone they’re loved this Christmas”. This year they have taken a more light-hearted approach in the emotions they are tapping into but still with a strong emotional message that no doubt will be personally relevant to many parents who have spent Christmas eve frantically building and wrapping gifts in time for the morning! “Gifts everyone will love”.

This year, John Lewis have left the ‘reveal’ of their brand until right at the end, against a clear screen, swiftly followed by a ‘call to action’ to Continue the Story on Twitter by following the hashtag #BusterTheBoxer .


John Lewis are following up in the real world by offering a ‘Buster’s Garden‘ in the Oxford Street store, where customers can explore the garden with Oculus Rift. There’s also a Snapchat filter available in selected stores where customers can take a photo with Buster and the other animals (See more about our thoughts on the use of Snapchat in the retail world here.)


We know that ‘emotion’ as a creative device is on the up, and that campaigns based around emotion are thought to produce long-term business effects. Many organisations are turning to emotional metrics, rather than rational metrics, to predict the likelihood of long-term success in an ad campaign.



As humans we are wired to respond to music, and while everyone has different taste, music with a pleasing harmony, soft voice and a lifting melody can boost serotonin, a chemical responsible for good feelings. From work that Walnut Unlimited have done looking at the choice of soundtrack in recent Bond Films, we can see the difference a soundtrack can make to engagement. You can read more about why Alicia Keys was the wrong choice for Quantum of Solace here.

Quantum of Solace – Alicia Keys from Walnut-Group on Vimeo.



So what is it about the John Lewis ads that have made them so compelling to people?  Any brand ad needs to have a story that makes a person empathise, and makes them feel in the way you want them to feel.

In the 2016 ad there is a linear narrative that first follows the struggles of the father as he puts up the trampoline in the freezing cold in the garden. We then move to a narrative that follows the animals’ perspectives, as they discover the delights of jumping on the trampoline.




Neuroscience can help us explore this unconscious emotional process both in real time (looking at an ad moment by moment), and by exploring implicit associations. Ultimately, emotion is at the heart of our decision making. It operates at an unconscious level, and often consumers are not able to articulate the effect on emotion on their decision making.

Working with our neuroscience consultancy, Walnut Unlimited, we work closely with  brands to understand how to enhance the performance of their ads. Through understanding ‘attention’, ‘relevance’ and ‘activation’ our techniques can show brands and creative agencies how to engage with their customers.

Andy Myers has a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience and is the Ginger Nut at Walnut Unlimited, our neuroscience consultancy


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Andy Myers
01962 842211
Article date - 10/11/2016
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