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John Lewis ad shows us how to make values relevant

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I really hope nobody responsible for the work reads this because I suspect I’m going to come across as an almighty creep. But, having seen the new JLP commercial, I’ve been mulling over just how good a creative and strategic response it is to their current, comparative adversity.

This is an old company but certainly not a staid one. John Lewis’s online / click and collect business has set standards for all those around them in recent years. Nonetheless, like all their ilk they are struggling overall, watching competitors post repeated profit warnings and, most recently, actually having to do so themselves.

Suppose you’d been on the board of that highly respected UK institution earlier this year.  You were in a hard place. Can’t afford to wait for Christmas to turn things around. How were you going to get new attention for your brand, in a way that builds value in customers eyes?

It wouldn’t be enough to be ‘a bit of a different department store’, if people don’t seem to want them in the first place.

What you actually decided to do is build customer interest for your brand, and your sister brand Waitrose, by talking about their attitudes and values. 

In current retail conditions, this is a very brave response to a downturn in business. Not because it’s difficult to put together an ad about two brands with such long histories and unique culture. The real trick will be to make me, your customer, give two stuffs about John Lewis/Waitrose corporate culture next time I want to take my real or digital wallet shopping.  

Readers may agree with me that making a connection between values or attitudes and customer benefits is in fact where a large number of touchy-feely brand campaigns die on their arse. HSBC, you will have noted, are currently spending big with Richard Ayoade, telling us being British means being terribly international in outlook and behaviour, possibly implying in the process that we shouldn’t be leaving the EU, and hoping somehow that makes me want to use their banking services. Because, you see, they’re the bank that’s told me all those nice things.

Hands up everybody who would spend millions of pounds of their own money on this? (Good job banks have deep pockets.)

John Lewis, in contrast, has long established that it genuinely understands and loves people. Really does. Starting with the classic Billy Joel film, which was uplifting without being saccharine, and managed to imply middle class comfort without being stuck up, they’ve shown us they know our lives and want to be part of them.  

So, JLP is a people brand. But, then, speaking of ‘people’ reminds you that every person who works for your stores is a partner in them. Whilst you’ve told your audience this fact on numerous occasions, arguably you’ve never actually bet the farm on it.

So there’s the brief. Make our partner-culture into a customer benefit, but in a JLP way.

I’m not saying the result is the greatest TV ad ever made, but it’s really clever both creatively and strategically.   

Strategy is all about comparison - understanding your strengths vs the competition and finding a way to use them to win. The new campaign takes two strengths, the partner thing and JLP’s track record of showing us great human stories, and combines them to remind us how unique these brands are, in a way that creates benefit in the customer’s mind.

And all without shouting or showing a grocery bag.

Just as Hertz once said ‘we are number 2, so we try harder’, the moment you see ‘when you’re part of it, you put your heart into it’, you instantly get how this might truly affect your shopping for socks on Saturday. As Joanna Lumley would say: Lovely.

More information

doubtless you have seen this by now but here it is anyway

Sunday 9th September 2018

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