The excitement is building, the tension is mounting. It’s that time of year. The nights are drawing in, the weather is colder, the days on the calendar tick by. Everyone is getting excited, boys and girls, mums and dads, yes it won’t be long, the time will soon be here for…the John Lewis Christmas tv commercial?!?!? Just when the old cynic in you was convinced we could not get any further from the true meaning of Christmas (celebrating the birth of a Jewish baby in a Middle Eastern stable, conceived out of wedlock over two thousand years ago), it had now warped so far to now be all about the marketing campaign of one of Britain’s biggest department stores. All because John Lewis hit on the lucky formula a few years back of a commercial made memorable by a tear-jerking story, loosely related to Christmas, accompanied by a haunting song to make people head in their drives for their nearest store or website to buy all their Christmas gifts. The impact has lessened recently, however, as pretty much every other bank, supermarket and insurance company has aped the format with arty slow motion films, soundtracked by a stripped back acoustic version of an 80s hit to emotionally attach you to their product.
The tv ad break is a real feeding frenzy at Christmas and it is particularly interesting this year, as there has been a tangible shift in how we do all our shopping with high street stores all reporting torrid times. The department store, the bastion of Christmas shopping, has been hit particularly hard with House of Fraser, Debenhams, BHS, Littlewoods and Woolworths having sunk or are sinking in the face of internet shopping. More worryingly, I spotted a brand new trend last weekend (reclined on my sofa, spilling Chinese on the carpet watching X Factor) when a commercial ended with the instruction of asking Alexa to send me a sample. I did so and within a couple of days, the most disgusting variant of a well-known cola drink arrived on my doorstep. So now, even if it is far too much effort to get off your backside and go to the computer, or pick up your laptop, tablet or phone to do your shopping, all you do is shout at your smart speaker and it is done. Amazing!
However, to me, part of the what makes Christmas (along with wearing gaudy knitwear, Santa hats, drinking in heaving pubs, office parties, nativity plays, carol services, Brussels sprouts, turkey and being nice to the mother-in-law) is fighting your way through the crowds in the days leading up to December 25th, stressing about the gifts you can’t decide on or the ones you can’t find. How much to spend, without appearing too tight or too obsessive. Getting home pleased that you remembered to buy wrapping paper, only having to dash out to every petrol station in the area late on Christmas Eve because you forgot the sellotape.
And here’s the Woolies Christmas ad from 1978, for your viewing pleasure:
* I’ve just remembered my favourite story about Christmas shopping. Legend has it that some high ranking marketing executives from one of Tokyo’s biggest retailers had cottoned on to just how important Christmas was to annual earnings to shops in the West, so decided to introduce the tradition of Christianity’s biggest event to the Japanese shopping public. At much expense, in the flagship store in downtown Tokyo, a huge display was constructed in the ground floor as the shopping public entered the store ready to dispense with their hard-earned Yen. Sadly, it all backfired, as, upon arrival, they were greeted by a thirty foot high giant Santa Claus….nailed to a cross.