The U.K. holiday season, already aglow with festive ads, today welcomed John Lewis's highly anticipated yuletide entry. Scant hours after its premiere, "The Beginner," a 90-second film from agency adam&eveDDB, is generating considerable attention. That buzz is decidedly mixed.
While commentators applaud Lewis's bid to raise awareness of children in foster care, and the keen storytelling on display, some bemoan the song choice—a slowed-down (kind of dirge-y) version of Blink 182's "All the Small Things." One scrooge went so far as to proclaim the commercial "the most unapologetically depressing thing in human history," while tempering such humbug by noting, "It's actually a lovely little advert, albeit one told in a very un-John Lewis way." The BBC notes that the spot slots into a pattern of earnest, "toned-down" year-enders for 2022, including efforts from Tesco and Lidl.
In our estimation, "The Beginner," while eschewing the bells and whistles of past Lewis fare, presents a charming tale that succeeds on its own merits. We meet a middle-aged man who appears oddly obsessed by skateboarding, and, from the early frames, we suspect there's a big reveal in the making. While it's ultimately not a stunner, there'a a sweetness to the scenario that can't be denied.
Dude spent hours learning how to handle a board, even breaking his wrist in the process. Now, he can skate beside his new foster daughter in the park. If that's too syrupy for some grinches, well, they can stuff themselves up a chimney!
As for the soundtrack by Mike Geier ... true, it's kind of a downer, but emotionally resonant all the same. Plus, the cast's naturalistic performances shine, as does the ad's overall realistic and (mostly) unsentimental vibe. Kudos to the brand for tackling such important subject matter, reminding us that all loving families deserve recognition, celebration and, if need be, a helping hand.
"We are fortunate to have a truly unique platform in our Christmas ad, which sparks a national conversation," Claire Pointon, director of customer at John Lewis, says in campaign materials. "For our biggest moment of the year, we decided to focus on one kind of family that is often overlooked. We are also very aware that not all care-experience outcomes are as positive as Ellie's [the girl in the ad]. The home Ellie enters is filled with kindness, and the foster father's actions demonstrate that ultimately, it's what you do that matters most."
Past John Lewis Christmas ads of note—and there are many—include the enduring classic "Monty the Penguin," a retelling of Elton John's life story, animated journeys with a tiny dragon and other assorted critters, and last year's intergalactic rumination on kindness.
To some extent, "The Beginning" breaks the glitzy mold, forgoing splashy SFX and star power for an almost documentary-style approach. This suits the storyline, however, and may even subvert viewer expectation to help drive home a timely meditation for this and all seasons.
"Turbulent times worsen social inequalities, and Christmas is a time when this can be most keenly felt," says Pippa Wicks, the brand's executive director. "It's more important than ever for our business to stand up and use our voice to make a difference where we can. Our Christmas campaign is an important step in our long-term plans to become the employer of choice for young people leaving the care system, and to provide lasting change and hope."
Indeed, the retailer's Building Happier Futures program supports care-sector initiatives to help young people find employment through apprenticeships. John Lewis will also donate food, decorations and gifts to kids and caregivers through the Christmas season and invites customers to support these aims by purchasing select products—such as Lewis Bear plush toys, P.J.s and tote bags—with a percentage of sales benefitting charities Action for Children and Who Cares? Scotland.
For lighter takes on the holidays from U.K. marketers, check out Buddy the Elf's ad debut from Asda and Sainsbury's medieval romp (they've got your dragon!)
JOHN LEWIS, "The Beginner"
First Air Date: 10th November 2022
Customer Director: Claire Pointon
Head of Brand & Marketing: Rosie Hanley
Advertising Lead: Emma Wood
Senior Advertising Manager: Holly Kicul
Chief Creative Officer: Richard Brim
Creatives: Edward Usher, Xander Hart, Richard McGrann, Andy Clough
Creative Directors: Matt Gay, Feargal Ballance
Agency producer: Sally Pritchett
Assistant producer: Charlotte Ellison
CSO: Martin Beverley
Planning Partner: Hugh De Winton
Senior planner: Sian Iles
Project Manager/s: Alice Southam, Ian Hughes
Social Director: Phoebe Wright
Social Manager: Osob Yusuf
CEO: Tammy Einav
Managing Partner: Sarah Coleman
Business Director/s: Betsy Bluer
Account Director/s: Cicely Milsom
Account Manager/s: Carrie Pollock
Business Affairs: Jamie Hirst
Design: King Henry
Designer: Dave Robinson
Social Production: Cain & Abel
Producer: Richard Bailey
Head of motion graphics: Ed Christie
Motion designer: Curtis Reeves
Media agency: Manning Gottlieb
Executive Director: Geraldine Ridgeway
Business Director: Melanie Dixon
Account Director: Callum Newbury
Production Company - Biscuit Filmworks UK
Executive Producer - Rupert Reynolds-Maclean
Executive Producer - Sam Chitty
Producer - Lee Groombridge
Production Manager - Davina Abrahams
DOP - Daniel Landin
Production Designer - Jon Henson
Costume - Lucy Hagan
Editing Company: Work Editorial
Editors: Rich Orrick & Art Jones
Edit Assistant: Miles Watson
Producer: Charlie Dalton
VFX Producer David Keegan
VFX Supervisor: Ludo Fealy
VFX Shoot Supervisor: Rod Norman
VFX Artists: Jamie Stitson, Adam McHale, Alejandro Marzo, Yanru Yin, Tijan Holder, Emily Govinden, Matt Hutchins
Data Operator and 2D Artist: George Rankin
Digital Matte Painting: Benita Winckler
Colour Grading Company: Time Based Arts
Colourist: Simone Grattarola
Executive Colour Producer: Dan Kreeger
Production Assistant: Angie Broomfield
Colour Assistants: Max Ferguson-Hook, Sharon Talbott
Music Supervisor: Toby Williams @ Leland Music
Audio Post-Production: Factory Studios
Sound Design and Mix: Anthony Moore & Jack Hallett
Audio Producer: Ciara Wakley