The John Lewis 2019 ad doesn’t work – here’s why

It’s John Lewis Christmas ad time. That means a heart-string-tugging story, a jingly-jangly version of a classic song, and a lovely new character, right?

Yup.

One problem – the ad just doesn’t work.

From both a branding and a narrative perspective, it doesn’t make any sense. Here’s why.

The story

OK, when we start off we’re introduced to our hero, Edgar the dragon. This is his story. 

He goes around getting into problems because of his fire breathing, when he really just wants to feel like he’s a part of the celebrations.

Aww.

But, then he ruins things and runs off. So we start following just Ana. 

So it’s actually her story?

She sees a Christmas pudding cooking and has an idea. She summons up her dragon buddy, takes him to the big party, and gets him to light the pudding. Finally a use for that fire. Aww.

Only… that hasn’t fixed the issue. It’s not even masked it.

The problem

Edgar still can’t control his flame.

He can’t stay at the party, we just don’t see the part where he’s escorted out or burns everything down again. Stopping us seeing the next part doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist – in the narrative that’s been built that’s the only logical outcome.

What’s the moral here? That people should be wheeled out when they’re useful to the wider group, then sent away again? That a broken watch is still right twice a day?

The fundamental issue isn’t resolved.

The alternative

Instead there could have been a resolution – something that solved the core problem.

Imagine if instead of lighting a pudding, he became the town baker?

Everyone comes to visit him, to sample the delicious treats he’s making. He greets them into his kitchen, which is built around him. It turns what was a problem into a wonderful skill, something to be celebrated.

He keeps the fires going, the bread rising, the cookies crisping (and, yes, the puddings burning).

He doesn’t even need to be good at it. He’s found something he loves that he can share with everyone he loves. He gets to be part of Christmas, rather than a risk to it.

He’s changed, and happier for the journey.

THAT’s an arc.

The opportunity

John Lewis could have sold tins of Edgar cookies. They could have sold an Edgar baking book, dragon-shaped cookie cutters, a whole host of tie-in goods to tap into the story.

They would have created magical Christmas moments people could share. After all, you don’t need to be a great baker, just trying is enough to bring joy to people. Get the kids together and make cakes and cookies – it’s the moment that matters, the intention, not the end result.

Oh, and need baking supplies? We know somewhere you can buy them…

The whole thing could have worked. It could have been a compelling story. A big campaign. But instead we get the first act of a three-act play, that has nothing to do with anything.

Still, at least there’s the jangly song cover, eh?