Why the John Lewis ad is a social and economic sustainability Christmas gift

Why the John Lewis ad is a social and economic sustainability Christmas gift

Measure, don’t market, for two years unless you have demonstrable results. This is precisely what John Lewis did with The Beginner.


Christmas ad season kicked off in November, but I flipped to Christmas in December. It’s a tradition I have, like the one the industry has grown accustomed to when it comes to seeing what the John Lewis ad will be each year. This year John Lewis & Partners, along with its ad agency adam&eveDDB, understood the assignment with the The Beginner.

The Beginner is about a family comprising a man and a woman preparing for Christmas. As the ad progresses, we see the man learning to skateboard with a cover of Blink 182’s All the Small Things providing the soundtrack in the background. He eventually gets there through bumps and bruises day in and out; towards the end of the ad, the doorbell rings. A young girl with a skateboard is met at the door with a guardian. The man brings her in, commenting on her skateboard. The ad ends with a fact about how many young people are in care and the long-term commitment John Lewis will make to young people’s futures.

The Beginner went viral. Currently, it has 3.8 million views on Youtube, with millions of shares across social media. Press releases and articles are commending John Lewis and adam&eveDDB on the creativity and the issue of care as the focus of the ad.

Bue an important question to ask is, why does John Lewis care? This is not an obtuse question but one of curiosity; of all the topics and themes John Lewis could have focussed on, why care about this?

John Lewis understands that social and economic sustainability are equally important to the environment. Therefore, they identified what is material to their company and stakeholders and produced a campaign in partnership that can be measured. The brand and its agency are including aspects of the blueprint I outlined in my article, Sustainability is a focus for 2023, now what?

Families are important to John Lewis

In The story behind the John Lewis Christmas Ad 2022, advertising lead Emma Wood and director of customer Claire Pointon give us insight into the materiality assessment that must have been conducted for the brand.

Wood states, “it was an opportunity for us to start talking about what we care about.”

Pointon follows up with, “it’s a very different story than what we have done before, and that was deliberate.”

Later in the video, Pointon states, “John Lewis cares about families.”

Companies aren’t going to publish a materiality assessment; however, their focus and investment will always let us know what is material.

Reportedly, the brief for the Christmas ad started 18 months ago, so it is a logical conclusion that as adam&eveDDB started ideating and storyboarding what the ad would eventually become, John Lewis was refining their definition of family to include care. Both the agency’s creativity and John Lewis’ assessment would be the start of the campaign for the Happier Futures initiative. The Beginning Christmas Ad was the kick-off.

Happier Futures is the initiative

The Beginning Christmas Ad is the focus, and the Happier Futures is the initiative. Happier Futures is John Lewis’ social and economic sustainability initiative with three objectives:

  1. To build happier futures which aims to help young people with scholarships and apprenticeships.
  2. To take the next steps to help young people from education to work.
  3. To speak up for change, asks those in power for fairer policies for young people in care communities.

For Happier Futures to be credible and sustainable, John Lewis has identified some partners, including Action for children and Who Cares? Scotland, which are care experts and can provide the local support needed to the core demographic of the initiative. The approach to identifying stakeholders and engaging with them is the second step recommended as a best practice when starting a sustainability initiative. Imran Hussain, director of policy for Action for Children, is featured in the story behind the Christmas Ad 2022 video.

He states, “the relationship with John Lewis is about changing lives and changing minds; we have not had this kind of exposure before.” The exposure that adamandeveDDB provides through its innovative storytelling enables key stakeholders to be engaged while focusing the audience on the message.

John Lewis launched an ad; they are not marketing their initiative

Measure, don’t market, for two years unless you have demonstrable results is always my recommendation. This is precisely what John Lewis and adam&eveDDB did with The Beginner. In the ad’s description, viewers can learn more about the Happier Futures programme. At the end of the ad, the audience sees a fact about care, John Lewis’s long-term commitment and their partners, as mentioned earlier. That is it. Leaving the ad there allows the Happier Futures brand to be established and gives John Lewis and Partners time to clarify how impact and progress will be measured across their stated objectives.

John Lewis daring to be different, coupled with adam&eveDDB’s ingenuity, has created a compelling piece of work and a Christmas gift that will keep on giving for all the young people who need support, especially during the times we find ourselves. That is impact.

Sabrina Clarke is managing partner of Build Global, a boutique strategy consultancy. She specialises in consultancy around strategy, transformation and sustainability.

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