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When I was in ad school our mentor John Gillard would - quite literally - tear our work apart. If we had made a print ad or a poster that required even a nanosecond of explanation he would crumple it up and toss it in the bin. "You won't be able to stand next to every billboard explaining the ad!" he'd say, drilling that mantra into us.
Seeing that John Lewis just took to social media to explain their ad, reminded me of that.
"At John Lewis, we believe in children having fun and that's why we chose this playful storyline for our latest advert." they say, "It's designed to show the young actor getting carried away with his dramatic performance. He is not willfully damaging his home and is unaware of the unintentional consequences of his actions"
Many of you have contacted us regarding the thinking behind our latest Home Insurance advert. Please find our response below: pic.twitter.com/lbTqFTSry2
— John Lewis & Partners (@JohnLewisRetail) October 14, 2021
The thing is, the advert itself should have communicated that. Because that's not at all what it looks like. Let's take another look at the ad, shall we?
Chucking an umbrella into the bookshelf targeting a vase is "accidental", using both hands to tip his sister's paint on the floor is "getting carried away", chucking glitter all over the dining table is "unintentional consequences", and tearing up a down pillow just to be able to dramatically toss feathers about is "dramatic performance", I suppose. He looks directly at his baby sister, who is sitting at a table painting before he spoils her fun by chucking her paints on the floor.
The entire mood is miles away from the "Tiny dancer" advert John Lewis released in 2015. The girl was caught up in her own performance as well, and she was so passionate she almost took down a vase, uprooted a plant, and a flurry of books fell off their shelves as she twirled by. The boy on the other hand looks destructive creating malicious mischief, while the girl seems to be in her own little ballerina world, just barely avoiding disaster. What a difference a director makes.
The John Lewis advert has hit a nerve so raw, that people truly either love it or hate it. It's the marmite of adverts.
The Spectator wrote:
Where are the parents? The docile mother sits drinking tea at the table with her mouth open. Has she mistakenly added sedatives to her morning cuppa? The strongest glue on the planet would not have secured my body to that chair if one of my children were behaving so badly. And, though I am sure John Lewis’s liability terms are generous, I really doubt their claims handlers would accept ‘well I watched Thomas wreck my entire house and did nothing to stop them’.
The trouble isn’t just the ‘trans lobby’. It’s that we have become frightened of our children, frightened to upset them, frightened to exert our authority and frightened to say no. Schools and parents prefer traffic light systems and constant rewards to being the adults in the room. Without the traditional training ground of childhood – when an infant’s wishes are not always granted – how on earth do we expect children to become useful members of society as adults?
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the media spectrum, Pinknews wrote: "Bigots fuming about John Lewis’ joyful advert have spectacularly shown themselves up"
On twitter, people are making memes to mock, or cheer, the advert as we speak, and ad-twitter are hotly debating whether the ad is great or terrible. So the advert has achieved success in getting noticed.
Btw the second part of the John Lewis advert is on Amazon prime video now pic.twitter.com/UhgQatF7XU
— Duncan (@duncanm) October 13, 2021
I see this continues to go well.
Just off home to cover the rug in paint and then demand my insurance cover it. https://t.co/d1iRUGxnJS
— Ellie Cumbo (@EllieCumbo) October 14, 2021
Ok. I’m excited for the car insurance ads where someone tries to run over a family member while drunk and then it’s implied it’s covered by insurance. Making great ads is hard. Making nearly great ones is very easy. Showing folk defrauding your company is a pitfall best avoided
— Tom Goodwin (@tomfgoodwin) October 14, 2021
Just remember what Gillard taught us, any advertising that requires a separate statement about the 'thinking behind' it is a failure. You can't stand next to each viewer of the ad and explain the boy is just "caught up" in his act. If people see a brat acting a fool with underlying sexism as he spoils his sister's fun and mom seems to be on valium not telling him to stop, then that is what they see. "Boys will be boys", but with a dress, spilled nail polish, and makeup.