Marketer of the Week
Meet The Marketer Behind The John Lewis Christmas Ad
As the woman behind the nation's biggest ad moment, Rosie Hanley is stepping into the glare of the Christmas spotlight
09 November 2023
The highly anticipated John Lewis and Saatchi & Saatchi Christmas ad has now been released unto the world. …and one woman at least will be feeling very relieved to have shepherded the work safely and successfully through a delicate change of agency and a new strategic approach.
Rosie Hanley, John Lewis & Partners' marketing director, is the woman in charge and it's fair to say this is probably the biggest moment of her career so far.
It's been quite a year leading up to today's big reveal. John Lewis surprised the industry and dominated marketing and national press headlines in February when it was announced that adam&eveDDB - who had worked with the company for over 14 brilliantly successful, award-winning and creative high bar-setting years - was walking away from The John Lewis Partnership (JLP) after the retailer had called for a creative review. It was a bold move to say the least, for both client and agency.
Months later, in May, JLP appointed Saatchi & Saatchi as its new creative marketing partner for both John Lewis and Waitrose. Hanley revealed that she'd been looking for an agency that would care about and understand the make-up of John Lewis as much as the staff and co-owners do. She also said she was taken aback by Saatchi & Saatchi’s approach to inclusion and the agency’s comprehension of ‘modern Britain’.
"We are a retailer with a lot of legacy, we have been around for well over 100 years – that comes with a responsibility to retain what is good around the brand,” Hanley said in a recent interview with Campaign. “All of the things on co-ownership, the service we offer, the fact we are connected with quality but we know we need to modernise and we need to continue evolving to meet modern customer needs so Saatchis showed a great understanding of this."
Oh, and if you thought for one moment that changing agencies and stamping her mark on the nation's biggest ad moment of the year is some sort of ego trip for Hanley, well you've read that very wrong. Hanley is not that kind of marketer. Against the backdrop of challenge and change in the JLP boardroom, Hanley's maintained a clear-eyed focus on her customers and the struggles of our times.
She's also a champion - if not a seasoned arbiter - of creativity and is well aware of both the responsibility she holds to deliver the creative standards we've come to expect from her brand and the power that creativity can have to spread a little joy. But - mindful of those boardroom challenges - she's also very clear about how crucial this Christmas is to delivering sales growth for the business. This is not an exercise in creative one-upmanship, whatever the Christmas ad polls and rankings would have us believe. This is a razor sharp commercial imperative for the former head of brand marketing at eBay, who joined John Lewis in 2021.
Not surprisingly, then, for months the advertising industry and the public alike have been speculating about what angle the John Lewis Christmas campaign would take. Would it follow in the successful footsteps of the adam&eveDDB format that came to define the heart-warming festive ad? Or would it take a completely different route altogether?
Unveiling the new campaign Hanley sat down with Saatchi & Saatchi chief creative officer, Franki Goodwin, to talk us through the new strategy and their shared ambitions.
How did it feel to have the pressure of the John Lewis Christmas advertising heritage?
Franki Goodwin: Pressure is a massive privilege and with the pressure of the weight of the biggest ad of the year also comes people like Andrea Bocelli saying yes they want to work with you. So I think it's a balance. Yes it’s a pressure but I've embraced it. And the good stuff is working with these guys to integrate the whole campaign and affect everything from the typography in the stores, to the windows to the Kew Gardens activation with a sculpture outside the carnivorous plant conservatory. So just every detail, it's been a huge privilege to deliver.
The previous brief was around thoughtful gifting. What was the strategic brief this year?
Rosie Hanley: The brief has moved on. The positioning is traditions. And that's why we've invested so much in working with YouGov and looking at our own data to make sure that we have got proper research that looked at the nation's traditions and how your traditions evolve. And so really, it's about as people change and grow, traditions change and grow with you. And John Lewis as a modern retailer wants to change and grow what we offer our customers.
As part of [the agency] selection process, Saatchis brought us the new strategic position, and that's one of the reasons why we loved their pitch response. And I think it's no secret that the Christmas campaign was the brief for the pitch. And the thing we loved about traditions from that first response was that traditions allow us all to have common ground. So in a relatively divided country, or indeed across generations, traditions bring people together. So it felt like a really rich territory to be able to give John Lewis a role there.
What did your research tell you people were looking for from your Christmas ad this year?
Hanley: A lot of people tell us they see the John Lewis ad as the kick-off to the Christmas season. And it's almost like Christmas hasn't started until you see the ad. Of course we've got all the insight into how difficult things are for customers with the cost of living crisis, threat of war, the environment. We're very, very aware of that macro context. But ultimately we are here to offer a bit of entertainment and there is also a need to kind of reflect back the society in which we are all operating and living in. The thing we wanted to do this year was we were definitely quite deliberate about bringing a bit more joy. So we have told an emotional story, there's a narrative arc, there's ups and downs. But it does end with something that feels quite uplifting and celebratory and inclusive. And so that's probably how we've reacted to the mood of the nation.
Did you feel like the Christmas campaign needed to be shaken up a bit?
Hanley: Two points on that. One is, we are so aware of the heritage and we're aware of how fortunate we are - no one really owns the John Lewis Christmas ad, we just look after it and nurture it for our time. So we're very aware of the heritage. And then honestly, every year, there is a need to push it on, because we benefit from the strength of the creativity. We are in this hugely fortunate position that the audience of customers seek out the content. And it means that we spend less on media than every other big competitor. So it's the strength of the creative that means that people look out for this content.
Was there any concern that moving away from thoughtful gifting will reduce some of the commercial effectiveness in terms of pushing products?
Hanley: The campaign is fully integrated. So there is a strand of gifting. Don't forget we're a multi category omni channel retailer. We've got so much to talk about. So gifting gifting does come through strongly, but we felt that the traditions positioning just gives us more breadth.
Do you have any specific marketing goals for the campaign beyond the obvious?
Hanley: Obviously we've got a sales number that you're looking at on a daily basis, then there are all the normal brand metrics around driving sales, fame and buzz obviously for the day itself, then awareness metrics, and then what’s really pushed us on this year is connecting consideration through to the conversion. So more than ever, this campaign isn't just a nice brand asset. Every single product almost is from John Lewis, the fashion, the sofa, everything and a hub of all that product goes live with the rest of the campaign. We know we benefit from high awareness, especially at Christmas, but we need to make sure that that awareness converts and customers come to shop for whatever tradition or whatever moment they have.
It's also worth saying that the Waitrose ad was the same – all the clothes and products in it were from John Lewis.