John Lewis has been much in the news recently, reporting a huge 99% dip in profits and confirming 1838 redundancies across the partnership. Hot on the heels of these shocks, a new television ad has been launched to a decidedly mixed reaction. Whilst it’s garnered an average number of positive comments on social media, The Guardian columnist, Jack Bernhardt delivered a scathing polemic on the commercial last week calling it trite and nonsensical. In the Evening Standard, advertising guru Trevor Beattie described the whole John Lewis genre of ads as ‘just comfortable’ and ‘not frightening the horses’.
Apart from the obvious shortcomings of a butchered classic song and the cheesy, faux-tearjerking reactions of the parents (these being the major tropes of every John Lewis ad) I was most impressed by the achievement of the school props department which managed to construct models worthy of an early Star Wars film. I seem to remember a few papier-mâché trees was about the limit when I was at school.
More seriously though, one wonders if this kind of cloyingly cuddly approach will cut the mustard in the current economic climate. The sad fact is that finding cheaper prices on line usually trumps any vague feelgood factor a store may have – especially as the ‘never knowingly undersold’ claim only applies to the exact specific product model and is probably unsustainable in the future given the company’s recent profit dip. Until the likes of Amazon pay fair business rates based on sales not property, it remains extremely hard for the high street to compete, but one area in which John Lewis can still win the battle is in customer service, especially after sales. Unfortunately in this area they have been seen to decline in recent times, with complaints about failed or cancelled deliveries and quibbles over guarantees.
Perhaps a real effort to win back that ground and a more strategic, less bland advertisement that really rammed home the point might be more effective.