What emotions is John Lewis trying to tap into?

11/11/2016 By What emotions is John Lewis trying to tap into?


The reaction to the latest John Lewis Christmas Ad, #BustertheBoxer, has been somewhat mixed. The anti-fox lobby has already been out in force! Somehow it doesn’t seem to resonate as much as its predecessors.

Timing is everything: The Guardian highlighted the ‘hidden metaphor’ with Buster the Dog (Trump) barging the little girl who’d always wanted to bounce (Clinton) out of the way. A spoof video of this has already been produced.

The Daily Mail, reverting to type and sensing the possibility of a scare story, led with the line: Hundreds are complaining across social media about bovine tuberculosis, and foxes defecating across back gardens in parent backlash! 

Looking at the ad from a research perspective, we’ve been wondering what emotions, frames or stories the ad is looking to tap into.

This is a bit like trying to work out what the lyrics to ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ mean (which may either be very deep and meaningful or have been created with the aid of chemical substances) – but bear with us.

When we’re pre-tasking adverts using qualitative research we’re usually looking for three things:

  • Conceptual metaphors: is there some underlying message or story that resonates at an unconscious level?
  • Deep Metaphors: Concepts like control, connection or balance, which relate to the human experience at a deeper level.
  • Emotions: How does the advertising make people feel?

The dog, seeing his fellow creatures playing on the trampoline, clearly has designs on having a go himself – perhaps the thought is that this taps into the frame of window shopping / imagining what one might ask for or buy for oneself; a typical activity for us older folks – if only to ensure that we get something we actually want or need for Christmas!

One shared experience that many of us have had is when someone else gets their hands on the present we’ve been given for Christmas and immediately starts playing with it (my daughter immediately abandoned her new toys in favour of my ipad a few years ago).

Another (as a parent) is trying to assemble a larger present prior to the big day. From personal experience, assembling a trampoline in a few hours on Christmas Eve stretches credibility well beyond the bouncing foxes.

Is there a subliminal diversity message here with all the woodland creatures happily playing together? Whilst there are clearly two foxes who seem to know each other, it’s not clear whether they are both of the same gender (no Disney-style markers here) or indeed identify as neither.

Looking at the Deep Metaphors, the reason we feel the ad is somewhat less successful than previous iterations is the lack of connection. The story is told from the point of view of the dog. The dog appears almost separate from the family, with his own thoughts and aspirations. The family do not share his joy at the end; they are simply bemused and astonished.

If one were being critical, one might almost say that there was an undercurrent of envy running through the advert; the dog envying the animals and the little girl envying the dog.

Ending on a more positive note, our view is that the ad does evoke the sense of the magical and the wonderful. Whilst there are no overtly religious overtones in the advertising, isn’t this what Christmas is meant to be all about?