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JOHN LEWIS The power of emotions SNAPSHOT
John Lewis has built on its acutely-observed marketing strategy emphasising deep human truths to become a modern retailing legend. AGENCIES
adam&eveDDB, Manning Gottlieb OMD KEY INSIGHTS
• In the midst of the economic downturn in 2009 retailer John Lewis realised that difficult times called for a radical rethink of its marketing strategy to compete as a mid-to-premium retailer. • The result, an approach which centred on encouraging a much deeper emotional engagement between the brand and consumers, transformed the brand from one which was not only respected but to one which was loved, with sales from all departments reflecting its renewed fortunes. • The multi-platform Christmas 2013 campaign was the culmination of this determination to engage with audiences across channels and achieved almost £9 profit for every £1 spent. SUMMARY
It might be hard to recall, but in 2009 one of the UK’s most-loved retailers was facing a challenging future. Like all its fellow retailers, John Lewis recognised the impending difficulties of the economic downturn, and as a mid-to-premium retailer this had the potential to be particularly acute. But there was more to it than this. John Lewis was trusted on many levels, but it wasn’t loved. Research showed that this led to a low frequency of purchase and lower share of customer spend, as shoppers visited mainly for rational reasons, seeking products that they really needed to buy.
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John Lewis decided to take a much more emotional communications approach to target people’s hearts as well as their heads, and remind them there was so much at John Lewis to inspire and excite them. The first campaign was unveiled in Christmas 2009 and tapped into a new customer insight and product truth: John Lewis is the home of more thoughtful gifting because it has more products than any other department store and customers who are proud of the thought they put into selecting them as gifts. This insight has formed the basis of all Christmas marketing activity for John Lewis ever since, including the 2013 ‘Bear & Hare’ campaign. The power of emotional appeal was also applied to the retailer’s underlying ethos of being ‘Never knowingly undersold’ and supported with such iconic campaigns as ‘Always a Woman’ that had the nation in tears. This case study combines the winning entries from 2013 and 2014, and tells the story of a period when John Lewis recaptured its shoppers hearts and created marketing that has gone on to be a cultural phenomenon.
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Figure 1. Sales growth (like-for-like) among UK non-food retailers vs. John Lewis prior to mid-2009
TRUSTED BUT NOT LOVED
By 2014 the UK retailer John Lewis was one of the most talked-about and admired advertisers in the UK. But, just a few years previously the retailer, like many of its high street counterparts, was suffering. For the previous 18 months prior to spring 2009, like-for-like sales had been negative and often more so than the British Retail Consortium’s average (Figure 1).
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The problem was that John Lewis as a brand faced a fundamental difficulty. Loyalty to department stores in general is driven most strongly by emotional affinity and perceived popularity, with rational affinity in third place and perceived price in fourth. However, tracking showed that John Lewis, while doing much better than expected in measures of rational affinity, given the size of the brand and compared to its competition, fared less well when it came to emotional dimensions and significantly worse than expected on perceived popularity and value. This underlined the challenge the retailer faced: it was trusted, but not loved. This was affecting performance, with John Lewis suffering from low frequency of purchase and consequently low share of wallet among its key target customers. A new communications approach, with a more emotional appeal, to be developed with adam&eveDDB, was needed to achieve two objectives: • The primary one was to encourage existing shoppers to visit and spend a little more. • The secondary aim was to attract new shoppers. CAPTURING THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT
The first test of the new strategy would be Christmas 2009. The Christmas period is hugely important to John Lewis, since it accounts for around 40% of sales and 20% of profits. And a successful Christmas sets the business up well for the coming year, giving it great momentum and confidence. Rather than follow the usual seasonal advertising route of celebrities and sparkle, John Lewis chose to position itself as the
Figure 2. ‘Remember the feeling’ TV ad
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home of a more thoughtful approach to gifts by celebrating those who put a lot of care into what they choose for others. The resulting commercial, ‘Remember the feeling’, showed children unwrapping adult gifts with childish delight. It used a well-known track re-recorded by a contemporary artist, which was a model followed by all subsequent commercials (Figure 2). The next three years built on this highly-emotional mood: • The Christmas 2010 campaign was spearheaded by the TV ad ‘For those who care’. • ‘The long wait’ was created for Christmas 2011 and featured a young boy waiting to give a gift to his parents (and which reputedly caused a few parental tears to shed). • In 2012 the snowman famously went on his’ journey’ accompanied by the plaintive tones of Gabrielle Aplin singing a new version of The Power of Love. These campaigns all helped deliver market-leading commercial performance, and achieved a place in popular culture. They made the song charts in the top ten and even hit number 1, they generated millions of YouTube hits, won numerous polls as the UK’s favourite ads, and, in the case of ‘The long wait’, became an official subject on the primary schools’ teaching curriculum. But by Christmas 2013 the ambition was even bigger: to create the most integrated marketing campaign in its history by exploiting a broad multi-channel approach, including physical stores, online, mobile and the hybrid ‘click and collect’. THE BEAR AND HARE
The creative platform for the 2013 marketing campaign once again leveraged that truth of ‘thoughtful gifting’: give someone a Christmas they’ll never forget. It focused on the creative idea of the joy of experiencing Christmas for the first time, seen through the eyes of someone who had always missed out: a hibernating bear. The result, the story of ‘the bear and the hare’, was a captivating woodland tale of friendship between two animated characters (Figure 3). The bear always missed the fun and joy of Christmas because he hibernated through the winter. But this year his friend was determined to find a gift that would help him be part of the festivities: the gift of Christmas itself.
Figure 3. The ‘Bear and Hare’ ad
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The TV ad was created using an advanced animation technique which blended three-dimensional sets with two-dimensional character drawings by Disney legend Aaron Blaise, the director of Brother Bear, who had also worked on The Lion King and Pocahontas. It resulted in two minutes of beautifully-crafted animation which became the focal point of a comprehensive brand strategy which encompassed a wide range of platforms.
Figure 4. Carrier bags
• In the stores. The ‘Bear and Hare’ campaign theme was on every carrier bag (Figure 4). The characters themselves came to life in store with an interactive bear’s cave which allowed children to hear the narrated version of the story and play interactive games. It also included a Brighton Pier-inspired woodland setting where children and adults could have their photo taken with woodland creatures. • In the shop window. Each branch featured a bespoke ‘Bear and Hare’ window giving directions to the bear cave (Figure 5). • Merchandise. A significant range of merchandise was sourced and sold in stores and online. This is the first time John Lewis has created such a range to activate a marketing campaign. It included alarm clocks, soft toys, hardback story books, pyjamas and onesies in all sizes. It had a 97% sell-through rate, with most of the range selling out within 10 days of campaign launch. • Online. A bespoke app was created. The story of two friends was narrated by Lauren Laverne, with games and learning activities embedded in it. Over 300,000 downloads followed, while it topped Apple’s leisure app chart. In addition, an online Christmas card-maker was developed which enabled customers to blend
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Figure 5. Shop windows
themselves in with the woodland creatures to make cards for family and friends. Over 12,000 were created. • Social media. Bespoke Twitter @handles were developed for the campaign’s main characters. It resulted in 168 million impressions of #bearandhare and #sleepingbear in the opening weekend from 26,000 tweets. Through Twitter and social listening the retailer rewarded members of the public who had invoked the spirit of the story by going the extra mile with a framed limited edition print from the animation. Meanwhile, the Shazam music recognition app was taken over to reach all the people searching for the campaign music and it became the most ‘Shazam’d’ad of 2013. Finally, a major competition – Reworked – ran on YouTube, inviting people to record their own version of the song. The winner, a busker from Liverpool, was rewarded by having his version, chosen by the song’s original singer Keane, played in the Christmas Day ad. • Corporate social responsibility (CSR). ‘Bringing Skills to Life’ is a free online primary school education programme created by John Lewis. ‘Bear and Hare’ activity cards were available to download for all three key primary age groups.
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• Schools could then upload their pupils’ work to an online gallery. Over 3,000 teachers visited that section of the site, with over 1,000 downloads of activity cards. THINKING RADICALLY ABOUT MEDIA
The media plan for the ‘Bear and Hare’ campaign departed from the previous campaigns, which had positioned TV as the centrepiece of the plan. Now TV would be just one aspect of a comprehensive three-phase strategy:
Figure 6. Teaser ads
1. Tease. Working with ITV, John Lewis ran 10-second teasers with a mysterious hashtag #sleeping bear (Figure 6). The teaser ‘ads’ also carried a call to action to tune in to that Saturday’s X Factor where all would be revealed. The teasers purposely de-branded and carried the station’s logo to give the impression that ITV was launching something big in the show. About 4,000 tweets produced eight million impressions of the unbranded campaign hashtag, with Twitter opinion split between this being something to do with either John Lewis or Coca Cola. At the same time, a special outdoor installation – a tree projection – was unveiled outside ITV’s studios on London’s South Bank. Unbranded, it encouraged people to tune in to the X Factor launch spot and also attracted tweets. 2. Launch. The ad was launched online first to allow customers and followers of John Lewis the chance to see it before it was broadcast nationally on TV. This generated further buzz, with 1.5 million people viewing it online before a single spot had aired on TV. Significantly, John Lewis had the first-ever takeover of a commercial break in the X Factor on the second Saturday in November, the show that is used by dozens of brands to launch their fight for most-loved Christmas TV ad.
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3. Engage. The focus now switched to extending the story. Highlights included: • 100% share of voice of Lily Allen’s cover version in the Shazam music recognition app, so that when people Shazam’d the ad track they would be prompted to download the e-book as well. • Ads in Apple and Android apps were run to promote the free e-book. • Cinema goers were treated to the full-length two-minute ad (it had only been shown once before in the launch premiere break). • Skippable ads were rolled out across video-on-demand to give viewers the option to watch the full-length ad rather than pushing it to them. A HUGE CULTURAL AND COMMERCIAL IMPACT
The online response to the 2013 Christmas marketing campaign was overwhelming. The ad trended globally on Twitter within two hours of airing, while it was the most shared video in the world in November. Across the Christmas period it received 12.2 million YouTube views. This is actually 50% more people than tuned into the BBC’s top-rated programme on Christmas Day, Dr Who, which averaged an 8.3 million audience. Other significant activity included: • An uplift in tweets of 21% compared to X Factor tweets when the ad broke on ITV. 4,000 tweets produced eight million impressions of the unbranded ‘sleepingbear’ hashtag. • 500 entries were received for the YouTube soundtrack cover competition. • 12,000 ‘Bear and Hare’ online Christmas cards were sent by customers to friends and family. • 300,000 ‘Bear and Hare’ story apps were downloaded onto smartphones and tablets. • 130,000 Shazams of Lily Allen’s cover version. Commercially, John Lewis was the clear winner across the key Christmas retail period in 2013. As well as out-performing its rivals and other big retailers, John Lewis also far outdid the overall retail average in like-for-like performance, as measured by the British Retail Consortium (BRC): 6.9% vs 0.4%. Working with econometricians at Marketshare the company estimated that the campaign drove £128.4 million in incremental revenue, representing a revenue return on investment of £25.68, with a 10% uplift in profit ROI compared to 2012.
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BUILDING ON THE BRAND PHILOSOPHY OF ‘NEVER KNOWINGLY UNDERSOLD’
This has been the retailer’s abiding ethos since introduced by founder John Spedan Lewis in 1925. While he had always meant it to be the very bedrock of the company’s culture, it had, over the years, become just a price promise. As the recession continued it was felt that the time was right to return to the broader meaning of ‘Never knowingly undersold’ and put it back at the heart of the brand and encompass quality and service as well as price. The new approach was encapsulated in 2010 with the commercial ‘Always a woman’ to demonstrate the constancy of John Lewis throughout key moments of a customer’s life. This was followed by the ‘Through the ages’ campaign in the autumn of 2011, which continued the focus on the passage of time and the emphasis on ‘Never knowingly undersold’, but this time with technology and music as the source of emotional appeal. Then, in 2012 came ‘The other half’ which reminded customers that the important things in life never change, including the brand promise.
John Lewis Marks & Spencer Sainsbury’s Tesco Morrisons Asda Debenhams Boots The Post Office 0
Figure 7. Newspaper coverage
BECOMING PART OF POPULAR CULTURE
All the John Lewis ads have been frequently discussed in the media, ensuring that a limited budget has gone much further than the actual recorded expenditure. For example, the Lily Allen soundtrack from Christmas 2013 went to number one for three weeks on the official UK charts, selling over 20,000 units, equating to a donation of more than £18,000 to the charity Save the Children. Every national newspaper covered the campaign, with over 200 articles in total (Figure 7). That included receiving the
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ultimate accolade: a spoof cover on the UK’s prime satirical magazine, Private Eye (Figure 8).
Figure 8. Private Eye
Previous years’ ads had also broken through into public consciousness. The ad ‘Always a woman’ was even the subject of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’ contribution as well as an exam topic for AS media studies, while ‘The long wait’ became an official subject for church sermons and school assemblies. Over 7,000 schools, encompassing over a million pupils, downloaded an assembly guide devoted to the ad. The music from those ads has also been an important part of the advertising’s entry into popular culture. The tracks have reached the charts and featured heavily in radio airplay. In 2012 the soundtrack for ‘The journey’ topped the official UK charts. The advertising value equivalent of this airplay and single downloads has been calculated to be worth over £15 million. This free coverage almost doubled the TV media investment. PERFORMANCE 2009-2012
Looking back over the whole period, the retailer’s decision to overhaul its communications strategy from 2009 onwards was transformative for the company’s fortunes. Penetration, frequency and the average spend per customer showed marked increases. For example, tracking among customers in catchment areas showed that the ads significantly boosted the percentages of people who agreed that the ads ‘made the brand more appealing’ and that they made them ‘more likely to shop at John Lewis’.
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This translated into the primary objective: encouraging existing shoppers to visit and spend more, and the secondary objective of increasing penetration. Even more significantly, the company returned to growth after a difficult 2008. Between 2009 and 2012, the communications delivered £261 million in incremental profit, meaning that for every £1 spent £5.02 returned to the business. An additional benefit has been the dramatic increase in the desirability of the brand to other suppliers, particularly those with premium brands, while further evidence of the increased commitment to John Lewis is the greater willingness of suppliers to contribute to funding the advertising. Finally, there has been the impact on employee satisfaction and happiness. The overall stated purpose of the John Lewis Partnership is “the happiness of all its members, through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business”. The communications have played a big role in fulfilling this objective, not only by giving them advertising they have enjoyed and felt proud of, but also by increasing the size of their annual bonuses.
All images appearing in this case study are reproduced by permission of John Lewis.