John Lewis paid £7m for its Christmas advert The Bear & the Hare, and a lot more for the lucrative TV slots that go with it.
But rival department store Liberty is hoping that by allowing Channel 4 to film a warts-and-all observational documentary it can get unprecedented advertising in the crucial Christmas period – and beat the John Lewis cartoon animals hands down.
The store’s Managing Director Ed Burstell told RadioTimes.com that the three-part documentary, which has the working title Making Liberty and starts broadcasting on December 2, will provide unprecedented profile-raising for the store.
The “free” marketing is “almost priceless” the New Yorker said, adding: “It presents an unbelievable opportunity to reach people at a particular time of year.”
Burstell admitted that he was nervous about letting the cameras in but said he hopes the series will paint the 130-year-old store – which was operating at a loss when he joined five years ago, but is now in profit – as a “successful modern business”.
However, he admits that some of the material will focus on the colourful characters he laughingly referred to at one point as his occasionally “dysfunctional family”, who operate the department store.
Among those featured are the longest serving member of staff, Shukla, who is now 70 and has worked at Liberty for 40 years, as well as scores of others operating within its wood-panelled walls.
The show also features the contributions from many of the store’s celebrity fans, including Alexa Chung, Richard E Grant, publisher Felix Dennis and shoe designer Manolo Blahnik.
Channel 4 has high hopes for the documentary, which bears noticeable similarities to BBC2’s awards-nominated series Inside Claridge’s, but a source played down the programme’s role in marketing the store, insisting that “Channel 4 had full editorial control of what goes out”.