Christmas is officially here – and this year it’s in the form of a CGI penguin who makes friends with a small child.
Every November, John Lewis unveils its advert for us to behold with a flourish of fanfare, as if it were baby Jesus himself. And the nation loves it. Last year’s campaign The Bear and the Hare – a two-minute, tear-jerking tale of friendship – received well over 13 million hits on YouTube and was the most-discussed advert of the year. It even had its own lavish screening launch in London.
But given that we pride ourselves on being cynical, unsentimental Brits who scoff at all emotion, why do we squeal with joy at the arrival of this nostalgic, sentimental schmaltz? And why do we fawn over a corporate marketing tool trying to sell us things? At the end of this year’s festive advert, the living, breathing penguin turns into a soft toy, which the child is thrilled to get for Christmas. That cuddly toy is – surprise – available at John Lewis stores.
The thing is, however much we know that it’s a capitalist ploy, only the soulless could feel nothing when the penguin goes sledging with the small, very cute, child, then pines away because it doesn’t have a penguin mate to hold flippers with, and is then finally united with said mate (albeit via mum and dad’s trip to John Lewis). And I don’t believe anyone who says they didn’t feel weepy when watching last year’s animal friendship blossom over the festive season either.
We love these adverts because they give us the magical Christmas feeling we don’t always get on 25th December (let alone 6th November). In reality, the festive season can feel a bit flat. Stressed parents shoving turkeys into too-small ovens, heightened familial tensions, last-minute shopping and no snow whatsoever. It’s through fiction that we live our magical Christmases and, like the best yuletide films, festive campaigns make us feel for two minutes that we’re excited, uncritical children again.
So even if the John Lewis advert is sickly and shamelessly sentimental, I’ll keep watching it a million times a day in the run-up to Christmas – disgruntled, scornful and blissfully happy.