Let Me Get What I Want – A Case Study for Brand Advertising

At Oxford Road, we’ve written extensively about using Audiolytics™ to develop creative assets for performance marketers. This week, we talk about branding. Our resident expert and EVP of Insights and Client Strategy, Giles Martin, shares what he considers to be one of the best brand campaigns of all time from his home across the pond. We dare you to not get “the feels.”

John Lewis is a 155-year-old British high-street department store. If you’re not familiar with their commercial The Long Wait, we suggest you stop and click on the link before reading the rest of this article. Many American marketers may be unfamiliar with this campaign, but those with a more global outlook—especially from the UK—know it well. Why? It is one of the most successful commercials ever made. 

The John Lewis Christmas commercials, which have become national events, have generated hundreds of millions of pounds of incremental profit for John Lewis and its employees (who are shareholders) and have become the global gold standard for story-driven branding and advertising. When CFOs & CEOs are doubtful of the power of effective advertising and brand building, ask them what else they have in their pipeline to drive a 37% increase in gross sales over four years. This campaign also grew Christmas sales every single year (between 4.8% to 13%). In a time where similar retailers had minimal or negative growth, or closed altogether, John Lewis’ market share grew from 22.5% to nearly 30%.

Why is this commercial so successful? Let’s dig in…

First, its appeal is close to universal. The story of a child waiting anxiously for the big gifting day to arrive is the story of the vast majority of every adult (today’s purchasers) in the UK. Thus, almost nobody is excluded. After all, though this advertisement is about Christmas, most cultures and religions have a day of anticipatory gift-giving. So, the addressable mental market (the potential for the campaign) is at an absolute maximum. Subconsciously, almost everyone identifies with the protagonist—projecting themselves into the story—thus making the ad instantly relatable by the masses.

Second, it tells a story. Storytelling is a primal, potent, and ubiquitous element in human culture and a part of our neurological and psychological hardware. This particular commercial is powerful because it uses one of the most fundamental mechanisms of story to maximum effect: it sets and builds expectations, and then hits the viewer with a surprise twist at the end. This drives the drama, creates the emotional highs and lows and maximizes interest.

Third, the emotional component is key. The emotional factor is now being widely adopted by advertisers, who finally got their arms around the decades-long sales debate of ‘rational vs emotional.’ If you are looking to build a brand campaign and move people to action, triggering strong emotions in the receiver of your message is the most fundamental and effective way to do it. The word ‘emotion’ even has the word ‘motion’ in it. Capture the heart and the mind will follow. Without emotion, you won’t get much of a response. 

Fourth, the music is enormously powerful and well-chosen. The song,  “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” by iconic British band, The Smiths, is intentionally NOT the original. It’s a distinctly different cover version by a fairly obscure artist, Slow Moving Millie. The genius of this choice is that it satiates both the brain’s desire for familiarity and its desire for something new at the same time. The familiarity with the band, the song, and the wide appeal of a stripped-down piano version, support and buttress the previously mentioned universality. And of course, the lyrics and the song title play a key role in setting up expectations—further intensifying the story and the underlying emotions.

Fifth, the ad doesn’t use any words. This means it doesn’t activate the rational centers of the brain. It doesn’t draw people into the logical evaluation of the product or the brand. In fact, it allows the message of the advertiser to slip into the viewers’ subconscious information processing systems far more effectively. This is very much in line with Robert Heath’s impressive and plausible ‘new’ model of how advertising is processed. He claims that ads which bypass cognitive processing have the potential to be much more effective, and can even be so without consumers paying explicit attention to it (so much for the attention economy).

Finally, the branding is outstanding. For a marketer to get away without mentioning or showing their brand for 87 of 90 seconds takes nerves of steel. You need the confidence that your ad is going to draw people in and that they will pay attention. What they do so brilliantly here, which I first learned about from the exceptional Chuck Young, is wait for the absolute emotional high point of the creative and then stamp the brand on it at that point. Given the primacy of associations to mind function, the power of the brand association is then maximized and the memory encoding is the deepest. 

Note, finally—for all you hardcore performance marketers—this particular edit is a :90. They cut a :60 and a :120 too. Put away all your childish models of “TV optimization” that will tell you that you get the best out of TV by running :15s at 3am on the American Heroes channel. You are missing the point of TV. With guts, know-how, and insight you can add a zero or two to your company’s value with a good old fashioned :60 (or greater!) TV campaign.

Are you a performance marketer ready to explore the world of brand? It’s not for the faint-hearted and it will not come without a fair amount of challenges. But with the right partners, a carefully planned creative strategy, a rock-solid media plan and maybe a Morrissey song, you’re a brand advertiser! If you would like to further the conversation on how a branding campaign would work for your business, email us—we’d love to chat.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *