Christmas and consumerism: filling our hearts and emptying our pockets

It’s not Christmas until the John Lewis advert is on our screens. Actually, it’s not even Christmas even when it is on our screens, it’s only just been Halloween – but the point still stands. This year’s sees a young boy and his friendship with a love-struck penguin on the run up to Christmas, who we realise is just a figment of his imagination when he buys his cuddly penguin, a cuddly penguin girlfriend, bless. The soundtrack is a cover version of John Lennon’s Real Love, performed by Tom Odell, who to be quite honest could sing about sausage rolls and I’d still be wailing.

The ad was always going to be popular and a viral success on YouTube upon release, which it is year after year, with this year’s advert gaining over 10.5 million hits on YouTube only four days after its release. After all, a cute young boy in a bobble hat and an adorable animated animal was always a recipe for success; at least one of the two the company seem to churn out each year without anyone noticing that really, each advert is kind of the same. It always seems to involve the journey of said child or animal (or in the case of 2012, a snowman which moves without actually moving – seriously re-watch this, it’s odd and strangely sinister), and the ways in which they each discover that Christmas is about love and companionship.

The advert cleverly does not hint at the company’s name until the very end, where teary-eyed viewers are left with the reminder that the story is in fact just an advertisement (and then suddenly you realise you’re blubbering over your mum’s favourite shop). Before the screen fades to white (obviously) and the name ‘John Lewis’ appears on the screen, we are invited to ‘give someone the Christmas they’ve been dreaming of’ – so, buy them something good, essentially.

Don’t get me wrong, I get excited about the John Lewis advert as much as the next overly-emotional person, but it is rather contradictory – the advert tells a story about love, but really is referring to the material goods sold in their store. Although it is heart-warming seeing a penguin’s eyes light up at couple holding hands, they may as well light up at a designer frying pan because essentially, that’s the message. I am pretty sure no one explicitly says to themselves “let’s go to John Lewis, because I love that advert with the penguin”, but the hype surrounding it kind of makes you live and breathe John Lewis for a while – okay maybe not quite, but if the ad isn’t on telly, #MontyThePenguin is trending on Twitter, or people are sharing the YouTube video via Facebook; or, in my case, you and your friend find yourselves having a debate about whether the penguin is real (it took us a while to realise that it’s not, in case you were wondering, because no one looks twice at a penguin when it’s casually sat on the bus) – oh and hey, now you’re reading an article on it!

Also, the proof is in the stats. According to Amobee, an advertising technology company, John Lewis has seen a 903% increase in online purchases since the advert was released on 6th November. You can also buy your very own Monty the Penguin toy at the rather large price tag of £96, or £499, as people have since sold them on eBay after they had sold out in John Lewis.

I will leave you with this, in fact: someone has spent nearing your budget for an entire term at university, on a stuffed animal, after watching an advert. If that doesn’t show the sheer power of such advertisements on consumption, I don’t know what will!


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Alice Mortimer

May 2021
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