Still from the John Lewis Christmas ad 2023 showing a venus flytrap opposite a young boy wearing a wool hat

John Lewis’ Christmas ad introduces a new star – and a new era

The retailer’s highly anticipated Christmas spot celebrates reconfiguring traditions as it unveils its own evolution with its first campaign from Saatchi & Saatchi

The apex of the Christmas advertising calendar comes at the hands of a new agency this year, after John Lewis switched from long-time creative partner adam&eveDDB to Saatchi & Saatchi. It was a mantle that the team recognised. “It does feel a little bit like taking the reins of a movie franchise,” CCO Franki Goodwin said, but later noted that working on such a big account brings opportunity along with the pressure.

This year’s campaign film follows an eight-year-old protagonist who grows a Christmas tree from seed, only to find that it is in fact a Venus flytrap with a puppy-like temperament, which leads the family to make some difficult decisions.

The ad was directed by French collective Megaforce, whose off-the-wall flair meets the brand halfway to create a spot that adds a little chaos to a heartfelt story. “It was really important to us that it didn’t sway into saccharine, and Megaforce kept us honest on that,” Goodwin says. The directors were also instrumental in securing the ad’s rock opera soundtrack, which was adapted and then performed by Andrea Bocelli for the occasion.

Megaforce were approached for their “category-defining advertising” seen in work for brands including Nike and Burberry, according to Goodwin. “I pride Saatchi on not bringing a house style, and I think they’re the same. You don’t buy an execution when you go to those directors, you buy a creative partner who will bring something for the brand.” The plant, nicknamed Snapper, was created in CG but also had a puppet modelled on it to assist the cast on set.

It’s hard not to make comparisons between past and present, and this year’s spot seems to be less obviously earnest than what’s come before, though there is a sense of continuity with the heartwarming spirit, unlikely friendships, and a redemption story for a misunderstood character.

The score is perhaps the biggest divergence, with a high-energy operatic number – which will be released as a charity single – replacing the steady stream of touching yet sobering cover ballads from years gone by. The lyrics, notably, are in Italian. “Every time we put [English] lyrics over the top of it, it distracted from the story,” said Rosie Hanley, marketing director at John Lewis.

Still from the John Lewis Christmas ad 2023 showing a grandmother, mother, daughter, and son wearing winter clothes in a snowy garden next to a venus flytrap

Part of John Lewis’ Let Your Traditions Grow campaign, the film’s message is ultimately about evolving traditions – a quietly progressive tone reflected in the absence of a nuclear family and the choice instead to represent the 15% of UK single-parent households.

The campaign also includes a series of shorter product-led spots, and the retailer has gone all in on Snapper merchandise, from pyjama sets to plushies to an illustrated children’s book. There will also be activations in the form of installations both at its Oxford Street flagship store and at London’s Kew Gardens as part of the annual festive light trail, and the John Lewis logotype has been tweaked temporarily to include curled tendrils that nod to the Venus flytrap.

Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi
CCO: Franki Goodwin
ECD: Paddy Fraser
Senior Creatives: Alex Kosterman, Avani Maan
Character Design: Kris Miklos
Production Company: Riff Raff
Director: Megaforce
Music: Le Feste Antonucci, Andrea Bocelli
Editing: Final Cut
Post-Production: Electric Theatre Collective
VFX Supervisor: Alex Gabucci