An Oral History of John Lewis’ The Long Wait

It was the Christmas ad that launched a thousand Christmas ads, and established John Lewis’s festive branding tropes for a decade to come. Director Dougal Wilson and adam&eveDDB co-founder Ben Priest remember how The Long Wait was made

The unveiling of the John Lewis Christmas ad has become something of a tradition in the UK, with creative industry mags and the general public alike awaiting its release every December. The department store has experimented with various formats over the years – including traditional animation for 2013’s The Bear and the Hare, and mixed media for 2020’s Give a Little Love – although certain elements, such as the cover song, have remained consistent.

While it is the fifth spot in John Lewis’ Christmas collection, The Long Wait, directed by Dougal Wilson and created by adam&eveDDB, is arguably the ad that cemented the retail brand as the king of Christmas. Released in 2011, the film sparked a hugely positive response from the public. The lack of festive stereotypes, the excellent casting, and the all-important narrative twist at the end showed a different approach to Christmas advertising – one that laid the Yuletide glitter on far less thickly than we were used to. And thus, the Christmas advertising arms race was born, as other brands hankered after their own blockbuster-style festive tearjerker.

Despite another decade of standout Christmas ads from John Lewis, The Long Wait has a particular kind of charm that’s been hard to replicate. In an era of advertising that tries very hard to be earnest, it’s notable for its simple, likeable honesty – no mean feat in the world of branding. CR spoke with director Dougal Wilson and and adam&eveDDB co-founder Ben Priest to find out how they achieved it.