Wednesday 14 April 2010

The great emotional appeal of the John Lewis TV commercial

One of the problems with having spent most of my career in the oil industry is that it was a far too rational world – or liked to think that it was. There were lots of engineers, geologists and accountants to explain to you that managing was about input-process-output. In other words you came to proper business judgments by making sure that you had the right resources (the inputs); handling out them properly (the process) and doing the right thing with the products of all this effort (the outputs). Business was a machine and the better designed and oiled and maintained that machine was the better you would do. But my world, the world of brand management, was less certain – much less actually. In promoting a brand you are only partly appealing to rational man – you are also appealing to emotional man and emotional woman. As David Ogilvy once memorably said “The consumer is not a fool – she is your wife”.

So it is in the context of these thoughts that I commend to you the latest John Lewis TV Commercial (click on the link). There is nothing at all for rational man here – no reason to believe or hard-nosed benefits. True the tagline at the end is John Lewis’s familiar “Never knowingly undersold” – but this certainly isn’t a price comparison ad. This is 180° opposite from and their like (sites that rational man would love). The John Lewis commercial is unashamedly emotional – tugging at the heart strings if you like. It is beautifully conceived, wonderfully executed and totally focused in its target. It is nonsense to criticise the commercial for saying it is middle-class. Of course it is – but that is John Lewis’s customer base! The commercial has a reassuring panoply of images which pretty overtly convey the message that John Lewis will be with you from cradle to… well not quite grave (they don’t have a funeral service) but certainly your twilight years.

Retailing is about delivering fit-for-purpose products at competitive prices in comfortable surroundings and in a customer-responsive way. Retail is detail – always. But it is also about creating subliminal reasons to believe and reasons to prefer – and the John Lewis TV commercial does that with style. Bravo!

Paddy Briggs

© Minale Tattersfield

May 2010

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