Emotional Commercials



I’ve spent the last 12 months in Canada so I’ve not seen much UK television lately, but a significant event happened in the second week of November prompting a string of messages on Whatsapp from my UK friends.

“The John Lewis Christmas ad is out!”

There are a number of occasions on the calendar which hark the arrival of Christmas, a string of Christmas firsts if you like, and in the UK you really know Christmas is on its way when the seasonal John Lewis commercial is released. It’s an annual event only about 10 years in the making but it’s become a British tradition already.

Usually extended in duration, each one has been a marvel in mini-storytelling. These hyper-emotional stories, with their stripped-down acoustic soundtracks, have given us Buster the boxer dog pining for a bounce on the new trampoline, the young girl connecting with the lonely Man on the Moon, the rabbit waking the bear from hibernation to experience Christmas (poor bear), the Snowman looking for the perfect gift for Mrs Snowman, Monty the lonely penguin who wanted a girlfriend penguin, and this year, Moz, the monster under the bed.

To keep up with the competition, other brands such as Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury’s have produced their own rival Christmas commercials. It’s an “emotion-off” if you like, a battle for who can pull the heart-strings the hardest. In fact, the stories are so far removed from the normal look and feel of the brands behind them that it’s become a game for viewers to try to guess which company made the advert before they tell us at the end.

Then while Christmas dinner is sending us all into a collective national afternoon nap, the next wave of exposure to hyper-emotional selling begins, this time for holidays (that’s ‘vacations’ to my North American friends). TUI, First Holidays, Virgin, British Airways and others expose us to viscerally appealing representations of perfect holidays; time with family, white sandy beaches, beautiful bikini bodies, spa treatments, wide-eyed, happy, and well behaved children, blue skies, empty pools, cuisine to die for…

Humans are emotionally-driven decision makers. We like to think we pick and choose our way through life logically and rationally but in truth we are steered by complex and subconscious emotional shortcuts and all of these commercials have something in common - they all appeal directly to our emotions. Not a single reference to anything rational. No numbers anywhere. No logic. Watch a few and see if you can spot the emotional ingredients and levers being pulled.

Imagine your service or product was to be presented in the same way as one of these television commercials. It would be stripped of all rationality and turned into a story that would grip the heart and senses in one go. Imagine that was your brief, to present your product or service as if it were the most incredible emotionally-resonant experience. How would you do it? What would the plot line be? Which emotions would you be hoping to trigger in viewers?

Note: if you are not from the UK and don’t know what I’m talking about, watch some of the following: “Buster the Boxer”, “The Journey”, “Man on the Moon”, “Moz the Monster”, “Monty the Penguin”, “The Bear and the Hare”. (Man on the Moon is my favourite.)