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10 November 2016

I remember when John Lewis adverts were more than just capitalist propaganda

This year’s is a hollow disgrace.

By Anna Leszkiewicz


In my day, Christmas wasn’t just about shiny garden furniture – it was about huddling around evergreen plants and the warmth of small fires whilst gorging on meat in order to survive the long, harsh winter. We didn’t buy each other handbags and trainers – in my day we walked 20 miles in the snow just to get to our shoes. In my day, a Christmas present was about expressing love for your families who may not endure the darkest days of the year. And in my day, Christmas adverts really meant something.

I remember when the John Lewis Christmas advert wasn’t about selling John Lewis products. Far from it, my friends. Hark back with me to 2010, when a mournful Billy Joel cover showed us that a brand and a person can share in a lifelong commitment as sacred and unconditional* as a marriage (*the one condition being that the person continues to buy fridges and child’s toys from the brand). Or recall the noble times of 2011, when a young boy showed us that the true meaning of Christmas is not receiving (goods that have been secured through the exchange of money), but giving (goods that have been secured through the exchange of money).

We don’t even see what’s inside the presents – the presents themselves are immaterial. It is the thought (and money) that has gone into the buying of the present that matters, adding a sweet and festive irony to the mournful Smiths cover “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want”.

Never such innocence again. The John Lewis Christmas adverts have slid into a depraved celebration of avarice with each passing year. Take this shameless glove propaganda from 2012, advertisers playing on the textual similarities between the words “love” and “glove” in a bare-faced attempt to get us to all “Give a little more [g]love this Christmas.” Who cares if Auntie Val has moved to the Canary Islands, if Cousin Susie prefers mittens or if Grandad is allergic to polyester? The message was clear: we want you to buy gloves this Christmas, and we want you to buy them from John Lewis.

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It was alarm clocks in 2013, stuffed penguins in 2014, telescopes in 2015, and now, in 2016, the product publicity is more blatant than ever. The only acceptable gift this year is a trampoline.

Trampolines will be loved by your daughter, your friendly neighbourhood fox, your friendly neighbourhood badgers, your friendly neighbourhood hedgehog, and your dog. Hashtag Bounce Bounce screams from deep within their soul. This is the gift that everyone will love. Everyone.

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Unlike previous years, which at least saw children, penguins, and hares and bears alike motivated by love for eachother, this advert paints a picture of a heartless dystopian world in which no child, fox, or dog cares for the festive season, for their parents or pets or friends. They care for just one thing – bouncing on a shiny new trampoline. One that you can buy from John Lewis.

Frankly, it’s a hollow, capitalist disgrace, and I, for one, will be boycotting John Lewis until they take us back to the good old days. The days when Christmas adverts were more than just brazen commercial marketing campaigns. They at least had the decency to be disingenuous commercial marketing campaigns.