Now that December is here and the yearly John Lewis advert has been out a few weeks, I felt like it was a time to reflect on Christmas adverts past and present. Whilst I do adore the most recent in the long line of John Lewis adverts, and Edgar the Dragon (2019) was a strong contender for this spot, every year I still come back to the Bear and the Hare (2013).
As an illustrator by night (when I’m not busy managing social media for business during the day), perhaps I have a small bias towards the 2D animated world. But let’s not forget- it’s stop motion too (one of my closest animator friends would never live it down if I did). It was also led by one of my favourite 2D artists – Aaron Blaise (animator on Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Mulan, Co-Dir. Brother Bear…) so maybe John Lewis knew what they were doing when they hired him.
So, I suppose as an advert that blends my love of film, illustration, and marketing with a touch of Disney childhood nostalgia, it’s no shock as to why The Bear and the Hare still holds up as one of my all-time favourites.
But what is it about this advert that gets me, aside from the obvious above? Well…
Every year, as autumn turns to winter, all of the forest animals begin to prepare for the best time of the year. However, there is one animal who has never seen it – the Bear. Due to his yearly hibernation, he misses out on all of the celebrations, sleeping right through them every year. His friend though, the Hare, is determined to give him a gift he has never received before – Christmas.
I truly feel that this advert is in touch with what Christmas means for me – as someone with family everywhere, and a busy family that works and has little time for one another sometimes, Christmas is often a chance for us to stop and spend time with each other. It’s important to us for that reason – as I write this, I hear my dad’s words plain in my mind: “Christmas is family time.” And he’s right. Whether you’re religious, or not, for us as a family, that is the true meaning of Christmas and that is what makes it special and exciting.
But here’s the thing. Not only does this advert invoke those feelings, but it also had Aaron Blaise himself reuniting with his old Disney family to create the advert – it’s just filled to the brim with that important motif from inception to end, and that to me just makes it.
Personal opinion aside though, what do other people make of it? Well. Back in 2019, Unruly rated The Bear and the Hare as the “most effective John Lewis Christmas ad of all time.” Stating that sadly however, rankings showed that the ads were becoming less appealing over time (I suppose we know what to expect now…as audiences.)
“The Bear and the Hare” finished top after almost half (48%) of the viewing audience had an intense emotional reaction to the content. The 2013 ad was also the most heart-warming of all the John Lewis Xmas campaigns – 5 times higher than the UK average. It also scored joint highest for brand favourability, intent to find out more and is three times sadder than the average UK ad.
Although, above aside, it didn’t take the title of “most likely to make you cry.” No, 2015s very famous Man on the Moon took such a title – in fact that advert was ten times sadder than the average advert (Unruly 2019) whilst Buster the Boxer was ranked as “most likely to make people smile.” (Unruly 2019).
Yet it’s not only Unruly who have come to their conclusion, a Metro 2019 poll saw The Bear and the Hare coming out on top – with the poll saying that 23% rated The Bear and the Hare as the best John Lewis Christmas ad of all time, with Monty the Penguin and Buster the Boxer at joint second with 16% claiming they were the best.
Not only that, but Lilly Allen’s cover of Somewhere Only We Know, the song featured in the advert, also reached number one on the UK Singles Chart, becoming Lily Allen’s third number one single. In fact, it’s still a staple Christmas song for me (and I imagine many others) every year. It is actually a cover of an original song by Keane, and Tom Chaplin, the vocalist for the band, told the Daily Star: “She’s a big fan, and we knew she’d do a great version. I think the cartoon advert is lovely. It’s like Watership Down without the bloodshed.” – which I suppose is a nice way of putting it…
So, there we have it, perhaps many agree with my Christmas sentiment and surely, after COVID, it’s all the more prominent. Whilst we’re surrounded by cost-of-living crises and post COVID gloom, it’s important to remember that family doesn’t need to be bought. That time together is important and despite the rush to buy THE gift this Christmas, people do truly believe deep down in that sentiment.
Perhaps marketing this to people over buy, buy, buy is more successful and genuine than we first believed.