Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The power of the John Lewis Christmas Advert

It’s nearly that time of year again. The battle for the best Christmas advert is about to begin, but there is only ever one winner – John Lewis. 


The key to the success of the annual John Lewis Christmas advert lies in its powerful use of emotion. We are not always logical thinkers and our behaviour can be changed by our emotions. For example, Hsee & Rottenstreich (2004) examined how just being shown an affect provoking image can increase charity donations. Participants stated they would donate larger sums of money to save one panda if shown a cute picture, than three pandas without being shown an image. Highlighting that individuals do not always think logically when emotions are evoked.

In addition, the John Lewis Christmas adverts make use of the availability heuristic in a number of ways. Firstly, the advert is highly anticipated. Everyone is talking about it; from hashtags such as #thebearandthehare, to behind the scenes footage, it cannot be avoided. This simply increases how much John Lewis is at the forefront of consumer minds, and thus, is more likely to be easily accessible when they are thinking about where to do their Christmas shopping (Tversky and Kahneman, 1973).
As well as this, using an already popular song has a simple, yet powerful effect as we like things that are familiar to us. Zajonc (1968) examined the effect of familiarity and found increased exposure to nonsense Chinese characters and nonsense words, increased participant’s positive ratings of their meaning (see figure 1). In addition, individuals rated faces they had frequently been exposed to as more attractive (see figure 2). This suggests one of the reasons the John Lewis Christmas adverts are so popular is because consumers are already familiar with the songs and therefore, have a positive attitude towards the advertisement.

Finally, John Lewis often create a limited edition product based on the advert. For example, in 2015 they sold the telescopes featured on the advert and in 2014, Monty the Penguin toys were sold. These sell out extremely quickly and are only available for a few months. This creates a feeling of scarcity, and individuals rush to John Lewis to buy them. Consumers believe these limited edition products are more valuable, unique and special, leading to increased positive evaluation of the product (Jang, Ko, Morris & Chang, 2015). Furthermore, these limited edition items work in a similar way to loss leaders. Consumers are enticed into the store to buy this one product, but are likely to see other things they would also like to buy and consequently, spend even more money. 


Hsee, C. K., & Rottenstreich, Y. (2004). Music, Pandas and Mugers: On the affective psychology of value. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 133, 23-30.

Jang, W. E., Ko, Y. J., Morris, J. D., & Chang, Y. (2015). Scarcity Message Effects on Cosumption Behaviour: Limited Edition Product Considerations. Psychology and Marketing, 32(10), 989-1001.

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive Psychology, 5, 207-232.

Zajonc, R. B. (1968). The attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9(2, Part 2), 1-28.

 Holly Brazier

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