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.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The John Lewis Paradox

Cialdini’s (2001) principles of influence provide pertinent ways to create a persuasive message to make consumers say ‘yes’. These are popularly adopted in a plethora of advertising campaigns to inspire consumer loyalty and ultimately, to increase sales. Often dubbed the core pillars of advertising, these techniques are infallible. However, one of the most successful organisations in advertising, principally at Christmas time, fail to explicitly adopt any of these persuasive techniques in its adverts: John Lewis. Moreover, since 2011, John Lewis does not even display a single product in their advertisements; yet continually drive Christmas and January sales. How?

Emotional engagement. The heart warming journey, exemplified in this 2013 advert, shows of the Hare wanting his best friend, the Bear, to experience the magical feeling of Christmas for the very first time. John Lewis’ principal strategy is to evoke emotion within the audiences. Several pieces of empirical research have shown that elevated emotional responses to an ad, or any social phenomenon, increase liking (Drolet & Williams, 2005; Du Plessis, 2008; Faseur & Geuens, 2006). It comes as no surprise, that increased liking induced from an advert for a brand, say John Lewis, is going to increase the likelihood that your next Christmas shopping spree will be at, you’ve guessed it, John Lewis. Furthering this, JL does not stop at creating the classic Christmas tearjerker that we have all come to look forward to at that festive time of year, no, no, the 2013 ad captures an essence of nostalgia; augmenting these feelings. JL adopted classic full-hand drawn 2D animation, techniques embodied in the traditional (and unbeatable) Disney classics, such as Bambi, rejecting the more modern techniques in more recent films (John Lewis Retail, 2013). These reminisced happy feelings of childhood (despite not necessarily bearing any original relationship to the brand) are now engrained and intertwined with the brand and ultimately, make us more inclined to purchase (Lott & Lott, 1965). This stripped back feeling of nostalgia creates a more deep-rooted, unconscious and emotional association to the brand, which in turn evokes (and predicts) future brand loyalty (conveniently coinciding with JL’s business strategy for the upcoming fiscal year…).

John Lewis also capitalises on the wake of social media to further persuade consumers to shop here. With the much-anticipated Christmas ad campaign being shared excessively on social media, now with over 12 million hits on YouTube and the soundtrack reaching number 1 in the charts, the JL Christmas cheer is almost inescapable. This dominance taps into the ‘warm glow heuristic’ and social phenomenon that increased familiarity increases liking (Monin, 2003). Moreover, when people share the clip to their social network, this provides an endorsement of it, thus increasing credibility (Chiu et al., 2007) – possibly also serving as a social proof explanation: if others are sharing the John Lewis love, it must be good (Cialdini, 2001)!

It is the avoidance of product placement bulldozing at every possible moment and of blatant ‘beautiful’ celebrity endorsement, which emphasises the subtlety, yet more powerful, approach taken by the advertising giant: John Lewis. Perhaps, it is this refreshing novelty, within the overcrowded big-name ad scene, that appeals to viewers more real selves: the exact humanity that John Lewis is targeting.


Chiu, H. C., Yi, C. H., Yui, H. K., & Lee, M. (2007). The determinants of email receivers disseminating behavior on the internet. Journal of Advertising Research, 47(4), 524-534.

Caildini, R. B. (2001). Influence. Boston: Allyn & Bacon

Drolet, A., & Williams, P. (2005). Emotional advertisements. Chicago Journals, 32(2), 343-354.

Du Plessis, E.(2008). The Advertised Mind: Groundbreaking
Insights into How Our Brains Respond to Advertising. London & Philadelphia: Millward Brown & Kogan Page Limited.

Faseur, T., & Geuens, M. (2006). Different positive feelings leading to different ad evaluations. Journal of Advertising, 35(4), 129-42.

John Lewis Retail. (2013). John Lewis: Behind the Scenes – The Bear & The Hare:

Lott, A. J. & Lott, B. E. (1965). Group cohesiveness as interpersonal attraction: a review of relationships with antecedent and consequent variables. Psychol. Bull. 64, 259–309.

Monin, B. (2003). The warm glow heuristic: when liking leads to familiarity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(6), 1035.

By Mhairi Hay

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