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.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

I'm not crying at the John Lewis Christmas advert! I've just got something in my eye.

With Christmas adverts a prominent feature on our television screens, not just throughout December but seemingly from summer time, companies face a great amount of competition to persuade you to be their customer. They become part of our daily conversations, sharing the highs and lows they elicit with the ones we hold dear and have hopes of going viral. But why do some make us browse on their website or enter the store doors, while others get pushed to the background?

[I will be back soon, I just need to get a tissue. But first I have to go to John Lewis.]

Emotions. We all have them, whether we like to admit to it or not. John Lewis' 2011 Christmas advert pulls you in and then takes you on a roller coaster journey of emotions. Traditional aspects of Christmas; an advent calender, the tree, a homemade shepherd's outfit made with a tea towel, all make you think of your own childhood celebrations. As such the lack of excitement given off by the boy makes you question what Christmas has become. Is it simply a month long wait to receive your presents, that you know are hidden in the house somewhere? The advert warms your heart by reminding you that it is not about what you receive, but what you give (especially when that gift is bought from John Lewis). 

Emotions, as highlighted by Holbrook and Batra (1987), can mediate a consumers response to advertising. There is a relationship between the content within an advertisement and how you feel about the brand represented, a relationship that is mediated by the emotional effects elicited (as seen within Figure 1.). The positive emotions elicited by the boys excitement and joy to give a present to his parents, ignoring those he has received, makes you see John Lewis as a brand in a desirable light

Figure 1: communication  model highlighting the role emotions play in determining advertising effects (Cartwright, McCormick & Warnaby (2016), adapted from Holbrook & Batra (1987))

But what is it that makes the John Lewis Advert such a focal point of the festive period? Just as 'holidays are coming' when you see the iconic Coca Cola truck so too must we prepare ourselves for the inevitable tear jerker that is the John Lewis Christmas offering. Nostalgia can be evoked simply from the first few bells of a Coca Cola advert and John Lewis has employed tactics to make their gift to us just as widely anticipated.

Cartwright, McCormick and Warnaby (2016) investigated consumers' emotional responses to Christmas adverts, and have identified features that make John Lewis' so successful. Although reporting to feel 'emotional' and 'overwhelmed', towards the story you are taken on as an audience member, overall there was seen to be a positive emotional response. The positive brand attitude obtained as a result was especially prominent amongst the target demographic, with those aged 25-34 as well as 35+, being encouraged to visit the store. Of the four adverts used within the study, that created by John Lewis was cited as the most memorable and persuasive, especially when it comes to communicating brand identity. The emotions most commonly elicited amongst the four brands can be found within Table 1, suggesting what emotions allowed John Lewis (JLP) to be persuade consumers to be their customers. 

Table 1: Summary of liking and emotional response

The complex relationship between advert content and emotional response, and the subsequent feelings to the brand, is explored within Figure 2. An 'immediate sense of wanting to go to a (John Lewis) store' was created simply by watching the advertisement, persuading consumers to be their customers. John Lewis as a retailer managed to engage customers in a non-materialistic (clever trick there John Lewis!) and emotional way, with a hint of nostalgia and a pinch of excitement at the prospect of Christmas.

Figure 2: revised model of consumer response, specific to Christmas TV Advertising (Cartwright, McCormick & Warnaby, 2016)

In short brands use our emotions against us as a way to persuade us to hand over our money to them, especially during the festive period. Eliciting a positive emotion from their advertisement in turn persuades you to see their brand as the best place to buy your loved ones presents.

Just in case you want some more emotional torture. John Lewis has found a formula that works and continues to pull at our heartstrings year after year.

When is it acceptable to be excited and start asking 'when is the John Lewis Christmas advert coming out'?

Holbrook, M., & Batra, R. (1987). Assessing the role of emotions as mediators of consumer responses to advertising . Consumer Research, 14 , 404-420.
Cartwright, J., McCormick, H., & Warnaby, G. (2016). Consumers' emotional responses to the Christmas TV advertising of four retail brands. Retailing and Consumer Services, 29 , 82-91

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