Festive flop: this year’s John Lewis ad is the worst yet

It may be the year’s most hotly anticipated advert, but Eli Hayes thinks John Lewis’s ‘Under the Bed’ marks the end of an era for reliable yuletide joy

Eli Hayes

The beast in questionJohn Lewis, 'Under the Bed'

As midnight strikes on Halloween, the John Lewis Christmas team emerge from the hole where they spend nine months scheming and plotting, ready to ambush an eager public and monopolise the Christmas advert market. Everybody knows the score: like it or detest it, the omnipotent force of their annual venture into storytelling is unparalleled in its success. I feel no need to defend my undying love for the adverts; to quote myself in conversation yesterday: “it’s the biggest cultural event of the year”.

It is with pain in my heart that I admit that the quality of the John Lewis Christmas advert has been waning in recent years. Cast your minds back to 2007 and you may remember the debut. The years to come would bring personal highlights including ‘The Long Wait’ and ‘Monty the Penguin’. But it’s safe to say that ‘Man on the Moon’ confirmed that the John Lewis Christmas adverts had lost their Yuletide sparkle.

“Some conniving grinch deep in John Lewis HQ realised they could do more than make people happy, they could make a lot more money”

And yet I spent this week on the edge of my seat enthusiastically awaiting this year’s video, ignoring the ridicule I’ve received from my friends. Here I stand, not a particularly loyal John Lewis customer but their number one Christmas fan nonetheless, defending their place in the Christmas calendar, and what am I rewarded with?


Moz, the Monster from Under the Bed.

This year’s advert, starring another John Lewis catalogue kid and his pal, Moz, a rather large and very ugly monster that resides under his bed, is without a doubt the worst Christmas advert John Lewis have produced thus far, and quite possibly the end of an era. ‘Under the Bed’ is the nail in the coffin for John Lewis, and mass opinion seems pretty much unanimous.

The primary issue with this year’s ad is not its lack of nostalgia, narrative, or sentiment (although these are all fatal flaws), but rather, the fact that John Lewis have revealed themselves for what they really are: capitalist, manipulative, corporate giants. The reason the John Lewis adverts were so successful (besides the music, of course, but we will revisit that later) was because they made you feel warm, happy, and festive without actually stimulating any particular desire to buy anything from John Lewis.

After 2013’s Bear and Hare hit our screens, some conniving Grinch deep in John Lewis HQ realised that the adverts could do more than make people happy. They realised (the capitalist pigs) that they could make a lot more money. With the branding of the advert’s characters and prolific distribution of cuddly Bear toys, John Lewis tripped and fell into a deep pit of misguided commercialisation. Since then, every advert (with the exception of 2015’s charitable venture for Age UK) has featured a character that can easily be turned into a toy and begged for by children nationwide.


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Moz is the apotheosis of this Scrooge like behaviour. His character is confusing; his relationship with the protagonist is at best ambiguous but at worst deeply problematic. The resolution of this year’s advert (previously: a snowman bringing his snowgirlfriend a hat and scarf and a little boy finding a penguin wife for his penguin best friend) came in the form of a star-projecting night-light. With little explanation, it is left for the audience to piece together the reason for this – but even then, assumptions about some kind of metaphor about being afraid of the dark and not sleeping, feels half-hearted and inaccurate. What is the meaning of this story?

Beyond the structural flaws, there’s the very real problem of music. It is disappointingly characteristic of their diminishing quality that the musical backdrop for Moz was an Elbow cover of a Beatles’ song. John Lewis used to give platforms to up-and-coming artists and remind us of long-forgotten memories. This year, they failed.

Stuart Heritage, among others, has suggested the advert operates as an allegory for the events of 2017. Quite frankly, though, that’s giving its creators far too much credit. It’s an empty, disappointing, and resolutely un-Christmassy failure