The John Lewis Christmas Ad Is Here. Does It Ease the Pain of 2016, or Add to It?

Buster the boxer just wants to have fun

Headshot of Tim Nudd

It's not easy making a lighthearted commercial to cap off 2016.

Not with Brexit and President-elect Trump leaving a path of scorched earth behind them—or more to the point, ahead of them—and putting lots of consumers in the grimmest of moods this holiday. How do you find joy after such an annus horribilis?

For John Lewis, the retailer that's become the standard bearer of holiday cheer in Britain—and helped turn Christmas into an advertising showcase, the U.K.'s Super Bowl—the task has fallen to a dog. He's a boxer named Buster, and he just wants to jump.

Yes, the retailer's much-awaited two-minute 2016 Christmas commercial, created by London agency adam&eveDDB, broke early Thursday. Check it out here: 

Let's agree, first off, that this is one brilliantly crafted spot.

Dougal Wilson, who's directed a lot of the John Lewis Christmas ads (including the two best ones—2011's groundbreaking "The Long Wait" and 2014's world-beating "Monty's Christmas"), creates a lovely, enchanting world. The lighting is gorgeous. The animals are charming and believable. It's perfectly paced, and admirably cast.

The song—a cover of "One Day I'll Fly Away" by the British band Vaults—probably won't hit the top of the charts, but it sets the elevated mood well enough.

And yet, even in its early hours online, the ad has its detractors.

Some parents are upset that it shows Dad setting up the trampoline, complaining that this suggests to kids that Santa Claus isn't real. This is an understandable concern, though John Lewis has shrugged off this criticism, saying: "We're sure Father Christmas has also visited Bridget and Buster the night before. This is just an extra special gift from her parents because she loves to bounce."

Then there are more outlandish critiques, including a Guardian columnist who suggested the ad is a failure because it feels like an allegory for Trump and Clinton—with an animal pushing his way in and getting to jump on the trampoline instead of the heroine. (This is an amusing reading, if nothing else, though the writer admits: "Perhaps I'm reading too much into this.") 

On the other hand, the spot has plenty of enthusiastic supporters who are thanking the retailer for crafting a simple, fun, uplifting story that brings a smile and a laugh—things that have been in short supply lately. 

In the end, the mixed reviews aren't surprising. The spot is well intentioned (the larger campaign will benefit The Wildlife Trusts), beautifully made and does bring some welcome levity. And it's smart to try some comedy after last year's somber "Man on the Moon" campaign—which, while also well crafted and charity-minded, was "a bit sad," as John Lewis admitted recently.

Then again, #BusterTheBoxer doesn't exist in a vacuum. It's just harder to make uplifting, sentimental advertising that connects when there's a widespread feeling of gloom. It's a problem many Christmas advertisers, not just John Lewis, will be grappling with this season. The bar on making people feel good is just higher right now.

John Lewis seems to want it both ways—to make a heartfelt, sentimental piece that undercuts its own sentiment with a comic ending. That approach has its problems—when the dog wins, the girl loses—but it's charming enough in the end. And honestly, when it comes to storytelling, every John Lewis ad will have a hard time competing with "Monty's Christmas" and its truly magical ending.

Maybe, for a while, we can't have nice things. But kudos to John Lewis for trying anyway.


Client: John Lewis

Customer Director: Craig Inglis

Head of Marketing, Brand, Social: Rachel Swift

Agency: adam&eveDDB

Chief Creative Officer: Ben Priest

Executive Creative Directors: Richard Brim, Ben Tollett

Copywriter: Ben Stilitz

Art Director: Colin Booth

Chief Strategy Officer: David Golding

Planning Partner: Martin Beverley

Managing Director: Tammy Einav

Business Director: Miranda Hipwell

Account Director: Caroline Grayson

Account Manager: Alice Child

Producer: Panos Louca

Assistant Producer: Sion Prys

Media Planning

Media Company: Manning Gottlieb OMD

Chief Executive Officer: Tim Pearson

Executive Director, Head of Planning: Clare Peters

Head of Retail: David Bratt

Client Account Director: Andrew Darby

Client Account Director, Digital: Ric Roberts

Production Company: Blink Productions

Director: Dougal Wilson

Producer: Nick Goldsmith

Director of Photography: Joost Van Gelder

Production Manager: Hannah Fowles-Pazdro

Production Assistant: Jack Bingham

Postproduction Company: MPC

VFX Executive Producer: Julie Evans

VFX Producer: Hannah Ruddleston

VFX Line Producer: Sandra Ekland

Creative Director VFX, MPC: Diarmid Harrison-Murray

Colorist: Jean-Clément Soret

Shoot Supervisors: Tom Harding, Tito Fernandes

VFX Supervisor 3-D: Fabian Frank

VFX Supervisor 2-D: Tom Harding

Animation Supervisor: Tim van Hussen

3-D VFX Team: Chloe Dawes, Anthony Bloor, Ben Thomas, Graham Cristie, Jessie Amadio, Julien Labussiere, Luca Maccarelli, Matthew Gifford, Radu Ciubotariu, Tito Fernandes, Tushar Kewali, Vincent Ullman, Will Laban, Hanna Binswanger, Max Mallmann, Jessica Groom, Ankit Dheraj Toppo, Earnest Victor, Ganesh Kumar S., Bibin

Balan P, Gayatri Patel, Jyoti Prakash Panda, Manjunath Ramakrishnaiah, Inigo Vimal Roy, Ria Banerjee, Gayatri Patel, Gerard Dunleavy

Animation Team: David Bryan, Boris Cailly, India Barnardo, Martyn Smith, Lou Thomas, Cynthia Collins

2-D VFX Team: Grant White, David Filipe, Andreas Feix, Alex Snookes, Venkatesh Rajagopal, Ginesh Gandhi, Jonathan Box, Amresh Kumar, Padma Priya, Prasanth Palaparthi, Rajesh Kumar, Shalwin Shaiju, Yasasvini V, R. Vignesh, S. Samson Samuel, Shalwin Shaiju

Composer, Soundtrack: Randy Crawford, "One Day I'll Fly Away"

Performed by: Vaults

Music Supervision Company: Leland Music

Music Supervisors: Abi Leland, Ed Bailie

Sound Company: Factory

Sound Design, Mix: Anthony Moore

Audio Producer: Becs Bell

Editing: Final Cut

Editor: Rick Russell

VR Experience

Production Company: MPC Creative

Executive Creative Director, MPC Creative: André Assalino

Interactive Creative Director, MPC Creative: Pete Conolly

Executive Producer: Dan Phillips

Lead Producer: Joana Flor

Senior Interactive Producer: Joana Guimarães

Interactive Production Assistant: Sinead Catney

Lead Tech Artists: Pablo Bravo, Cat Dixon

Lead UE Developer: David Pereira

UE Developer Team: Dennis Ippel, Guiseppe Mattiolo, Thomas Lopez, Olivier Dumas, Bertrand Leroy

Lead Unity Developer: Tim Porteous

Unity Developer: Vitor Castanheira

Front and Back-end Developer: Pedro Rocha

UI Designer: Gorkem Menekse

VFX Supervisor: Kumar Chandrasekaran

VFX HoP: Sean Mullen

VFX Creative Director: David Kern

VFX Technical Directors: Selvam Venkatesan, Praveen Madhyasta

Animation: Anil Kumar Singh

Rigging VFX Artists: Matthew Gifford, Tushar Kewlani, Raju Ganesh, Baskaran Seetharaman, Pritesh Krishnappa Kotian, Atheesh Sankaran, Ashish Kumar Chourasiya, Shivam Pandey, Krishnendu Bikash Maity, Yogesh Gadge, Ganesh Mohan, Mithun Monga, Shashi Prakash Raj, Vivek Mangainath, Dhanesh Puthiyavalappil, Harwin Sebastien,

Srinivasa Sheelam, Aditya Shukla, Sminesh Sudevan

Senior VFX Producer: Tomek Zietkiewicz

VFX Production Supervisor: Devendra Kumar

VFX Producer: Prithi Amarnath

VFX Production Assistant: Lokesh Reddy

Tech Artist: Pravenn Thanvi

DMP: Michelle Tolo

Motion Designer: Jonny Eveson

Sound Design: 1618 Digital

Sound studio: ClearCut

Voiceover Artist: Faye Ripley

Interactive, Print, Social

Interactive Creative Director: Till Diestel

Lead Interactive Producer: Budr Elnusairi

Integrated Producer: Laura Smith

Assistant Producers: Naomi Barrie, Laurelle May

Interactive Design Lead: Andrew Murray

Project Managers: Hatty Day, Hannah Dowty

Head of Design: Paul Knowles

Designer: Olly Watts

Design Company: King Henry

Head of cain&abel production: Brett Kelsey

Editors: Hannah Taylor, Joe Andrews, Paul Cheshire, James Ireland

Motion Graphic Designer: Ed Christie

Photographer: Noemie Bottiau

Interactive Designers: Adrian Baker, Megan Young, Jennifer Slack, Hashir Khan, Norman Lo

Bookings Manager: Serena Moll

Interactive Resource Manager: Jacinta Crane

Interactive Partner: Simon Adamson

Social Media Director: Viki Imrie

Social Media Strategist: Jess Taylor

Social Media Manager: Lauren Booty

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.