“Doesn’t Have to Be Miserable You Know” | Uncovering The Emotion Behind John Lewis’ 2016 Christmas Ad


November 10, 2016

The annual release of the John Lewis Christmas advert has become a near-cinematic phenomenon and last year the Twitter-sphere had its heart-strings tugged with The Man on the Moon. Maru/edr have conducted a sentiment analysis to gauge the peoples’ emotional reaction this year.  

Prior to the release of this year’s eagerly awaited John Lewis advert, Rachel Swift – head of brand marketing for the department store chain – told The Telegraph that they were aware of “the murmurings” surrounding last year’s Man on the Moon about it being “a bit sad”. Well, this morning saw the release of their 2016 attempt and a move away from the human-driven narrative in favour of an excitable dog called Buster.

It has all the hallmarks of a John Lewis classic: the whimsical cover of a cult classic; an Instagram-filtered view of suburbia; and a protagonist (this year supported by what appears to be the entire cast of Watership Down) yearning for a desire that goes at least some-way in being fulfilled by the time the advert cuts to a reveal of the brand and a well marketed ‘call to action’.

But have we seen a sentimental shift in the reaction from consumers?

Following a real-time social-media analysis we ran over the release of last year’s advert, Maru/edr have monitored comments made on Twitter during both the build-up and the immediate aftermath of this year’s release of #BusterTheBoxer.

Results have shown there to be nearly four times as many tweets expressing a positive sentiment towards the advert than negative which follows a similar pattern in last year’s data – although Man on the Moon did score slightly higher with five positive comments for every negative.

A lot of the discourse surrounding #BusterTheBoxer has been about how the advert has made people laugh. “Funny” and “Hilarious” were two reoccurring adjectives to be pulled out of the analysis whilst another common occurrence was people purporting to have “physically LOL-ed”.


Another popular phrase this year was “tear jerk” which, initially, appeared to contradict the generally upbeat sentiment surrounding the advert however on further inspection, the analysis showed that it was often a case of people using the phrase to reflect on last year’s effort as a comparison.

“People moaning that the #JohnLewisAdvert is no tear jerker this year. Doesn’t have to be miserable you know”

Perhaps it was a sage prediction from the John Lewis team that its customers were too emotionally fatigued from 2016’s turbulent events to have the heart-strings tugged further.

“It’s like John Lewis knew the world couldn’t deal with an emotional advert this year #JohnLewisAdvert”

However, as many people as there were applauding the decision to go upbeat, there were an equal amount lamenting the fact that Buster failed to make them cry as the solitary moon-man had done twelve months previous.

“Anyone else extremely disappointed by the #JohnLewis ad this year? No tears or warm fuzzy feelings.”

And some people were simply left confused by the tonal shift, questioning whether they should laugh or cry.

“No the #JohnLewis advert didn’t make me cry. Was it supposed to? #bustertheboxer”

Which begs the question that it is probably too early to answer – was this year’s effort as successful as previous years? It is easy to forget amongst the schmaltz, sentiment, and narrative expectation that this is, first and foremost, a marketing campaign designed to boost sales for John Lewis so the imperative answer will be found in the company’s quarterly reports.

Why emotion is important

It is clear to see that Christmas advertising has become an increasingly important part of the retail calendar. But more than that, it has become a crucial part of the holiday calendar where the modern adage of “it’s not Christmas until you’ve seen…” seems now to be dictated by whichever advert holds the greatest emotional currency.

At Maru/edr, our experience tells us that understanding the emotional response of customers is key to guaranteeing a slice of that increasing spend – the emotional reaction from customers combined with their expectation is what ultimately guides actions and behaviours. The importance of gauging the right emotional tone for their Christmas ad is crucial to John Lewis as the emotional response from a customer is the driving force behind actions, behaviour and purchase decisions.


The sentiment analysis to the #BusterTheBoxer advert was generated using Maru/edr’s HUB Text Analytics tool – an innovative text analytics solution that combines a world-class engine with an interactive and intuitive interface. The search was run from 06:30 on the day of release and gathered data throughout the morning with the search parameters of @JohnLewisRetail, #JohnLewisChristmas and #BounceBounce.

Find out more about how Maru/edr can measure emotional reaction with the world’s first digital visual semiotics tool – Emotional Positioning System™.