Home Arts & Lit Holidays are coming, holidays are coming …

Holidays are coming, holidays are coming …


As Christmas commercials start to appear on our screens Sophie Knight analyses art in advertising

The bear and the Hare single by Lily Allen Image credit: John Lewis
The bear and the Hare single by Lily Allen
Image credit: John Lewis

Christmas is imminent. What with John Lewis’ cutesy animals prancing around a tastefully decorated tree and Coca Cola’s Father Christmas campaigning for compassion, the urges to adorn my room with tinsel are becoming harder and harder to ignore. John Lewis is a master of the Christmas advert and this year’s Bear and Hare storyline is no exception. Accompanied by Lily Allen’s poignant rendition of Keane’s ‘Somewhere Only We Know’, the display of friendship between the two protagonists would make even the Grinch’s heart of ice melt into a puddle of rainbows and flowers and marshmallows. If you haven’t seen it yet, go. Now.

Not since the age of five, okay maybe fifteen, have I been so tempted to buy a cuddly Bear/Hare toy – what has the advert done to me?! Advertising is an art, and a sneaky one at that, but is it art itself?

Much can pass off as art these days, take Tracey Emin’s My Bed for example. It seems that if the artist wants the piece to be considered art, then it will be. Behind the façade of fox cubs unwrapping presents and snow-clad bridges the John Lewis advert has a purpose too, and no, though it pains me to say it, it is not to rouse Christmas cheer, but actually to increase sales.

The bear onesie on sale in John Lewis Image credit: John Lewis
The bear onesie on sale in John Lewis
Image credit: John Lewis

We could get all philosophical about the purpose of art; is it to be beautiful, depict a scene, provoke an argument or heal as therapy? Nobody really knows. Again I could debate about what exactly art is: a representation of skill and creativity, a craft or thing of beauty. Similarly, nobody really knows. An advert may not be considered ‘fine art’ but it is made up of artistic elements. The old-fashioned line drawing animations of the John Lewis Christmas advert were created by the same artists who worked with The Lion King animations, and surely illustrators are artists, making their creations art? Then again, if this was the case, cartoons, logos, greetings card and book covers would all be considered art.

The art of advertising stems from the creativity demonstrated in making audiences remember the brand. It is in the captivation and enticement of the viewer. Successful adverts seduce us with lulling tunes, endearing characters and touching plots and before we have time to regain our wits we have purchased three rolls of bear-emblazoned wrapping paper, a hare onsie and a few casserole dishes – none of which I actually needed.

We are also all suckers for a good story and John Lewis have been cunning in targeting this weakness. In the advert, as the Bear departs across the bridge, I, like the Hare, watched after him with increasing despair. This anguish could only be quelled with the Bear’s reappearance as he saunters over the hill with a warm glow in his eyes, the music peaks and all is good again. The Hare’s present is revealed and I am gripped with pride for the clever little bunny. The acknowledgement then comes that the Hare is not real, I am watching an advert, and I have been manipulated.

If art is art for its ability to make us feel a certain way as pre-planned by the artist, then maybe, in the same way as a painting, classic book or landmark piece of music can be considered art… an advert must be too.

Sophie Knight

Check out the making of the advert:


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