John Lewis’ highly anticipated new Christmas advert has been used to shine a light on children in care with the story of a sweet foster dad learning to skateboard before welcoming a young teenager into the family home.
The 90-second ad, entitled The Beginner and set to a cover of Blink-182’s All The Small Things by US artist Mike Geier, shows the man as he struggles painfully to master skateboarding in the build-up to Christmas.
Viewers are left questioning the motive behind his perseverance until the final scene, which shows a social worker arriving at his door with young teenager Ellie, who has arrived at her new foster home carrying her skateboard.
Who stars in the advert?
John Paul Hurley, the actor from South Yorkshire who starred in the likes of The Reckoning and Peaky Blinders, plays the father, while Ellie is played by rising actor Brooke Hart who has had several film, commercial and theatre roles.
The ‘Mum’, who only has a small role, is played by Victoria Elliott who has starred in the likes of Emmerdale.
The advert follows the launch of the partnership’s Building Happier Futures programme to help young people with experience of the care system, including to move into the workforce.
The ad was created with agency adam&eveDDB, with input from partner charities Action for Children and Who Cares? Scotland. John Lewis has declined to reveal a budget.
John Lewis said it understood that not all foster carers had the benefit of knowing who they would be looking after in advance.
It added that its broader campaign also featured “authentic voices of carers” and “young people with different experiences of a complex care system”, but it said that “in a challenging year, we felt it was important to demonstrate that it’s what we do that matters most”.
The company said it was proud to use its Christmas ad to “generate conversation and action around an often overlooked issue”.
It is almost entirely devoid of product placement except for two brief glimpses of the retailer’s Lewis Bear toy. Customers can buy products including the £30 bear, £19 Lewis Bear pyjamas, a £5 Lewis Bear tote bag and a Rampage Skateboard for £34.99, with 25% of the sales going to the two affiliated charities.
A Giving Tree in stores will invite customers to donate to the charities by taking a tag with a value of between £5 and £50 and scanning it with their shop.
The retailer provides apprenticeship opportunities within the John Lewis Partnership for people leaving care - and it said this year it would make donations of Christmas decorations, food and gifts.
Children in care and their caregivers will be invited to Santa’s Grotto experiences in John Lewis stores and the retailer will also supply communal spaces of selected residential facilities run by Action for Children with electronics, furnishings and decorations.
‘Sparks a national conversation’
John Lewis customer director Claire Pointon said: “We are fortunate to have a truly unique platform in our Christmas ad, which sparks a national conversation. At John Lewis we care deeply about families and recognise that they come in many different forms. For our biggest moment of the year, we decided to focus on one kind of family that is often overlooked.
“We are also very aware that not all care experience outcomes are as positive as Ellie’s. The home Ellie enters is filled with kindness and the foster father’s actions demonstrate that, ultimately, it’s what you do that matters most.”
Charlotte Lock, pan-partnership customer director, added that the firm’s Christmas campaign is an “important step in our long-term plans to become the employer of choice for young people leaving the care system and to provide lasting change and hope for children like Ellie.”
Meanwhile Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said the charity is “delighted” to be working with John Lewis on its “iconic Christmas advert”.
Actions for Children “applauds” the company “for its work and long-term commitment to shining a light on the issues facing some of the most vulnerable children in the country,” Mr Hussain said.
He added: “We believe this partnership will enable us to support and empower more children and young people as they make the transition from care into the adult world.”
Lynne Deason from analysts Kantar UK, said this year in particular will be “challenging for advertisers as they try to bring the fun, joyful spirit that we love about Christmas ads while being sensitive to the pressures families face over the cost of living.”
She added: “Ads need to avoid falling into the trap of ‘sadvertising’ – we still want to be uplifted, especially at this time of year – but displays of lavish gifts and excessive spreads risk seeming tone deaf and out of touch.
“To get the balance right, advertisers should focus on the real meaning of Christmas – of togetherness, fun and all those magical small moments that make the festive season so special. Brands that take steps to make a real difference to people’s lives will also be appreciated.”