Has John Lewis lost its touch?

Bring back the snowman

There's something nostalgic about snowmen. The button eyes and carrot noses, your dad’s old scarf wrapped around their fat, cold necks; their rough-around-the-edges, bear-like stature making them a friend to us all. There is a certain universal magic and ephemerality about snowmen that never fades.

Growing up in the south of England, the closest I got to building my own was scraping a handful of frost off the roof of my parents’ car, packing into a ball, then stuffing in the freezer for proof that ‘snow’ had happened. Obviously, I wanted to live in an American Christmas film, like Home Alone, or Jingle All The Way, where snow came in abundance, and without fail, every year. That was where the magic was.

All the best Christmas stories are snow-filled, chocolate box delights. Streets are covered in white and living rooms glow red, gold and green. Underpinning a business’s goal of increasing sales is the human desire to feel something, and capturing that Christmas feeling that germinated way back when you were five. Snow does that, doesn’t it?

Take John Lewis’s 2012 Christmas ad, for example. “The Journey” sees a snowman embarking on a brave and arduous journey to find his love the perfect gift for Christmas. Idyllic countryside (fun fact, it was filmed in New Zealand), enchanting forestry and a sad, echoic rendition of The Power of Love, pinpointing that gift giving is (or should be) steeped in selflessness and love, all tied together with the line ‘give a little more love this Christmas’. It’s simple, but it’s reminiscent of Christmases past, Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman, that Christmas feeling.

No one really cares about what you’re selling, but make us feel something and you’re onto a winner. Seeing a snowman trek far and wide to find his love the perfect gift made me feel something, and feelings spark conversation. Capture the Christmas feeling, tap into human emotion and people will talk.

We live in an uncertain world, where bad things happen every day, and Christmas is a time for familiarity and togetherness, when tradition is welcome. The anticipation around the arrival of John Lewis’s ad is palpable – inescapable – every year, but as humans we want human connections, not brands shoving gadgets and imaginary friends in our face.

And it doesn’t have to be a sad feeling. This year TK Maxx wins the best Christmas campaign award for answering my five-year-old self's prayers, even if 20 years too late. They are giving away a delivery of snow to anyone who finds a snow globe in store or online. Even as a fully-fledged (I like to think) adult, the sheer delight I feel at the thought of my rented, shared house getting covered in snow encapsulates Christmas – the excitement, anticipation, the magic of it all.

Does anyone really care about a monster who was thought up in the last year and who will probably be forgotten in the next? Like red, gold and green, familiar, nostalgic Christmas characters like the snowman hold the magic – connect a consumer to a brand. They are what make us feel something, because Christmas is, in large part, exactly that – a feeling.