The John Lewis Christmas ad, due to appear tomorrow, if rumours are correct, looks to be about a more recent legend than the conventional Christmas tale: the legend of human space exploration.
It has been a good year for space. Our spacecraft have mapped Pluto, landed on a comet and found water on Mars. Matt Damon has been stranded on Mars and Matthew McGonaghy has entered a multi-dimensional vortex on the edge of a black hole in an attempt to save humanity.
In the film Interstellar there’s a terrific scene in which the hero’s daughter’s teacher claims that the Apollo moon landings were a fictional act of propaganda to destabilise the Russians. Similar things, with different actors and stakeholders across history, continue to be said about the Christmas story.
It’s now 46 years since the first moon landings and they are probably my first memory, sitting cross-legged on a classroom floor while the teacher tapped the TV top to try and make the signal clearer. I can clearly remember Neil Armstrong speaking that killer line. Since then I have set up a business called Houston PR and I have acquired a replica space suit that I frequently commute in. As experiences go, that landing, as my office attire testifies, was one of the most formative experiences of my life.
Armstrong, were he still alive today, would be in his eighties. The apex of human space flight is counter-intuitively now long behind us – a legend of the future.
So for John Lewis this is a great platform for a Christmas ad. It’s a contemporary legend that is full of promise.
Of course, there’s another legend at play here. Millennia ago the Greeks burned their tents, retreated and left a wooden horse beside the gate of Troy. Once the horse was inside the city, the soldiers inside the horse had the element of surprise and completed their mission.
Weave these two themes together and you have a great quid pro quo format for a modern Christmas ad. An inspiring story – and within it a hidden message about the attributes of the company that funds it. Legends that inspire and set up a victory, in this case over our wallets. That’s the work of modern PR and brand communications – and its influence on advertising in a nutshell.