Will John Lewis or Publix win the RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge?

Discussion
Sources: John Lewis – “The Beginner”; Publix – “A recipe for what matters.”
Nov 22, 2022

Episode three of the RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge includes one of the most highly anticipated spots of the holiday season, and one that fits the spirit of the season, even if it is not all about December 25.

British department store retailer John Lewis’ “The Beginner” has been viewed nearly 3.2 million times on YouTube after just 12 days on the social media site. The mini movie tells the story of one man’s attempt to learn how to skateboard. We’ll leave it at that to avoid getting into spoiler territory.

Publix’s “A recipe for what matters” is a conventional 60-second spot that tells the story of family, albeit with a Thanksgiving focus. The commercial has been viewed more than 7.4 million times on YouTube since going live two weeks ago. The Publix spot doesn’t fit the technical definition of a Christmas commercial challenge. RetailWire hopes you will indulge us in this editorial decision.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What is your critique of the holiday spots from John Lewis and Publix? Which retailer does a better job of connecting with its core customers while reaching out to new shoppers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I love the John Lewis ad as it struck a strong chord with its overall messaging, however the Publix ad offers a stronger connection to the brand and what it offers."

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21 Comments on "Will John Lewis or Publix win the RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge?"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Both John Lewis and Publix strike a sentimental theme which somehow seems appropriate for this holiday season.

I like the impact of the John Lewis advertisement and the fact it highlights an issue and a cause which is very important. In tough times, I think people will respect this and recognize the good the company is trying to do. However I have to say the ad will not resonate with everyone and it really doesn’t link much to John Lewis’ products or offer.

Publix’s spot resonates far more. It shows the passing of time and how Thanksgiving changes as kids get older and families change. It also links to food, which is what Publix is all about.

So my vote goes to Publix. But my respect goes to John Lewis for doing something worthy and a little different!

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I liked both commercials, but I will give a slight edge to the John Lewis commercial. There was more meaning in it and there was some lightness in it as well.

Kathleen Fischer
BrainTrust

I love the John Lewis ad as it struck a strong chord with its overall messaging, however the Publix ad offers a stronger connection to the brand and what it offers.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

I’m always excited to see the John Lewis ads — but not this year. It’s a nice story and well-filmed, but doesn’t have much to do with Christmas or John Lewis — it’s just nice. Publix does their usual excellent holiday job and I like that they tie in the food to the story (as they usually do). Full disclosure — we own a set of the pilgrim salt and pepper shakers. 🙂

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

Stephen,

I agree about the John Lewis commercials. My favorite of all time is the 2012 Snowman commercial.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

I liked that one too! However, for me the absolute masterpiece was the 2010 advert which kicked off John Lewis being known for iconic marketing. It wasn’t a Christmas spot, just a general campaign.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

John Lewis’ spot shows the power of persevering and investing in relationships as a labor of love. When a big gift arrives on his doorstep, the man is ready. Even the crooner version of a Blink-182 hit perfectly captures how this new family bonds across generations.

Publix’s ad shows how recipes, traditions and love endure and connect us. The empty nesters miss their adult daughter, who uses food as a welcome excuse to keep in touch.

Both spots are heartwarming. John Lewis’ tenderness and empathy for kids in need will touch its core customers and win new ones.

Mark Self
BrainTrust

Okay. Give me a minute to dry my eyes…

Both do a great job of connecting with their audience and engaging new shoppers. The John Lewis story, and the cause highlighted at the end, make it the slight winner in my book because it ties the skateboard journey in a nice little “get your tissue out” bow.

The Publix ad deserves an honorable mention in a difficult bracket, but it is John Lewis by a hair.

David Spear
BrainTrust

Both were terrific. Each was unique in its own way, tugging at your own family memories, the love of cooking, and the fondness of having guests over during a holiday celebration. Tough choice, but I’d have to give the very slight nod to Publix.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

They’re both great ads. The Publix ad really resonated with me. I have three adult children and have had that same call. I’m also an adopted person and one of my three kids, the one who calls about recipes, was adopted. The John Lewis ad had me reaching for a tissue. I have to vote for John Lewis.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Does anyone remember the amazing commercials Canadian Tire ran in the late ’80s and ’90s? Heartwarming mini-stories, really, that brought you right into the moment. That’s what this John Lewis commercial did for me. It’s a wonderful spot with a commitment to help kids far beyond the holidays.

But Publix, you’re killing me. What I wouldn’t give to be able to call my mother on Thanksgiving and ask her stupid questions that she would bend over backwards to answer. That spot touched a nerve and a memory. Publix wins this round for me.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

A couple of terrific holiday spots. I especially enjoy the fact that neither retailer is selling anything, simply trying to capture the true spirit of the holidays I have seen the Publix ad several times. This is my first time viewing the John Lewis one. While it is engaging, the message is almost lost in the ad. Therefore, I vote for Publix in a tie breaker.

Verlin Youd
BrainTrust

I love that both ads focus on human connections rather than more in-your-face commercial aspects of the holiday season. The John Lewis ad pulls just ahead of the Publix ad for the theme of reaching above and beyond direct family, helping out others in need at what can be a very challenging time of year. I will agree with Kathleen that the Publix ad was more connected to their specific brand and offering.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Both ads were great. I really loved the John Lewis ad and the message it conveyed, but admit I had to look up the company to learn what they sell. My vote is for Publix.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

That “Etsy” spot isn’t looking half bad … no, seriously, I was disappointed: Publix just didn’t do anything for me — being understated to the point of really no statement (it would have made a great phone ad) — so Lewis wins by default; and that latter one wasn’t bad, actually, but more of a PSA than a branding message … which of course many will argue is exactly what a Christmas spot should be.

Brad Halverson
Guest

No statement was my exact thought about Publix. To the point of, why are they spending this money, because it doesn’t feel like the brand is being advanced forward. Whereas even if John Lewis doesn’t promote their products, they hit the target with a sentiment everyone can identify with during the holiday season.

Brad Halverson
Guest

Doing seasonal brand promotion can be like threading a needle, because incorporating brand story, plus products, while also earning laughter or a cry sometimes doesn’t always end up as impactful.

Publix incorporates product usage, and it feels warm and fuzzy, but this often used formula is a little worn out. Is there any differentiation compared to other grocery retailers selling the same things?

John Lewis earns the win, because they avoid all of the complication by focusing instead on community, what the company and people are doing/can do, wrapped in a light, novel story.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Difficult choice — both are so well tuned to hitting the heartstrings. The John Lewis ad, however, adds a bit of real surprise at the end, including public service vs the Publix ad which is family focused from the start. I’m a surprise guy, but the mom and daughter hits closer to home.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

Both are well-made feel-good stories.

I give the John Lewis spot the edge. The protagonist’s quest to master skateboarding demands attention. It seems foolish until his true motivation is revealed at the end.

The motive of the characters in the Publix ad is heartwarming, but much more expected.

In the charity hierarchy, kindness to strangers ranks slightly above kindness to family. During the holidays it behooves us to find ways to do both.

Oliver Guy
BrainTrust

Both of these adverts brought tears to my eyes.

There. I have said it.

It is really nice to see a UK advert being compared in this way. What hit me about both of these adverts is that product placement is non-existent — or so subtle that I cannot see it. This is very different to adverts of old, where product was often centre. Both are selling brand but also sentiment and tugging on the heart strings — focusing on togetherness at this time of year. The objective: think togetherness.

If I am the core customer then both of these connect with me. The Publix one is super at attempting to span generations. John Lewis focuses on family, but in a single setting. Emotion sells. Full stop.

Anil Patel
BrainTrust

Holiday advertisements have their own charm. I believe it will be unfair to compare these two campaigns. John Lewis a Britain-based brand chose the Christmas theme while Publix being an American brand chose Thanksgiving as their subject. Both ads are innovative and promote a thoughtful message that their audiences will connect to.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I love the John Lewis ad as it struck a strong chord with its overall messaging, however the Publix ad offers a stronger connection to the brand and what it offers."

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