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John Lewis insurance creates a mess

November 2021

After just two weeks on-air, John Lewis’ latest launch for Home Insurance was hastily pulled amidst a flood of complaints — most notably that the ad was deceptive.

‘Let Life Happen’ stars a young boy dressed in his mother’s clothes galivanting throughout the family home, destroying everything in sight. The approach was reminiscent of the brand’s award-winning ‘Tiny Dancer’ spot — albeit with the damage more deliberately malicious.

With advertising’s primary role to seed positive feelings and associations in people’s minds to affect future predisposition, how did John Lewis’ Home Insurance spot perform? Response on social media was mixed: some applauded the light-hearted and carefree approach, while others were turned-off by the seemingly entitled boy (and, more broadly, were uneasy about the sexualization of children). Many also found the suggestion that John Lewis would cover such damage misleading.

We put these questions, and more, to homeowners — using our tried and tested three C’s framework:

  • Captivate: Does it stand out and grab attention?
  • Connect: Does it instantly recall the brand?
  • Compel: Does it motivate behavioral change?

Captivate

Primed by the backing track of Stevie Nicks’ ‘Edge of Seventeen’, the young boy and his outlandish antics were the undisputed standout of the ad, proving highly attention-grabbing. Around a quarter found the story upbeat and amusing, liking that it wasn’t overly serious and often relating it to their own experiences with carefree children. 

However, a similar proportion reacted more negatively, disapproving of the property destruction and violence — seeing it as either unnecessary or reminiscent of an “entitled little brat”. The mother’s nonplussed response further cemented this angst, with people inferring that John Lewis was endorsing this type of bad behavior (and that its Home Insurance would cover you for the subsequent damage). This meant those who’d already seen the campaign were quickly becoming fed up with it. 

John Lewis Let Life Happen - Ad Testing - Captivate


Connect

While some felt the high production values and beautifully furnished property were indicative of the retailer’s typical approach, the majority were reliant on the end frame for resolution — entirely missing the watermark in the corner (which we often see completely wash over people).

However, the real trouble for John Lewis is that people’s attention was absorbed in the violent destruction of property — rather than the light-heartedness of “kids will be kids” (and John Lewis having your back) — which was seemingly the intention.

Crossing the line from incidental to deliberate detracted from the message’s credibility, and generally meant it didn’t work as well to frame people’s expectations around the category — let alone brand.

John Lewis Let Life Happen - Ad Testing - Connect


Compel

The fun tone and over-the-top theatrics left people feeling John Lewis is a brand that “doesn’t take itself too seriously”, and that it does things differently to others. However, distaste toward the young boy’s antics — and lack of a clear and credible tie-in to Home Insurance — meant the ad did little to positively influence attitudes and perceptions. 

More broadly, some inferred John Lewis Home Insurance covered deliberate damage, while others were annoyed by the ad inadvertently suggesting this. While this was unsurprising in retrospect given the decision to take the ad off-air, the frequency of this sentiment was notable. 

John Lewis Let Life Happen - Advertising Testing - Compel


What’s the learning for marketers?

Advertisers have to strike a delicate balance between the need to stand out and catch people’s attention, and to elicit a positive emotional response. It’s easy to see why John Lewis, and its agency adam&eveDDB, would want to subvert category tropes and bring something fresh and bold to the insurance category — AVIVA and Churchill have highlighted some of the challenges brands face.

But, in this pursuit unintended consequences were left unchecked — and effectiveness suffered as a result. While pre-testing’s primary role is to help brands understand their consumers better, structural oversights such as this could’ve been easily picked up on (and addressed) prior to investing heavily in production which will likely never see the light of day again.

John Lewis Let Life Happen - Advertising Testing - Performance Summary

This is a self-funded case study using our Ad Testing solution.

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