In 2016, adam&eveDDB won the effectiveness Grand Prix at Cannes Lions for John Lewis to add to its staggering 124 creative awards over the past five years. At the heart of the agency’s winning approach is creative that provokes strong emotion.

According to research carried out by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, emotional advertising has double the impact of rational messaging when done correctly.

Adam&eveDDB’s work for John Lewis’ Christmas campaigns over the years is widely heralded as the best examples of emotional advertising done well, and the agency, along with John Lewis, customer director Craig Inglis, returned to Cannes Lions this year to take to the Inspiration Stage and discuss how it all comes together.

“The pressure around the John Lewis Christmas TV advertising each year is intense,” says Richard Brim, chief creative officer, adam&eveDDB. “It starts building almost a full-year in advance as the process evolves mainly through instinct. Every team in the agency has a stab at the creative and I usually go through around 300 different scripts. It’s always the team you least expect, who arrives at the best idea. The pressure builds because the country really cares about it and it now heralds the holiday season in the UK. When it drops and the TV news reports it, that terrifies me. I can disagree with what the industry may think but you can’t disagree with the public.”

Craig Inglis, customer director, John Lewis started working with James Murphy, founder and global CEO of adam&eve in 2010 when together, they produced the ‘She’s Always A Woman’ ad sung by Fyfe Dangerfield.

“The John Lewis brand had a very clear problem at the time,” says Murphy. “It was well-loved and well trusted but even it’s most loyal customers were visiting only a couple of times a year and buying only product. This is a brand that has 350,000 products with 85% of purchasing decisions made by women so we decided to tell the story of its relationship with this audience on a more emotional level.”

The choice of music for the brand’s first venture into emotional advertising was pivotal and each year, proves to be the most challenging piece of the jigsaw.

“The reality is that it always comes down to two or three tracks that we all disagree on and you just have to feel your way around it. There’s no science to it, only instinct and judgement,” Brim says.

According to Inglis, John Lewis stopped conducting pre-testing when he realised that the research model is based on the effectiveness of a 30-second spot from the 1950s.

He says: “The findings that came back for ‘She’s Always A Woman’ were that it wouldn’t be successful because there was no branding until the end, and no obvious product information. If we’d have listened, it would have killed it at birth. Emotional advertising works on a lower frequency, higher impact model.”

The success of subsequent John Lewis Christmas campaigns such as Snowman, The Bear and the Hare, Man on the Moon, Monty the Penguin and Buster The Boxer are well documented.

Last year’s Buster The Boxer ad received 65 million views on YouTube during its first few weeks plus 81,000 parodies. It was the number one globally trending conversation on Twitter just 45 minutes after launching and the parody with Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton bouncing on the trampoline had gained more than 150,000 social views in its first 24-hours of being online.

“It’s now so important to launch across digital channels first before it hits the TV screens,” says Murphy. “It never ceases to surprise us how the engagement, social conversations and views continue to grow exponentially year on year.”

For John Lewis, the Christmas ad ushers in a trading period that sees the brand make 40% of its yearly profits in just five weeks so the commercial pressure is also white hot.

“I love the fact that each year the Christmas ad has a corralling effect on staff as well and gears them up for the long festive trading period,” Inglis says. “The key for anyone considering this form of advertising is not to try and do a John Lewis. It only works if you stay true to your own brand and reflect your brand values with authenticity. We don’t mind all the Christmas retail ads that have replicated our style. If it improves the overall quality of advertising in the UK (which it has done), that can only be a good thing, right?”