Can a brand make an artist?

Something that always gets my attention (and keeps it) is music, whether I’m watching TV, shopping or exercising. It’s everywhere and has the power to play with our mood in a way we are unable to control.

This got me thinking about the real power music could have on the artist and their rise to stardom. It’s a little back to front, typically an artist used to promote a brand, yet now a major retailer gives someone relatively unknown the chance to rise to mega stardom. And they do it by taking song from the archives, revamping it, and giving it a new lease of life so both the new and old song can be loved once more.

I’d like to take you on a brief timeline of John Lewis. It’s coming up to Christmas and people are always wondering what the next TV ad will be, me included!

Since 2008, John Lewis has dominated the Christmas TV ad market with touching short stories involving children, snowmen and love. They all have the same things in common and they are a happy ending and a beautiful song.

2008 was the year John Lewis expertly used the Beatles classic ‘From Me to you’ in a stripped back acoustic style. A beautiful rendition using just a piano and multiple voices symbolised the giving of gifts to others.

Then in 2009, John Lewis produced another piano cover of one of rock and rolls greatest hits, ‘Sweet Child of Mine’, previously by Guns n Roses. A song you would probably never associate with John Lewis, Christmas, Children or shopping for loved ones. It worked wonderfully and was made available on all music download sites immediately.

2010 saw Ellie Goulding sing the Elton John classic, ‘Your Song’. Already a huge favourite among his fans, Ellie recreated it for John Lewis, reaching number 2 in the charts, her highest position even to date. She has since made the transition from British starlet, to world star, playing globally in huge sell out arenas.

We reached 2011 and by then, people were waiting for the TV ad to hit the screens in the same way children of the 90’s would only consider it Christmas when the big red trucks of Coca Cola hit the screens… you know the one!

A cover of The Smiths song ‘Please Please Let Me Get What I Want’ accompanied the story of a small boy counting down the days to Christmas, using magic wands to speed up time. It’s here we start to hear how the sales blossom in light of the ad’s popularity – up 9.3% YoY in the five weeks to December 2011.

In 2012, Gabrielle Aplin covered the Frankie Goes to Hollywood classic, ‘The Power of Love’, accompanied solely by a piano. The song became John Lewis’ first number one at Christmas and again their choice of music made a significant impact on sales. Not only accounting for an overall YoY increase of 44.3% in the five weeks to Christmas, the collaboration with Gabrielle led online channel break through the £800m mark in sales. Unknown by most at the time, Gabrielle has gone on to release an album and fill arenas throughout Europe supporting the likes of John Mayer.

2013, The Bear and the Hare. I don’t need to explain this beautiful story that enwrapped our hearts! The ad has been John Lewis’ most successful to date in terms of media coverage. ‘Somewhere Only We Know’, originally by Keane, was beautifully covered by Lily Allen, who, although a name most will recognise, hadn’t been on the music scene for a number of years. This again went to number one where the original could only make number 3.

Last year, 2014, saw the creation of Monty the penguin, a little boys stuffed toy that came to life in his imagination when played with. The ad was accompanied by Tom Odell’s ‘Real Love’, originally by John Lennon. Reaching number 7, it was Tom’s bestselling entry into the charts. The stuffed toy was also produced for the shops and sold out very quickly.

I suppose I went off track a little here, but the point of the story is that each ad would have been received very differently if another track were to be chosen. Would they have had the same success? Would the artists have carried on when otherwise they may have fallen away?

Music is remarkable in so many ways. It brightens even the gloomiest of afternoons. With just 85 days until Christmas, I’m sure the next instalment of this marketing heritage isn’t too far away.

Ashlea Treacher
Account Executive

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