Brands. Know your place (on my iPod).

Keep-Out-Restricted-Area-Sign-S-2451The day after Lilly Allen returned to the number one spot in the UK singles chart I re-read a recent article in Music Week, “The secret to music and brand success at Christmas” which explored the importance of music in brand campaigns at Christmas. The reason I thought I’d have another read was because there was a quote from Eric Sheinkop, CEO of Music Dealers and co-author of Hit Brands, suggesting that John Lewis has in some way become “a trusted filter for great music and consumers look to them to discover the latest upcoming releases”. As a John Lewis customer my immediate reaction was “Are you mad?”, I would never want to think my music consumption was influenced by this wonderfully reliable brand that my mother loves so much. So when I saw that Lilly Allen had returned to number 1 with her Keane cover I started to question whether the new home of music really is the Electronics department in the Oxford Street John Lewis.

Let’s look at the facts. John Lewis’ annual Christmas campaign has become a national music event that is on a par with the announcement of the X Factor winner in terms of selling records and social impact. This from a brand that not long ago would never have considered doing television advertising. So far, each year the campaign has been a perfect blend of creativity with engaging visual narrative and music that is both nostalgic and current. It is not a controversial statement to say that the ads have been on brand for both John Lewis and Christmas. I bitch and moan about the John Lewis ads for their downright niceness but I’m guessing that the brief each year has a massive lump of implied “BE NICE”. But we’re not here to talk about being nice, we’re hear to talk music and John Lewis gets it bloody right, for the masses, every year. I would have burnt my Hunter wellies, if I had any, in protest at the Smiths’ cover they did a couple of years ago but even I had to acknowledge it worked and it worked really well.

So does this make John Lewis my “trusted filter for great music”? Should I be searching for the John Lewis playlist on Spotify or looking forward to the new Lilly Allen Tour sponsored by John Lewis? NOPE. You see John Lewis’ Christmas campaign is a fantastic example of how powerful music is as both a brand and marketing communicator. Once a year we all wonder what track they are going to cover in a slow and wistful way, each year we either hate it or love it but we all get it.

What the “never knowingly undersold” brand gets really right is that it never knowingly oversells its relationship with music. John Lewis doesn’t come to us making out that it is down with the cool kids. It doesn’t put on a festival in Hyde Park with vol-au-vents and comfy sofas for all. It knows its place and because of this its relationship with music is even more powerful. It produces a mega music based campaign every Christmas, revels in the glow of its achievement and then goes back to selling tellies, cutlery and comfy kids shoes. So yes it is a “trusted filter” but only when it needs to be and only when it is relevant to its brand and its consumer.

Hopefully this is the last time I will talk about the John Lewis Christmas campaign for 2013 but I bet it isn’t. In the meantime feel free to go and buy the book Hit Brands written by Daniel Jackson (CORD), Eric Sheinkop (Music Dealers) and Richard Jankovich (loads of companies) and tell me what it is like as I’ve still not got my copy.

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