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Comment Happy Snapper: The Anti-AI Future Is Unpredictable

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The biggest annual date in the Christmas marketing calendar, the new John Lewis advert was unveiled to great fanfare earlier this month. The story is about a young boy excitingly planting a seed to grow a Christmas tree and instead finds himself confronted with a giant Venus flytrap. The unruly carnivorous plant doesn’t fit the traditional tree stereotype held by the family and is relegated to the garden. It soon becomes cherished thanks to it spitting out a collection of tailored gifts all to the sound track of original song ‘Festa’ sung by Italian Andrea Bocelli.

More big shop of horrors than Little Shop of Horrors, recently, John Lewis needed something to capture the public’s imagination and get the tills ringing.

The advert seems to be a hit and garnered 240 pieces of coverage on the launch day according day to John Lewis.

So what does a Venus flytrap called ‘Snapper’ and Italian rock opera have to do with Christmas?

Nothing, and that’s completely the point.

According to Charlotte Lock, customer director at John Lewis, “We were very keen to not have something that AI could predict,”. 

This is now the test of originality. After 14 years with creative agency Adam&EveDDB, John Lewis signed with Publicis Groupe agency Saatchi & Saatch in May. Knowing they needed to do something different, the Christmas idea was part of the pitch. The whispery cover version was out, as was a Strictly-type roll call of smug celebrities that other brands have continued to churn out.

Snapper has plenty of merch. to take him into stores and into people’s homes, plus appearances on the front of John Lewis’ Oxford Street flagship and Kew Gardens’ Christmas at Kew light trail.

It’s clever and it could turn into a Percy Pig type spin-off if they decided to go down that route.

In August, Leeds-based marketing agency, Boutique, tasked AI chatbot ChatGPT with predicting the plot for the 2023 John Lewis advert. The AI script, unoriginally called ‘A Timeless Gift – “Celebrating the magic of giving”.’ featured a pocket watch left in a cozy coffee shop in a picturesque snowy village.

The narrator says: ‘In a village where time stood still, the magic of Christmas was about to unfold.’ In the next scene, a young barista named Emily can be seen as she works behind the counter, serving drinks and interacting with the customers. She has a ‘warm smile and a welcoming demeanour’, according to ChatGPT. As Emily notices an old pocket watch left on a table, she picks it up and examines it. The watch is ‘worn but still ticking’, ChatGPT explains. 

As Emily investigates the pocket watch, the ad delves into a heartwarming series of flashbacks, involving different people from various time periods throughout history receiving the pocket watch as a gift.

Like a creative turkey not voting for Christmas, Simon Bollon, managing director at Boutique, said: ‘The John Lewis Christmas ad is a staple of the marketing world and with Megaforce and Saatchi & Saatchi partnering for this year’s ad, we should expect something bigger and better than we’ve seen before. Sorry AI, but we think you’re losing this one…’

Before the advert’s launch, betting sites continued to offer odds on who would perform the song in the advert with singers usually singing covers. Betway moved Kylie Minogue and Sam Ryder into joint favourites at the top of the betting market at 7/2 with both singers given a 22% chance of performing this year. Andrea Bocelli was not mentioned.

If AI works with what we already know, won’t everything just be a facsimile of what went before? AI is a very clever tool and will save many hours of manpower doing mundane and repetitive tasks.

You can imagine many advertising agencies are using AI to eliminate the lamest or most predictable ads, but also as a benchmark for its ideas. There are probably many brands hoping to get rid of the creative agency all together, but in order to replace designers and creatives, clients will have to be very detailed with what they want. Which is basically what creatives do for them in the first place.

The John Lewis 2023 Christmas advert works because it is something different and unexpected. It won’t work every time. Humans like to be surprised, but it also needs to make sense in the very small window you have to capture people’s attentions. Out predicting AI should force extra creativity and outside-of-the-box thinking from retailers and brands. 

Will the future be more randomness and unpredictability? We can only dream…

Advertising, AI, Christmas, Comment, John Lewis