Creating Christmas Carols 849 words · 4 minute read

This reposted article was originally featured in the 11.28.2014 issue of MusicWeek Magazine. Click to view the original.

Music Agency Music Dealers examines John Lewis’ ability to consistently conjure seasonal anthems to benefit its brand, and the overall importance of music in consumer campaigns.


A powerhouse brand that dominates the holiday ad space, John Lewis has developed a successful sonic identity through a strategic process of creating anthemic Christmas carols, as demonstrated in their most recent holiday advertisement, “Monty’s Christmas.”

John Lewis leverages a consistent Christmas music strategy, with an up-and-coming artist covering a well-known song originally performed by a titan of music industry past. This year, for its holiday ad, “Monty’s Christmas”, Tom Odell, Ivor Novello’s 2014 “Songwriter of the Year”, covered “Real Love”, a powerful, posthumously-released song penned by John Lennon.

As a full-service music agency, Music Dealers has seen music strategies that fall on all points of the music marketing spectrum, and we’ve identified three components that are common across all successful sonic identities: consistency, engagement, and brand awareness.

Consistency: To craft a successful sonic identity, a brand must develop and adhere to defined “musical guidelines,” the way it adheres to the strict logo and brand guidelines of its visual identity.

With disciplined music production, John Lewis has developed that consistency, resulting in an inimitable sonic brand that is synonymous with Christmas in the UK. Demonstrated most clearly over the past five years, John Lewis foregoes common jingle-bell soundtracks in favor of music that lures consumers with tender tugs on the strings of their emotions. Its consistency pays dividends; viewers have come to expect John Lewis’ sonic strategy, ready to well up with a tear as the ad begins on television, or as the YouTube play button is pressed.

Engagement: A strong sonic identity allows a brand to leverage music beyond its initial purpose, extending the life expectancy of a song beyond a potentially short-lived thirty-second spot.

The current climate of the music industry has produced endless choices and a menu with far too many tasty things to order. This market saturation forces consumers to look to brands as trusted filters for talented artists, a responsibility that John Lewis accepts and exceeds yearly. With this trust, it makes itself valuable in its consumers’ lives beyond the products it sells. Featured songs from John Lewis Christmas advertisements consistently climb the music charts, both in the UK and abroad, lengthening the life expectancy of its contenta result of its solid sonic identity.

Brand Awareness: A function of the sonic identity is to promote strong and consistent brand awareness across all sonic touchpoints and to amplify a company’s brand message to consumers.

John Lewis’ effective sonic identity continuously promotes brand awareness and differentiates the John Lewis brand from the competition with every note. In “Monty’s Christmas,” John Lewis intentionally does not advertise its products or services, a decided omission that illustrates the dexterity of the brand’s association with the holidays. Rather, visually and sonically, the company promotes its brand message of giving and amplifies this sentiment to its consumers: “I go to John Lewis to find the perfect thing to give to someone else”, instead of, “I go to John Lewis to buy a sweater.” Most importantly, the true benefit to its sonic identity is that consumers will forever associate John Lewis’ captivating holiday songs with John Lewis, an association that will benefit the brand for decades to come.

Music, when justly employed, has a way of pushing the envelope. The best music strategy involves risk, daringa step in a new direction. While John Lewis precisely followed its proven system of music selection for Monty’s Christmas, one could interpret the brand’s music strategy as “low risk”. By relying on the continued success of its previous models, John Lewis opts for secure results rather than experimenting with variations of style, lyrical dimension, or lower levels of artist notoriety.

We’re curious to see if next year John Lewis will employ such daring, and develop a stronger, more mature sonic identity in the process. Perhaps the brand can retain the same strategy of featuring up-and-coming artists who cover famous songs, yet modernise that holiday tune to capitalise on the shifting trends of the music industry.

Regardless, the commercial is once again musically brilliant, as reflected in its results: the YouTube advert accumulates views by the millions daily; its featured music returns triumphantly to the iTunes charts; and engagement skyrockets with the release of a Storytelling app, a virtual reality set that lets you peer into Monty and Sam’s world, and at its flagship location through a giant booth that lets children create giant, 3D versions of their favourite toys.

There’s nothing left to do but crown John Lewis as king. As we look forward to the heart-warming content they will bestow upon us next year, we predict this upscale, department store brand will leverage music even more to maximise engagement in 2015. And we also predict that competitors will once again have a hard time reaching John Lewis, the brightest sonic ornament atop the Christmas tree.

By: Eric Sheinkop, CEO, Music Dealers