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In Partnership with Digital Cinema Media

Case Study: John Lewis Tiny Dancer

AgencyFinal Cut
Brand: John Lewis
AwardWood Pencil / Film Advertising / Cinema Commercials 61-120 Seconds / 2016
AwardWood Pencil / Film Advertising Crafts / Direction for Film Advertising / 2016    
AwardWood Pencil / Film Advertising Crafts / Editing for Film Advertising   

The Brief

London creative agency adam&eveDDB have made a name for themselves and their client with their ground-breaking John Lewis Christmas ads. So when the retailer wanted to bring some of that magic to its insurance brand, the results had to be up to standard. 
Creative Director Richard Brim put his teams to the task, with a simple brief: sell John Lewis Insurance with a TV Commercial.

John Lewis Tiny Dancer


It was a young creative team from Wales (known at the agency as ‘The Welsh Girls’) who rose to the challenge. Jo Cresswell and Sian Coole had previously worked on Volkswagen and Harvey Nichols, and they approached Richardwith a script for John Lewis.

“Jo and Sian came to me on a Monday morning with this script about a boy playing football, I loved that it was about a kid’s imagination, but something wasn’t sitting comfortably with me. So we discussed it…”

For Richard, these conversations are where adam&eve’s creative reputation crystallises. Or as he puts it, “the conversations are where the best things happen”

“So after that they went away and came back with a script that had something. And it said “we open with Elton John’s Tiny Dancer on the radio…””

With Richard on board, and a creative team ready to go, it was just up to the client to sign off. But this was no ordinary agency-client relationship, “The relationship between John Lewis and adam&eveDDB is a special one. There’s nothing we can’t say to each other. There’s nothing that can be argued or discussed.” And this openness breeds mutual admiration, “they’re instilled with a sense of respect. And likewise we’re instilled with the same respect.”

Case Study: John Lewis Tiny Dancer

In the pitch, agency head Ben Priest and Richard tried their hardest to sell the idea in. They acted out the dance moves, sung Elton John’s Tiny Dancer and pitched Dougal Wilson as the director.

Richard remembers the feedback “The client loved it. He said “That’s great. But I want to look at other music tracks.”” This would become a running theme throughout the creation of the ad. But first, with the client sold, they needed Dougal Wilson to agree to direct.

“Dougal’s integral.” Explains Richard “Yes, [for John Lewis] we’ve done animation, and recently used Kim Gehrig. But Dougal’s been on the journey with us as much as we’ve been on it with him. This film just screamed Dougal – a music video with a little kid who’s an outcast: tick, tick, tick. There were no other directors in the running.”

In the cab on the way to present the idea Richard had spoken to Dougal. And two hours later, and with the concept signed off, they met and agreed to work together again.

Case Study: John Lewis Tiny Dancer


Casting would prove to be a pivotal moment in the production of the film. Taking place in the West End of London, the casting session saw hundreds of children in the running, but Bunny May Lawrence McHugh was in the end the only choice.

“I thought she was over-confident,” admits Richard, “’But Dougal saw the potential in her. After three days of casting we realised that there was only girl who could do it.”

And once the shoot began it was clear that casting and direction choices had worked.

“She nailed it. Her parents nailed it by prepping her. It was seamless and it just happened. Dougal was amazing too.”

With the shoot having gone well, it was down to the edit-suite to deliver the final product. Richard found Dougal Wilson and editor Jo Wright with smiles on their faces, “Dougal never has a smile on his face when he presents the first edit. So we didn’t change a single thing and got the client into the room.”

John Lewis were delighted with the result, but still queried the use of music. Richard and his team took this to heart, “We went into a weird period for a week. These are people who have built the great thing that is John Lewis, and you respect their opinions.”

“There are two sides of the coin – one is what you have in front of you – the ad, the other is what you think a John Lewis ad should be.”

The team at adam&eveDDB played around with a number of other music options. The one that came closest? Lionel Richie’s ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’. In the end though, all parties agreed on Elton John.

Case Study: John Lewis Tiny Dancer


Then came launch day. The spot debuted in a premium Saturday night slot during Britain’s Got Talent on 22 August 2015.

“That’s the most daunting moment. At Christmas you have the build up, with this no-one knew it was coming. So it was a purer experience. You just drop it and see what happens” says Richard.

Press coverage was universally positive, with Bunny May Lawrence McHugh even receiving a profile in the Daily Telegraph. For the team though, it was social media where the real feedback came from.

“The reaction was pretty intense. Social media is a good gauge, and this was more positive more than any [John Lewis ad] I’ve been involved with… because there was nothing not to like.”

For Richard the biggest coup was pulling off a charming, human ad for an insurance brand. “With insurance you’re up against brands like HSBC, Barclays and Aviva. It’s a financial service, so the John Lewis umbrella has touched it, but it’s still an insurance ad… The thing I’m most proud of is that it doesn’t feel like an insurance ad. We treated it with the same principles as the main brand and it paid off. So it proved that for financial services you can do interesting stuff and still get the results.”

This is a point that the D&AD Judges agreed upon when they awarded it three Wood Pencils in 2016. “The jury discussed how wonderfully emotional a seemingly boring service such as insurance could be” Sue Higgs, Creative Director at Publicis London, and Film Advertising Juror, explains “It’s a lovely way of making insurance emotional and relatable. The execution could have been really OTT but instead it was beautifully observed.”

One crucial question remains. Did it sell insurance? “People reacted positively as a brand, but they also signed up for insurance. They associated it with insurance, it did its job.” Richard Brim adds.

Now his mind is cast towards Christmas and whether the next John Lewis / adam&eveDDB collaboration will continue their award-winning run. If Tiny Dancer is anything to go by, the signs are good.

If you think you have a campaign that deserves a Pencil, enter your work into the D&AD Awards and see if our judges agree. When it comes to awards, nothing matters more.

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