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Last week the nation’s heart was stolen by Monty the Penguin, the John Lewis Christmas mascot who just wanted to be loved. Bringing a collective tear to our eyes and a regurgitory bulge to our throats, Monty proved to the world that the British public will fall for just about anything.
Within a week of hitting our screens Monty has spread his message of sharing, love, and above all penguin sex trafficking throughout the nation. Even I have to admit that watching this two minute sobfest filled by heart with emotions – specifically anger, weariness, and a general despair for the future of humanity.
Is this the society that we’ve become? A society that gets teary-eyed over a CGI penguin designed to sell us more socks? A society so obsessed with consumption that a store as nondescript as John Lewis can define the official start of the Christmas holidays? Is it any wonder that Monty the Penguin is so lonely and filled with despair? I know I am.
The chilling tale of a psychologically disturbed little boy who’s ongoing hallucinations are a result of him watching his father being torn apart by ferrel penguins
The worst part of all this is that we don’t just fall for these adverts, we actively embrace them. As the John Lewis commercial has just gone to prove, modern consumers actually enjoy being advertised to. We gawp at our TV screens with our mouths wide open, just waiting for someone to curl their moist brown promotional materials down our eager throats.
Whereas pop-ups and advertisements used to interrupt the content that people really wanted to see, modern day advertising has succeeded in replacing the content all together. The adverts are no longer breaks in our entertainment, they are the entertainment.
In a similar way, advertising no longer seems to promote products, instead, products promote advertising. This is how John Lewis feels it can justify charging £95(!) for the official Monty the Penguin toy. It is also why an entire generation of children are going to bed at night clutching a semi-racist meerkat originally developed to sell cheap car insurance.
At this point many advertising executives would argue that promotional campaigns such as Monty the Penguin set out to do far more than just flog us unwanted tat. They would argue that there are far subtler forces at work, attempting to sell audiences not on a product but on a narrative. In the case of Monty the Penguin this narrative is one of sharing and love, values that they hope will ultimately become synonymous with John Lewis (which will in turn help to flog us unwanted tat).
What’s great about this new concept of “selling a narrative” is that these narratives can be just about anything you want them to be. Adverts like Monty the Penguin are purposefully designed to avoid being overly prescriptive – providing just enough information to encourage a particular emotion, while still allowing individuals to project their own desires onto the brand. For instance, I personally chose to interpret the John Lewis advert as the chilling tale of a psychologically disturbed little boy whose ongoing hallucinations are a result of him watching his father being torn apart by feral penguins.
While the astute among you may argue that you clearly see the boy’s father within the advert, I put it to you that nobody other than the boy himself acknowledges the father. He is clearly just another twisted hallucination in the mind of a future serial killer. This narrative is not only more satisfying, it also helps to make the final sequence all the more sinister:
Despite my twisted penguin fantasies, even I can’t help but enjoy the John Lewis advert on some small level. It’s just so… Christmassy.
Still, the sad truth is that the perfect world projected in such aspirational advertising simply doesn’t exist. As Ebola, famine and endless wars dominate the news agenda, there is a dark irony to the idea that people are sat at home crying over an advertisement.
Still, on the bright side… look at the chubby penguin!