Christmas Ad Review: John Lewis ‘#MontyThePeguin’

Oh John Lewis. Last year you create a tradition: the Christmas ad. Sadly, I think you might have killed the tradition this year. Last year the ad was evocative and powerful. This year, for me, it’s just weird.

First, does John Lewis sell penguins? What’s the deal with the hashtag in the title?

But look more deeply, and the ad has a real sinister undertone.Why does this kid project feelings of sexual frustration, isolation and loneliness onto his penguin toy?

In “The Case of Little Hans“, Freud provides a psychoanalysis of a similar child. In this example, the child adopted a phobia of horses. Why? For various reasons, he concentrated anxieties and fears he felt towards his father, a feeling that he might be unloved when his sister was born and because of his desire for his mother. (To read more about psychoanalysis and Christmas why not read my 2011 paper ‘The organization of Santa: fetishism, ambivalence and narcissism‘)

Watch the John Lewis ad again, bearing this in mind. See how his parents show him almost no affection. At the start of the ad he’s in his room watching TV alone. Then, he’s playing hide and seek on his own. Then lego. Then trampoline. Then football. Where are this kid’s parents? Towards the end of the spot, he’s even on the bus on his own. Then instead of opening their presents together, he’s made to open his one present on his own under the watching glare of his mother.

Whenever the kids parents are shown, their faces are left out or blurred. We see his parents walking past his hiding hole – ignoring their child. A man walking alongside him as he plays football, not playing with him. He eats at the table on his own. Look at the fear in his eyes. His parent’s sit together on the sofa with another child, he has to make do with a beanbag.

The conclusion: this is really a deep representation of a dysfunctional modern family with undertones of domestic abuse. The child projects his need to be loved by a warming loving couple onto the penguin. Or his parents are unable to hide their hatred of the child who ruined their otherwise stellar careers and perfect lives – which would have allowed them to buy everything from John Lewis not just some cheap penguin toy.

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5 thoughts on “Christmas Ad Review: John Lewis ‘#MontyThePeguin’

  1. Whilst I appreciate your argument I beg to differ on a number of counts.

    I understand that the signs of a dysfunctional family etc are there, however I feel that people watching are so embroiled in the ‘omg a John Lewis ad, that penguin is so cute’ that the tones going beyond the cute penguin are ignored. I certainly didn’t think too much into them until reading your argument.

    I think this advert is strikingly clever. After last years campaign the company received lots of criticism for going over the top, and this advert is much more understated than the previous bear cartoon.

    The company has always been a signal of a British family business, and I believe that this advert is effective in showing this. It is clearly a very ‘cute’ advert and whilst as you say it does show a dysfunctional family, I feel that this will be overlooked and seen by many as one of the best Xmas ads this year.

    I see your points, but I personally feel that the focus on the penguin and the happy ending that comes out of it undermines all of the problems and limitations to it representing a tight knitt family. I can also seen why the hashtag was included in the name, twitter went absolutely mad the day it came out.

    Also John Lewis are selling the same penguin cuddly toys at 95 quid each, so not quite the ‘cheap penguin toy’!!! No doubt they will sell out of them all with ease too!

  2. Thanks for leaving the first non-spam comment on the blog!
    I didn’t realize John Lewis were selling Monty the Penguin at £95! Presumably, if the ad is effective, every kid will want two Monty’s so their Monty is lonely?

    1. There are different sized penguins! From £12 as in the size of the Monty on TV and escalates to a large one for £96. There are also two sorts: a Monty and a Mabel. So the child can give the penguin the happy ending!

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