The John Lewis Christmas advert 2021 is out. Here's why the ads always make us emotional

·6 min read

Watch: Kate Garraway and Ben Shepard get emotional after watching this year's John Lewis Christmas advert.

The John Lewis Christmas advert has officially dropped and we've had something in our mince pies ever since. 

Featuring newcomer, Lola Young hauntingly crooning a cover of Phil Oakey and Giorgio Moroder's Together In Electric Dreams, the advert, titled Unexpected Guest, depicts a touching teenage love story with a space traveller named Skye, who has never celebrated Christmas, crash-landing in the woods near the home of 14-year-old Nathan, slap bang in the middle of the festivities. 

Nathan introduces his new friend to all our yuletide traditions, including eating mince pies, lighting up the tree and donning a novelty jumper, much to the bemusement of Skye. 

Of course in a truly heart-wrenching twist, Skye can’t stay on planet Earth and the advert ends with the duo sharing a kiss before she heads back home in her rocket, leaving just a twinkling star on a Christmas tree in the distance.

And we're not crying, you are! 

I'm not crying you are! (Getty Images)
I'm not crying you are! (Getty Images)

We're certainly not the only ones to have been choked up by John Lewis' annual festive offering. This morning GMB hosts Kate Garraway and Ben Shephard admitted to getting teary live on air after viewing an emotional clip from the ad.

"We’re all pretty close to the edge here in the studio," Shephard, 46, admitted as cameras cut back to a very watery-eyed team in the studio.

"All sorts of overtones of loss and departure and gifting and loving," Garraway, 54, added.

Garraway has had a particularly difficult year amid her husband Derek Draper’s COVID-19 battle and according to Sally Baker, senior therapist at www.workingonthebody.com it's likely this year's John Lewis advert, in particular, will strike a chord with many, thanks to everything we've endured due to the ongoing pandemic. 

"Many people learnt something profound and enduring from our time in lockdowns and enforced isolation," she explains. 

"We learnt we didn’t miss things or even hanker for more stuff. What we missed to the very core of our being was our people. Our tribe. Our loved ones."

And with last Christmas not quite offering us the opportunity to be together, the advert this year really taps into that emotion. 

Watch: John Lewis festive ad stars young alien experiencing first Christmas

According to Baker, the ad also hooks into our drive for nostalgia, which has been a recurrent theme in our emotional needs while trying to navigate the trials of the pandemic.  

When we’re not able to make very many new memories, we can’t help but let our thoughts turn to ones we’ve already made in Christmases past.

"A time before the world changed and our wish became to spend the festive season with those we care about the most," she explains. "The buying and giving of gifts is ironically secondary to human connection."

While it is clear to see that this year's ad is tapping into our bruised, pandemic-laced emotions, there's something about the John Lewis advert specifically that has us blubbing into the Baileys every year. 

Read more: 'Nobody wants to be alone at Christmas': Man creates tear-jerking John Lewis-style advert with his grandma

What is it about the John Lewis Christmas advert that aways gets us? (Getty Images)
What is it about the John Lewis Christmas advert that aways gets us? (Getty Images)

So what's the secret? Here's 6 psychologist-backed reasons the John Lewis adverts get us every year. 

Tradition

According to Dr Audrey Tang, chartered psychologist, mental health expert and author of new book The Leader’s Guide to Resilience (Pearson, £14.99) some people see the launch of the John Lewis advert as the unofficial start of the festive season. 

"Somewhat akin to the Coca Cola ad, and the “Schools out” in summer, there are some adverts which repeat, almost denoting the time of year," she explains. 

"For those of us who ask whether November 4th is too early to put up the Christmas decorations, others will often mark the start of the festive season by seeing the John Lewis ad on TV…almost as if it gives us permission to begin our celebrations."

But as Dr Tang points out, the funny thing about human nature here is that we are seeking permission at all. "So ingrained are the 'rules' into our upbringing, and while perhaps we can choose to mark our seasons by external events, we also need to remember that we are living our lives for ourselves not for the judgment of others (you don’t see the 365 day Christmas shop questioning their existence!)," she adds. 

Read more: Best matching Christmas pyjamas for families, couples, kids and pets

Sentiment

John Lewis is particularly effective at capturing the zeitgeist with its storytelling, and inevitably will offer something that is likely to bring a tear to the eye. 

"Perhaps it connects us with an experience we have loved in the past, perhaps it triggers exciting thoughts of what is to come, or perhaps it just makes us feel 'warm inside'," Dr Tang explains. 

"Sentiment enables us to focus on feelings rather than thoughts, and in a world that is often dominated with rationale and reason, it is nice to have the opportunity to sit for a moment with our feelings…especially when they are positive ones."

Empathy

According to Dr Tang it is through watching others that we can understand, feel and experience something outside ourselves. "Heartwarming viewing enables us a sense of escapism just for a moment, and an advert is not as long as a film so we don't need to commit much of our time," Dr Tang explains. 

The John Lewis Christmas advert evokes all sorts of nostalgic emotions according to experts. (Getty Images)
The John Lewis Christmas advert evokes all sorts of nostalgic emotions according to experts. (Getty Images)

FOMO

Part of the success of the John Lewis adverts has to be attributed to the feeling of watching, then forming an opinion on something everyone is talking about. 

"Schutz said that relationships with others are as important to human existence as food and water," explains Dr Tang. "And a sense of inclusion of at least knowing the current trend or talking point often gives our self esteem (often measured in comparison with others) a boost."

Read more: M&S' 2021 Christmas clothing advert

Expectation

The John Lewis Christmas campaign is one which, by reputation or certainly perception passed down the grapevine, spares little expense. 

"They often have had world renowned artists singing the soundtrack, (although this year's is a relative newcomer) and the end product is generally one which has been crafted like a movie," Dr Tang explains. "We anticipate we are going to enjoy it…and anticipation in itself can be very positively stimulating for the brain."

Life lessons

The storytelling of the John Lewis ad often has a message to impart, and according to Dr Tang that can be a lovely starting point for discussion on the positive behaviours in life.

"Every culture has passed down stories over the years, whether to scare or even “guilt trip” others into certain behaviours, or away from them; or to teach valuable lessons which can be used to navigate life’s ups and downs." 

Watch: John Lewis and Waitrose owner hires thousands more temporary workers ahead of Christmas

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