Despite being excited by the opening of the new John Lewis in Cheltenham, writing a blog post about its interesting history and going along to a behind the scenes tour, I can’t help questioning the meaning of its rebranding, ‘Better together: the power of partnership.’
My mum, like thousands of others, has been swept away by the new John Lewis advert which depicts the heart-warming narrative of a school play all to the soundtrack of Queen’s rousing Bohemian Rhapsody. The end moral/message is, ‘When you’re part of it, you put your heart into it.’ while the tagline is, ‘For us, it’s personal.’
It’s not even the Christmas advert but Twitter went mental, my mum (who was staying here) actually called us into the lounge to watch it. But being the cynic that I am, it got me thinking – Isn’t this just a big marketing ploy to get us shopping at John Lewis and Waitrose?
In this week’s Waitrose ‘Weekend’ paper it celebrates, ‘the qualities that set the business apart from its competitors.’ – ‘This is a business that is co-owned by people who care deeply about what they do and the community they serve. It’s a way of life, not just a job.’
It’s interesting. If you unpick it, it’s very persuasive language. It’s an advert. They are still a company that wants to make profit in a very competitive world full of people who are becoming seemingly ever more ‘savvy’ and discerning when it comes to where they buy stuff from. Or are we actually still very gullible as we are still ‘buying’ into a brand – just a more ‘ethical’ one?
Like in any other big company, John Lewis has a marketing department with people nodding away in meetings believing this idea and loving the fact that this stuff is hitting the editorial headlines. But, like all other big businesses, they are answerable to a commercial manager who is reporting to a board about its financial status.
In my earlier blog post about John Lewis history, I explained how its success is down to a radical ‘experiment’ which was the idea of founder John Spedan Lewis. His quite radical ideas in the 1920s included creating a ‘partnership’ where employees gained benefits along with the owners. In a BBC interview he said, ‘The John Lewis Partnership has been an experiment of that sort – not with a seed but with an idea: A better way of managing business so instead of the many being exploited by the few, there would be genuine partnership for all.’
While I admired his radical ideas for the times then – when it really meant something; when people didn’t have basic workers’ rights, I’m not sure if I admire the marketing spin on these ideas now. Of course, it’s clever and people are buying into it but we’re living in a capitalist world so to use socialist rhetoric smacks of duplicity in my opinion.
That’s me probably struck off the John Lewis guest list but hopefully, it will get some people thinking a bit deeper!