How John Lewis Dominated Social Media With its Monty the Penguin Christmas 2014 Advert #MontythePenguin

Here in the UK, the department store John Lewis' Christmas advert is something of an annual cultural event. The commercials are renowned for telling touching, emotional stories centred around the spirit of Christmas giving - as well as signalling, for many, the start of the holiday shopping season. If you aren't familiar with any of the brand's Christmas campaigns, check out recent examples including 2013's Bear and the Hare and 2012's The Journey.

This year, I wanted to take a closer look at how John Lewis built and launched its biggest advertising campaign of the year. It was always going to be a talking point online but, in particular, I wanted to see how the brand utilised social media to maximise exposure for the ad, and start to turn fans and viewers into paying customers. What follows is the story of the run-up to and first 24 hours (and a bit) of John Lewis' Christmas 2014 advertising campaign on social media, with a list of early indicators of success and key takeways for all marketers at the end:

A few days before the launch of the advert (without John Lewis prompting it), excitement was already building online amongst consumers...

On John Lewis' part, the hype-building began with cryptic adverts on the London Underground and plush toys being sent out to select individuals (e.g. journalists and high profile individuals on social media...). 

Notice the #montythepenguin hashtag, which will appear consistently throughout the campaign.

On November 5th, the night before The Big Reveal, John Lewis used social media to tease the ad's launch, and encouraged people to follow:

Shortly after 8am the next morning, John Lewis premiered the advert on its social media accounts - Twitter, YouTube, Google+ and Facebook:

There's that hashtag again...

Its website and social profiles were re-branded to reflect the campaign, too:

Notice how the Twitter bio has also been updated to encourage people to follow two newly-created Twitter accounts (more on these later).

The response to the advert was overwhelmingly positive, and soon #montythepenguin and other John Lewis-related keywords were trending top in the UK...

... and making an impact worldwide:

Here are a few more striking statistics taken after the first 3 hours of the campaign launching, as dug up by Hotwire:

  • 49,562 tweets about the John Lewis Monty the Penguin advert
  • #montythepenguin was number 1 UK trend within 90 minutes of advert release
  • Sentiment – 2.3% Negative, 97.7% positive/neutral

The initial Twitter buzz trumped the past two year's campaigns, (49,152 tweets for the John Lewis Christmas Advert 2013 The Bear and The Hare, and 21,027 tweets for the John Lewis Christmas Advert 2012 Warm At Heart).

There had been only 330 mentions of the advert's official #montythepenguin hashtag on Twitter up to 6pm on the night before it launched. By 10am on the morning of launch - in just  two hours - that has catapulted to 11,363 mentions, according to social media agency We Are Social.

Despite the flood of mentions for its ad, John Lewis was diligent about thanking as many people as possible:


Every reply included the #montythepenguin hashtag to give the campaign more exposure, especially if the the thank you messages were retweeted by the individuals in question.


The soundtrack to John Lewis' Christmas ad is often one of its most important elements. This year, Tom Odell provided the backing music, and he was on hand to promote the ad to his 185,000 followers:

A big music star is often involved in the process, but if you have any friends or business partners with whom to cross-promote (especially if they have lots of fans on social media!), it is always something worth considering.

In addition to promotion on its main social profiles, Monty and Mabel (Monty's love interest) have their own individual Twitter accounts:

Monty frets about finding a companion before Christmas, while Mabel is a strong, independent female penguin:

Both Monty and Mabel reply to tweets they receive. Quite a few appear to be from brands who are looking to make the most of the #MontyThePenguin hype:

To help more people find and follow the Twitter accounts, John Lewis is promoting them on Facebook and Google+:

Back on Twitter, John Lewis is encouraging fans to interact with the pair and help Monty in his hapless quest for love:

Within 10 hours, the ad had been viewed over 1.25 million times on YouTube and shared extensively on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+:

As of November 7th, a snapshot of the #montythepenguin hashtag showed that it head reached over 900,000 individual accounts and garnered over 1 million impressions (the total number of times the hashtag was delivered to timelines, including repeats).

And a glimpse at John Lewis' Twitter and Facebook follower and fan stats show a noticeably steep rise around the time of the promotion:

Striking while the iron is hot, John Lewis has begun to link online and offline marketing - encouraging fans and customers to spend more time (and money) with the brand:

More than 40 John Lewis stores will feature a Monty’s Den, an Antarctic-themed space featuring cutting-edge technology and educational content about the plight of the endangered Adélie Penguin. 

In addition, all John Lewis stores will have window displays featuring the penguins, and there is also a range of Monty-related merchandising, including cuddly toys, pyjamas and a Christmas book.

Conclusion and Key Takeaways

Early indications - at least on the surface - indicate that John Lewis' Monty the Penguin campaign has been a big success.  Stats from The Times:

  • The story of Monty the Penguin was shared 202,953 times in its first 24 hours online, according to data from the the marketing technology company Unruly, and it is well on the way to being shared - a sign of emotional engagement - more than previous John Lewis Christmas campaigns.
  • Within 24 hours, @MontyThePenguin had been tweeted 4,333 times, while 815 people have tweeted @MabelThePenguin, his girlfriend. Monty’s Twitter following grew from roughly 2000 on the morning of the launch to around 14,350 the next day.
  • The top three Twitter trends in the UK during the ad's first 24 hours online were #MontythePenguin, with 94,728 mentions by 8am on Friday, #JohnLewisChristmasAdvert (11,528) and #FutureJohnLewisAds (4,407). The words John Lewis have been tweeted 98,510 times, according to the social marketing platform Spredfast.
  • Some Monty the Penguin items had already sold out on John Lewis' website.

There are plenty of lessons from the marketing strategy that you can apply to your own work. Some of the key takeaways and lessons from John Lewis include:

  • A strong, central visual element (in this case, Monty), to anchor the campaign. Very cute and very shareable. Reaching out and prompting an emotional connection in people is extremely powerful. In this case, we have sadness and joy all in one.
  • Built buzz in anticipation of the launch and posted it first online (ahead of its television debut). People love to be the first to see and share things.
  • Highly consistent use of a unique hashtag (#montythepenguin) in all marketing materials, allowing others to explore and distribute the campaign and keep it trending.
  • Refreshed social media profile branding to market the campaign.
  • Interacting with as many fans as possible who show an interest and like for the ad. 
  • Pairing with social media influencers and high profile partners to help spread the word of the campaign. 
  • Sometimes starting a campaign with a whisper is better than a big bang.
  • Pinning the advert to the top of their social media feeds to give it as much exposure as possible.
  • Cross-promoting social media accounts to capture as many new fans and followers as possible.
  • Introducing the next stage in converting viewers/fans into paying customers (i.e. real world store displays).

What are your thoughts on John Lewis' Christmas campaign for 2014? Will you be emulating any of its strategies in your own work? Let me know in the comments below!

Andrew Macarthy is a social media consultant and the author of the #1 Amazon Web Marketing Bestseller, 500 Social Media Marketing Tips.

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