Thursday, 24 November 2011

In which I get what I want, at least

I am not a reluctant crier. In fact I've often wondered if my tear ducts would be medically classed as overactive. I'll cry at songs; films; broken computers; dropped food; mouth ulcers; elderly couples holding hands in public; lonely-looking animals; memories of other times that I've cried. And adverts. Of course, adverts. Let's play guess-the-inevitable-direction-of-this-article, shall we?

Yes, when I first saw the John Lewis advert this week, I cried. I cried a little bit at my desk, then a little bit more when I described it to my boyfriend later in a Vietnamese restaurant, and then a whole lot more when I played it at home on my laptop, to see if it was as tear-jerking as I remembered.

It's fair to note, though, that the ad could have been a blank screen bearing the words 'BUY OUR STUFF' and I probably still would have cried, because I would be remembering their last ad. You know, the chin-wobbler with the woman in the red dress and Billy Joel's She's Always a Woman playing over the top. Never knowingly out-blubbed, John Lewis has established itself as the Bambi's Dead Mum of the high street.

There is room for cynicism, of course. Saturday's Guardian included a column moaning that The Smiths' Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want, a song about the pain of unrequited love, should never be used to flog us stuff.

It's surprising, granted, that a band who stood for everything anti-consumerism and anti-establishment that Thatcher's 80s Britain inspired, would give the most middle class of department stores permission to hijack their music. But what writer can guarantee all people will react to their songs in the way they intended anyway? Plus, y'know, it's LOVELY.

While there are shops with stuff to flog, they will inevitably try to flog us stuff - if we can at least convince kids that the joy of giving someone a shoddily-wrapped present we've saved up our pocket money to buy outweighs the pleasure of unwrapping four XBoxes, while introducing them to some decent music at the same time, then that's no bad thing.

The cover version itself is a cause for gripe too, coming as it does from the Janet Devlin school of Pick a Good Song and Sing It Slowly in the Voice of a Wood-Nymph. I don't know if you've noticed, but this love of the twee-lady-cover has become the default approach for advertising agencies during the past year. I blame Ellie Goulding.

But the things is, I'm not enough of a Smiths fan to really care. I think it should be admired, frankly, as a piece of ruddy good advertising. When Twinings gave The Calling's Wherever You Will Go the twee-lady treatment, maybe there were hoards of Calling fans on a forum somewhere, furious that a song about beautiful geographic love should be used to flog us tea. But did the rest of us spare them a thought? Did we?

In a Christmas season where the other retailers are dishing up X-Factor finalists, Jamie Oliver and the Boots office girls (you know! The office ladies who get dolled up in the loos!), I think the John Lewis ad is a breath of real, albeit marzipan-scented, emotion. Although that present looks suspiciously like a big tin of Celebrations to me - if I were the John Lewis parents, I wouldn't get too excited.

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