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John Lewis ‘National Treasures’

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High street department stores’ visual merchandising efforts do not tend to step too far outside the norm. In-store, collateral promoting seasonal sales and discount events often decorate windows and walkways, but imagery amounts to little more than seasonal graphics and promoting the latest fashion pieces. That is until John Lewis unveiled its latest effort to engage customers.


The retailer enlisted the help of award-winning British illustrator Paul Thurlby who created a series of artworks under the theme ‘National Treasures’. Focussing on the whimsy of British summertime, Thurlby created a series of scenes involving 220 diverse characters which have been made into life-sized cut outs and displayed through its 48 stores. To boost hype, customers are invited to take photos with the cut-outs, which can then be shared with their friends.


In addition to this, consumers will be invited to take part in a plethora of experiences across different departments, including masterclasses, seminars, Q&As and workshops in partnership with over 100 different brands. Designed to make stores into multisensory ‘destinations of discovery’, activities will include scent workshops with Neom founder Nicola Elliott, wellbeing workshops from Manuka Lifestyle and Liz Earle, BBQ masterclasses with Weber and creative print design workshops with designer Laura Slater.


Another particularly quaint concept is a typically British greenhouse transformed into a pop-up shop within each store, aptly named the ‘national treasury’. Within the pop-up, selected British goods will be on offer including limited edition gifts decorated with Thurlby’s artwork including tote bags, tea towels and mugs, plus top products from iconic home-grown brands such as Hunter, Dyson, Dualit, Wedgwood and Mulberry. These events, making up John Lewis’ biggest programme of interactive activity to date, are part of the retailer’s strategy to turn its stores into experience-led environments. Everyone knows John Lewis for its much-anticipated Christmas ads, so this latest work hopes to grab consumers’ attention outside of the festive season.


John Lewis’ flagship Oxford Street store will play its part as the hub of experiential activity. The John Lewis Gardening Society, its garden-themed rooftop bar, will be running for a second summer serving cold beverages from the newly-created Gardeners Arms. Guests to the rooftop can reserve a summer house or pavilion space where they can enjoy British-inspired food and drinks or take part in fitness and gardening workshops whilst taking in views across the capital. Additionally, the store’s ground floor atrium will become host to the Wedgwood Tea Conservatory, which will run for three weeks from 24 May, offering a luxurious floral-inspired tea experience. The summer series’ British theme also ties in nicely with the department store’s Blooming Great Tea Party in support of Marie Curie. The sale of two of the exclusive Paul Thurlby mugs will include a donation to the charity.



The latest work by John Lewis will be effective as it helps inhabitants of Britain embrace the special things our country has to offer in the somewhat unpredictable British summer. Those not heading abroad for holidays this summer can seek comfort in the campaign which reminds us of all the weird and wonderful things that can be enjoyed without leaving the comfort of our home nation. And what better way to get kitted out for the season than through the department store itself.


Moreover, the campaign celebrates Britishness but embraces diversity. The initiative encourages learning, interaction and multisensory experiences which will open up the minds of Brits and visitors alike, instilling a sense of unity in a time which could be dominated by political tension and division. Director of customer experience at John Lewis, Peter Cross, suggested that the work had been influenced by the mood of the nation since the Brexit referendum. By crafting an interactive, humorous, bright and colourful campaign the retailer may help to create a happy collective consciousness, or at least put a momentary smile on people’s faces.


By concentrating more energy into year-around advertising rather than relying on its Christmas ad, plus creating a relevant and very likeable campaign, John Lewis has the potential to position itself as the nation’s go-to department store; a real ‘national treasure’. Cross stated, "We’re a brand that is interwoven into the British way of life, and in summertime Britain really is at its best. This is something that’s new for us, it’s a step change in how we market."


The campaign will initially be supported by social media but the retailer is open to exploring activity via other marketing channels to complement the work. It did, however, reveal that it was unlikely to run a TV advert – saving this until Christmas, we expect. ‘National Treasures’ will run throughout the summer until 20 August.